It was a sad day when the words ‘soul mate’ entered the lexicon. For ever since then, both men and women have spent fruitless, frustrating years looking for this elusive creature, enduring much angst in the process, and ending up sad and lonely at the end of it all. But how could it possibly be otherwise?
Soul mates are like unicorns, mythical creatures who only exist in our fevered romantic imagination. They are the staple of soppy movies, pulp fiction and mediocre poetry. And like fictitious happy endings, they don’t really translate into real life. So those who are looking for a real-life soul mate to share real life with are just setting themselves up for heartbreak. Put away those rose-tinted glasses for a bit and think about it. It is such a huge thing to ask of another human being, isn’t it?
A soul mate: quite literally, a friend of your soul. Someone who mirrors your personality; who shares your deepest thoughts and darkest fears; who understands you instinctively; who knows what you are thinking even before you do. Someone who is your other half; someone who completes you; hell, someone who can even complete your sentences. Yes, I think I have covered every cliché of romantic fiction. And yet, such is the grip these clichés exercise on our imagination that we are primed to start looking for our own soul mate from the moment puberty kicks in. We want someone who shares our every interest, who enters into our every thought, who thinks like us on every subject, who has the same prejudices, watches the same movies, reads the same kind of book, even likes the same ice-cream flavour.
Popular culture only reinforces these stereotypes. We are constantly being bombarded with images of picture-perfect celebrity couples who seem oh-so-much in sync with one another. Right on top of that list are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, traipsing the world with their brood of rainbow kids and cuddling up for the benefit of the cameras in every country they pass through. Nearer home we have Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, who have achieved the ultimate prize in coupledom with their own proud moniker, Saifeena (a la Brangelina, of course).
Is it any wonder then, that as we feast on these pictures and lap up the stories that accompany them, we want to find our own soul mate with whom we can conjoin our names to create a brand-new joint entity? And when we don't find such a person – as is inevitable – we do the next best thing: try and change the person we are with so that he or she fits into these ridiculous parameters.
Hard as it is for me to admit, it is usually women who are the biggest culprits in this regard. Most of us tend to see the men in our lives as works in progress, whom we can improve upon as we go along. Whether it is something as minor as buying them new clothes so that they fit in with our idea of how they should look or something as major as forcing them to watch chick flicks in the hope of converting them to the joys of Nora Ephron, we have all been guilty at some point of this kind of social engineering.
Not that men are entirely blameless in this regard either. Many of my braver men friends have forced their wives to accompany them to wrestling matches, have tried to introduce them to the joys of video games, and even (Shock! Horror!) made them sit through hours and hours of Batman re-runs on television.
Women are, of course, a little better at playing along having been brought up to be people-pleasers, but men tend to react very badly indeed to this sort of thing. But despite the unhappiness this engenders all around, we still stick to our ideal of a romantic relationship, in which we do everything together with our significant other, right from the moment we wake up in the morning to the time we turn out the lights at night.
Not surprisingly, most relationships tend to flounder under the weight of these expectations. The truth is that no single person could possibly fulfill all our needs or share all our interests. So, the only way we can ensure that our primary relationship flourishes is to reduce the pressures on it. The best way to make that happen is by having a large circle of friends and family who can take up the slack, a whole bunch of soul mates, so to speak, rather than just the one.
Mothers take on the role of soul mates when you’ve just had your first baby, bolstering your confidence in your child-rearing skills at a time when you feel overwhelmed by it all. Siblings can be soul mates when you are in the mood to bitch about your spouse. Friends are the ones you fall back on when you want a stress-free evening at the movies, or just kicking back with a beer while you watch the IPL. To fall back on another cliché, it takes a village – not just a single soul mate – to get through life. To expect any different is to set yourself up for disappointment.
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