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Soulmates: Reality or Illusion?

by Lydia Martin writing for the California Beacon

Since time immemorial the story of ‘soulmates’ has persisted. In short, the idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match, the one person who can complete you and with whom you can find total happiness.

The story goes that, the first time you meet your ‘soulmate’, the universe will give you a sign in what should be the most obvious way - somewhere in your immediate vicinity the word ‘soulmate’ will appear.

I use the term ‘should’ purposefully, because the universe clearly has a sense of humor.

If reports of ‘soulmates’ are to be believed, rather than being written of as hopeful delusions, then this ‘obvious’ signal is anything but, fleeting as it is.

Take the earliest written account of the ‘soulmate’ legend, dating from the Han Dynasty in China, around 25AD. The hero and heroine of the story are to marry, but are forbidden from meeting before their wedding day. The hero cannot wait and steals into the house of his intended. He sees her for the first time sitting under a cherry blossom tree. As he sinks down beside her and their eyes meet for the first time, the bark of the tree changes and the Chinese characters for ‘soulmate’ appear. They know then that they are destined to be together.

It’s a sweet tale, and there have been many more like it. Believers have highlighted the fact that these stories can be found in all corners of the world and state (often loudly) that there could be no way that such similar stories could have developed independently, unless there was something to them. Tales have been told of the ‘soulmate’ sign appearing in everything from water ripples, to street signs. One report was even of the word ‘soulmate’ appearing in a cloud formation.

Denouncers of the theory highlight that nobody has ever been able to put forward concrete proof of any such occurrence. The word seemingly only appears for a matter of moments and only when two people first meet. There is no guarantee that they will be looking in the correct direction to see it, nor that they will have any idea who their supposed ‘soulmate’ actually is. The appearance of any such word is of little use if you meet your ‘soulmate’ in a crowded room. Or if the word is indeed written in the clouds - which could be viewed by any number of people over any number of miles.

What is incontrovertible, though, is the statistical backing for the ‘soulmate’ theory. In 1978, scientists Becker and Dawes conducted their famous study into the ‘soulmate’ theory. Their intent was to disprove the theory. Over the course of five years, they studied 100,000 couples. Their results shocked the world.

They found that couples who claimed to be ‘soulmates’ scored exponentially higher scores in all of the tested categories, when compared to the ‘control group’ of all other married couples. ‘Soulmates’ were happier, healthier, had improved life expectancy, were more likely to succeed in aspects of their life outside of their relationship, had a lower incidence of mental health problems, and the divorce rate amongst ‘soulmates’ was practically zero.

Supporters of the ‘soulmate’ theory have ever since held the Becker-Dawes study out as being total proof that ‘soulmates’ exist. Non-believers highlight the drawbacks of the study. In a pool of 100,000 couples studied, pulling people from all over the globe, only 2,000 of those couples actually claimed to be soulmates’. The rest formed the control group. Becker and Dawes had such a small group of ‘soulmates’ simply because those were all they could find, despite an extensive search.

And there’s the rub. At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether or not you believe in soulmates. Why? Because even if the stories are true, simply playing the odds, you are never going to find your perfect match. Or, if you do, you will never know about it.

A fact that is not often quoted from the Becker-Dawes study. 1,223 couples from the control group scored in exactly the same way as the ‘soulmate’ couples. They were dismissed as a statistical anomaly. Could it actually be that these people were actually soulmates - but that they were looking in the wrong direction when they first met?

I will leave it up to you to decide. In the meantime, one thing that is certain is that Hollywood will continue to milk the ‘soulmate’ trope for as long as people keep buying tickets. The latest offering is Written in the Stars, featuring relative newcomer Stiles Stilinski in what is being billed as his breakout role. Due for release later this year, the hype is already building. Watch this space for more news, views and updates.