Philosophers and writers love to muse about soulmates. They tend to view soulmates as "mirrors."
Sylvia Day described her soul mate as "The other half of me...my reflection." Emily Bronte said of her soulmate, "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."
Soulmates see the world the same way. Meeting someone who can finish your sentences, maybe even right away, is powerfully enticing. Sparks fly. You feel understood.
When physical chemistry gets in the mix, hell breaks loose.
So many of us believe we should spend lots of time with our soulmates. Ideally marry them.
A better idea is to follow the wisdom of two Elizabeths who conceive of a profoundly rewarding relationship that does not involve two people who are exactly the same.
According to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, an ideal relationship is one in which both members do not mirror but rather inspire each other:
I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, a real life relationship with your soul mate may even be hazardous:
A true soulmate is a mirror....A true soulmate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soulmate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soulmates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.
Spending time with someone who sees the world the same way you do may be thrilling. But the thrill can wear off. And worse, too much time with your soulmate can prevent you from becoming (and remaining) the best version of yourself. For example, if you both tend towards overthinking or self-absorption (as many people who spend a lot of time thinking about finding their soulmates do), neither of you will easily recognize these tendencies in the other. If you are both shy and overly concerned about hurting people's feelings, you probably won't communicate directly with each other. On the flip side, if you both have bad tempers and tend to be too direct, you may fight a lot and be too casual with each other's feelings. These types of dynamics between soulmates can be disastrous for real life relationships and marriages.
Also, since we tend to be hard on ourselves about qualities we don't like in ourselves, we can be brutally hard on our "mirrors" when we perceive those same qualities in them. Perhaps this is what Gilbert was getting at when she talked about pain and tearing down walls in connection with soulmates. We can learn a lot from pain, but romantic relationships and marriages are supposed to make us happy. A good romantic partner often does not share all of our insecurities, but instead finds them charming. He forgives us for our shortcomings and our sins.
To borrow from Gilbert, and to add my own twist: Soulmates are mirrors, and among the most important people you'll meet, and perhaps not good people to live with or marry. But you don't need to shut them out of your life. They can be good friends who you see when you need a mirror to remind you who you are.
Maybe more important (and rewarding) than spending your life with your mirror is spending your life with someone who pays attention to you, who adores you, who learns from you, and who always brings out the best in you (and for whom you return the favor on all counts). Jack Nicholson's character nailed it in the movie As Good As it Gets when he told Helen Hunt's character, "You make me want to be a better man." A great real life partner inspires you to try to be the best version of yourself (and equally importantly, sticks by you even if you fail).
Soulmates often dovetail with unrequited (or no longer requited) love. Without discounting the glamour and value of soulmates, it is frustrating and painful to concentrate your love on someone who is not in a real life relationship with you.
You can love a partner who inspires you rather than mirrors you -- and vice versa -- not just as much but more than your soulmate.