The ideal of romantic love is to find your soul mate, the one person with whom you can be happily together the rest of your life. That’s a long time these days, often as much as sixty years. Sixty years could seem like life without parole in some marriages, and not enough time in others. How will you recognize the right person to team with through the thick and thin of a long lifetime?
Romances can help. Yes, I know they’re supposedly very unrealistic, and some people think—without any solid evidence—that reading romances will lead a woman to hope to meet a romantic hero straight from a book. These so-called experts think romance novels give us unrealistic ideals about what men can be, which in turn supposedly makes us too picky about the men we meet in real life. Not true. Romances show us the possibilities in a male-female relationship, mostly the good, and often the bad.
We all modify our behavior, our basic presentation, around others. We’re different with our parents than we are with our coworkers. We’re different around a frenemy than we are with a BFF. We’re different with men than we are with women. Are we putting on masks? Not exactly. We’re trying to make who we are a good fit with who they are. Many of us experience a clear-cut disconnect with our parents once we’re grown, because they have expectations of us and we know we aren’t going to be those ideals, and that we don’t want to be, either. In attempting to recognize the one, the soul mate, we have to consider the same issues of disconnect. We have to find the person with whom we must make the least, and the least important, modifications.
Comedian Dan Savage has a funny video about the folly of making up a long laundry list of deal-breakers. He says small flaws in someone’s presentation or personality are “the price of admission” to a successful relationship with that person. We all learn to overlook, if not actively smile over, some aspects of the man we love. If we don’t, we won’t find him, because no real human is without flaw.
Well-drawn romance heroes show both their good and their bad traits. Take Mr. Darcy, for instance. He’s that wonderfully idealized romantic hero from Jane Austen who is so popular today that women have written dozens of novels about their happy ever after. However, the plain fact is that throughout most of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy is rude, silent, unhelpful in any social situation, and actively sneering at Elizabeth Bennet and her tacky family. This is not a perfect man. Elizabeth decides to love Darcy anyway, but only after she is very frank and open with him about what she views as his faults, and she recognizes her own. It becomes clear that if they are to have a relationship, they both have to look past some things.
As we look for a soul mate in real life, we slightly modify our behavior to be appealing to each specific man. The real deal-breakers in our relationships are the parts of ourselves we suppress in order to do that. If we stifle a bad habit, that’s one thing. If we stifle our deepest desires for our future lives, that’s another. Being real is the key, but real with some minor modifications. Darcy is probably going to make sniping comments about Elizabeth’s trampy sister Lydia for the next forty years. Elizabeth is going to let it go. Recognizing the best of someone is the key. Being able to be real with that person is absolutely necessary. The rest just flows.
That’s how you recognize your soul mate. He’s the man you’re deeply comfortable with despite some flaws, with whom you can be yourself, and for whom you are willing to work on your own flaws.
As for finding that soul mate, you’re on your own.