In a world of technological advance where we have as much access to people across the world as we do across the coffee shop, where romantic options are presented to us online as often as they are in person, it makes me wonder how someone could possibly still believe that there is one person made for every one person. The ever-elusive soulmate.
Ok, so maybe people can have multiple soulmates. Maybe there is more than one person out there made for each person. But still, the notion that someone is "made" for someone else is a little lost on me. As a realist (or, as some may say, a pessimist), I find it hard to believe that through all of the decoding of text messages, tweets, facebook pokes, and google stalking that seem to go into dating these days, even if two people were "soulmates", how would they ever know it after all of that?
Well, apparently I'm the minority.
In a recent survey we conducted here at Good in Bed, we surveyed 2,321 individuals and asked them the question: "To what extent do you believe that there is one person for each person (i.e., soulmate)?"
We found that the majority of the participants, 71.2%, believed this very much (32.9%) or a little bit (38.3%). A minority of the participants, 28.9%, didn't really believe this (20.9%) or didn't believe this at all (8.0%).
In our sample, women (68.8%) were significantly less likely than men (72.7%) to believe in soulmates, which means our sample is right alongside the national average, obtained from the 2011 Marist poll (which used a nationally representative sample) that found 74% of men believed in soulmates compared to 71% of women.
The Marist poll also found that belief in soulmates was more prominent among the younger population, with 79% of those under 45 endorsing it and 69% of those over 45 endorsing it. In our sample, we only found a slight age difference, with 71.7% of those under 45 endorsing the idea and 70.1% of those over 45 endorsing the idea.
Belief in soulmates can have a negative impact on finding a long-term mate, as outlined in this great blog post by Dr. Jeremy Nicholson. It can drain the motivation to want to work on problems when they arise, make you believe that whenever conflict occurs it is a sign this isn't "the one", and can shadow the fact that relationships ebb and flow and require flexibility by both members of the couple.
However, in our sample, the belief in soulmates was significantly positively related to both sexual satisfaction (r = .11, p < .001) and relationship satisfaction (r = .17, p < .001), meaning that as belief became more supportive (went from not at all to very much), satisfaction increased. This is an interesting finding in light of research by Knee (2008) that shows that people who believe in soulmates tend to have intensely satisfying but short relationships because they don't tend to stick around through the hard stuff. But even after we controlled for relationship length of our participants, the extent to which one believed in soulmates significantly predicted both sexual satisfaction (Beta = .15) and relationship satisfaction (Beta = .18).
Now those predictions, although statistically significant, do come along with pretty small effect sizes. So I won't be running to change my mind about soulmates just yet. And Wilcox & Dew (2010) found that although married couples who believed in the soulmate model of love were very satisfied, they also experienced high levels of conflict and divorce.
Regardless of the side you take, soulmates or not, relationships take work and it is important to be prepared to deal with the ebbs and flows. Even so-called "soulmates" aren't immune to the inevitable conflict that occurs in romantic relationships. But remember, we are here to help! Head over to our forum and interact with our great panel of experts if you have any questions about sex or relationships. And feel free to comment below if you have a particular view about soulmates. I'd even love to hear some stories of people who met and are currently with their soulmates!
By: Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH