It is a concept as familiar as commercial jingles, as ubiquitous as the bright candy coloring of a rom-com, and as insufferable as a teenager shouting, "No one understands me." The One is the new shorthand for the idea of the soul mate, that perfect person who completes you.
It is unclear when The One became so common; it seems to have cropped up in the '90s, but "soul mate" is a least as old as Plato. According to his dialogue, The Symposium, humans originally had four arms, four legs, a single head made of two faces and both genitals. Just a little too powerful, these early human hermaphrodites pissed off the gods and as punishment, were split apart and doomed to die. Thankfully, Apollo took pity on these baleful souls and sewed up a new version of them with only one set of stuff and a belly button as a reminder of what was once whole. As a result, we are still, to this day, forever on the hunt for our other half.
Marvelously, Plato's idea of that other half could also be of the same sex (come on everybody, let's do the Greek!).
But how to know when you've found your soulmate?
So says Aristophanes, "When the two find each other, there is an unspoken understanding of one another, that they feel unified and would lay with each other in unity and would know no greater joy than that." It's a marvelous idea and terribly comforting. Oh those belly butterflies and fireworks and signifying portents. All those supposed clues that this time it's for real, that in all the world, two people are ordained to fit together like puzzle pieces.
It sounds good, sure, but it's all a load of hooey. I don't buy it, not even for a penny. Not anymore.
I used to be one of the worst devotees, believing that finding a perfect love would solve everything. It was my greatest obsession, my motivation, my ultimate pursuit -- but all in vain. Instead, I became an artist of heart break. The pain of an ending, experienced so often, became ritualized. I even had a playlist for it. But possibilities appeared to be growing increasingly scarce, so while wallowing in woeful singleness, I did what many lonely hearts have done -- I looked up ex-lovers on Facebook.
Perhaps, I asked myself, one of them was really the one I was supposed to be with? Did I make an error in judgment, and now that I am older and know better, maybe ... ? Nope. In all cases, breaking up was absolutely the right thing to do. And in one case, boy did I dodge a bullet. Hello Rikers and 25 to life.
Satisfactorily relieved of my past I then set about throwing myself into an illuminating unrequited love. It was illuminating because the more intensely I imagined us being together the more I realized that the man I was envisioning in my head was not who I regularly stalked at the Latin American club. All those aching romantic longings were entirely a thing made precisely from longing, thriving only in not being returned.
That revelation and a long afternoon on my porch where I sat down with the sorrows of the world, at last, made all that clenched need relax. Suddenly the simple sweetness of living -- the light through the window, a sprinkler dampened sidewalk, the freshness of a clean pillowcase -- was all that was required for happiness. So I finally confessed my well-kept ( but rather obvious) secret to the object of my affections. It no longer mattered. As I walked away, it was like a dam had burst and in the ensuing deluge, any lingering belief in that whole soul mate thing was irrevocably, and thankfully, drowned.
These days, I believe that nothing is predetermined. Life is a crapshoot and we just have to ride that chaos train as best we can. I do, however, absolutely have faith that it was the killing of that desire for The One that led directly to being able to see someone for the qualities they actually possess. Being too invested in an absolute ideal can often keep us from enjoying a genuine exchange of respect and care with another human being. I do not advocate settling nor do I think that we shouldn't have an idea of how we want to be loved. But we do need to be careful about those rigorous fantasies, they are born of having the privilege of seemingly limitless possibilities.
Perfect love is marketed to us in exactly the same way as the perfect car or the perfect laundry soap, and it continues to fuel record sales, movie deals, and bulk shipments of vodka. The relentless propagandist fury with which The One is advertised also disregards the fact that being on our own can be incredibly fulfilling. We won't ever find perfect unity with another person (go on, I dare you to show me one couple who has found this). But we can love and be loved. We can help each other feel less afraid. We can recognize the real beauty in that person sitting across from us.
In this crazy world, that sounds pretty damn good to me.
The Sweet Spot is a blog column by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.