Via my friend Ian Shapira, I e-met author and journalist Hannah Selgison as her excellent new book, A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door, came out last week. This is an useful and informative book for SWANS® (Strong Women Achievers, No Spouse) who are sailing in circles in long-term relationships that don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Check out my HuffingtonPost blog about the book and my three top bits of advice for women who are “a little bit married” and struggling with what to do next.
For smart, successful women, you’re odds of marriage are great. (Want to know how great? Use my Odds-of-Marriage Indicator based on Census data to find out. And just out today, a report on marriage and divorce rates for college-educated women.) For more good news for SWANS–and advice on how to achieve your personal and professional goals–check out Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to True Love and A Little Bit Married today!
Wednesday is the day for your Weekly Relationship Tip…
Stop Searching for Your Soul Mate
Some 20% of American couples file for divorce before their fifth anniversary. While the overall divorce rate has decreased in the last few decades, the number of marriages dissolved in those early years has increased. Why?
According to nationwide surveys, 94% of never-married Americans age 20-29 agree that “when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.” It’s very romantic, really, and the stuff love songs are made of: You live your life as best you can alone, and then one day you meet your other half, the person who completes you in every way. This person always knows how to make you laugh, how to make you feel cherished and will never hurt you.
But looking for a soul mate—and believing your significant other or spouse is your soul mate—can be a recipe for disaster in modern relationships because we are setting ourselves up for disappointment after the first blush of passion fades.
Yes, finding a true friend—someone you ‘click’ with, someone who you can share your emotions with and with whom you communicate well—is central to making a good match. But the idea that there is one person who will fulfill all our needs, one soul mate out there for each of us, is a childish idea that should be put aside with the Tooth Fairy.
The fact that we want to marry our soul mates is an indication of how much importance—and how much pressure—we’re putting on marriage. If our spouse is our soul mate, he or she should be perfect for us, unable to hurt us, and certainly not someone who will reduce us to tears or screams of frustration, right?
But most relationships have some tearful moments and screaming matches, so what then? When we tell ourselves that our spouse must be our soul mate, we’re asking for an element of perfect understanding that’s hard (if not impossible) to achieve, and setting ourselves up to be disappointed.
• In this search for our supposed soul mate, we don’t know what to look for. Are you looking for someone who has similar taste in music? Who makes you go weak-kneed? Are you looking for the opposite-sex version of yourself? What does a soul mate really mean—and are we sure we are prioritizing the right things on our list of characteristics for Mr. or Ms. Perfect?
If we are confused about what a “perfect match” should look like, we’re likely to overlook some perfectly wonderful people for very silly reasons—and are inclined to prioritize more superficial aspects of someone’s personality or interests more than issues of shared faith.
• We’ve put far too much emphasis on one person to provide all our happiness and fulfillment. It’s wonderful to share you life with someone, and the closeness a couple can foster through marriage is a powerful and precious bond. But few successful relationships exist in a vacuum: Our individual happiness and fulfillment comes from all sorts of interpersonal interactions, with friends, family, coworkers and community.
We’re setting the bar too high when we say that a spouse must be your soul mate, meeting your every emotional need. It’s perfectly healthy to shop with your girlfriends, watch sports with the guys and complain about your parents to your best friend from high-school – not your spouse.
In fact, a strong social network is crucial to keeping your intimate relationship working order past that first blush of love. If you have isolated yourself with your soul mate to the exclusion of your friends and family, to whom will you turn when you have a fight with your spouse? Disagreements and hard times are normal—and often necessary—within a growing relationship, and since a marriage is made up of two fallible human begins, we all need some help along the way.
• Mature love is more valuable – and more enduring. The search for a soul mate is a symptom of the consumer culture, says William J. Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota: We are looking to acquire a person who will complete us in the same way we acquire an iPhone to make us feel cool. “Of course, once inevitable tension and conflict arises, I might conclude that in fact this was not my soul mate–and I can justify leaving and setting out on a new quest.”
Just because two people may not complete each other in the romantic way we perceive a soul mate should, doesn’t mean they can’t have a fulfilling relationship. “When the soul mate glow wears off, the real marriage can start—based on mature love that is sustained by daily practices of kindness and connection and tested by conflict and struggle,” says Prof. Doherty.
Nancy Slotnick, a New York City matchmaker, warns that it’s impossible to speak for all couples. “I do believe in soul mates. I just don’t believe everyone gets lucky enough to find that person, but for those that do, I’d tell them to go for it, embrace it.”
She cautions, however, that if years go by and friends tell you that you’re too picky, or that you are constantly drawn to the wrong guy, it’s time to reevaluate your search for a partner. Perhaps your idea of a “perfect” match is holding you back from finding true and lasting love.
Curious? Well, so were more than 120 other SWANS® just like you. Last week, Dr. Alex Benzer hosted me as his guest in a national teleseminar featuring dating tips for smart, successful women. I answered questions, laid out no-nonsense advice and shattered myths left and right.
Missed the show? That’s OK–you can download it here.
This is a must-listen for all your SWANS® out there. And… after you listen, if you want more, email me at swans (at) christinewhelan.com to receive a free BONUS REPORT full of great tips on how to date smart in an economic downturn.
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