09/08/2014 06:24 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2014

The Truth About 'Settling'

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Someday, if you haven't already, you may meet your soul mate.

You will know each other's hearts immediately. You will be two halves of a whole, the missing piece you always knew was out there. You'll know perfect accord, always; you'll fulfill each other's every need; you will know each other's truest desires on a level far deeper than words.

You will live together forever in your stagnant pond of unbroken harmony, while unicorns fly overhead, emitting rainbows from their rear ends.

Here's the thing about the idea of a soul mate: Even if you did meet that perfect person (and I'd argue that such a thing is as likely as the rainbow-farting unicorns), it wouldn't be the paradisiacal union that romance novels, Hollywood movies and fairy tales want us to believe in.

The thing about someone who knows and shares your every thought and emotion? It's boring.

My husband and I recently had a disagreement about a TV: He wants a huge one, and I don't understand why a television screen has to fill the entire available stretch of wall. But it makes him happy, so we decided he'd start shopping for the TV of his dreams. When he finally found it after much painstaking deliberation (he shops from the head; I tend to shop from the gut), he excitedly called to tell me about it, and when he got to the price, I made a perhaps unladylike sound of upchucking.

His tone flattened and he said he'd keep looking, despite my urging him to go ahead and buy the one he wanted.

After we hung up, I thought about the conversation. I realized that my ill-thought-out reaction had ruined his delight and anticipation in a purchase we'd already agreed on and budgeted for. He'd still get the TV, but I'd taken away all the fun of it.

The stupid disagreement with my husband allowed me to see something more clearly: I tend to speak before I think. I wish I didn't, and for years, I've been working on taking a beat before I vomit up every thought crossing my brainpan. But it wasn't until I burst the balloon of the person I love most that I really, viscerally got it -- I need to slow down, take a moment, consider my words (or rude noises).

The problem with perfect accord with someone is that you don't get the chance to grow. No one calls you on your BS. No one holds up a mirror so you can see yourself more clearly. No one recognizes your imperfections and shortcomings and loves you anyway.

Which is why you should "settle."

The word gets a bad rap in relationships -- as if you are chucking all your high standards and accepting subpar, just so you can have a plus-one for social events.

But I don't mean you should run out and shack up with the first human being who's available, breathing and has opposable thumbs. And I don't suggest that you can "make it work" with anyone you happen to date. You can't -- some people are just mismatches. Most, probably. It took me nearly 40 years to find someone whose company and personality and ideology I enjoyed enough to think, Yes, you. I want to wake up next to you every day for the rest of my life.

In a recent study led by University of Toronto marketing professor Spike W. S. Lee, participants were asked to recall happy and unhappy relationship events after being exposed to one of two concepts: relationships as a journey and soul mates. Those who were primed with the former idea reported overall higher levels of happiness in their relationship.

It comes down to expectations. If we think the person we pair with is supposed to read our minds and hearts and always understand us so that we shall live in perfect accord at all times, how can we not be disappointed when life and human nature get in the way? Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes we are a**holes. Finding a perfect soul mate implies being a perfect soul mate, and that's a lot of pressure for anyone -- to be that ideal someone, all the time.

We need permission to fail, to fall short. We need to stumble so that we can learn from those stumbles and grow from them, and be the best version of ourselves possible. We need someone who will love us throughout that process. Who will see past our flaws to the person we really are -- and want to be -- and stick with us while we learn to more fully become that person.

We need someone who pokes a finger right into our tender spots and draws our attention to the places that need some growth and healing.

Maybe soul mates aren't discovered, but made, after years of walking the ups and downs together, helping each other over the potholes.

And if you look down as you cross over those potholes, maybe you'll see a rainbow reflected in their muddy brown waters.