The Problem With Letting Destiny Guide Your Love Life, Regardless of Your Stance on Soul Mates

Photo: Getty Images/Sethawut Ruangwatanaporn-EyeEm
“When you meet the right person, you’ll know.” “What’s meant to be will be.” “When it’s right, the relationship is easy.” Ever heard these phrases? You probably have if you've never asked the question "are soul mates real?" and always subscribed to the magical thinking often associated with the concept of The One. And since many people give credence to this sense of destiny or just knowing, when snags, roadblocks, or problems emerge in a budding relationship, the result can be negative, and often unnecessarily so. It seems that many use the idea of fate as a crutch that exempts us from putting in hard work when the relationship going gets tough. So are soul mates real, or are we just lazy?

In the short-term, believing you’re destined for someone or something can cause you to cut out of a relationship quickly, ruthlessly, and often prematurely. According to a recent study, those who believe they’re ending a partnership to pursue their destiny are more likely to ghost—and feel positively about doing so. On the flip side, those who believe they’re looking for the right partner to grow with—i.e., not necessarily the most perfect situation—are less likely to ghost or even consider the option.

The idea of destiny extends into the bedroom, as well. For a study from the University of Toronto, researchers looked at two attitudes about sexual compatibility. “Sexual destiny beliefs” would mean you think instant sexual chemistry is a predictor that you’re with the right person; “sexual growth beliefs” alternatively refer to great sex being something you feel you need to work toward with a partner. The study concluded that those with growth beliefs have more satisfying relationships and sex lives than those who believe in destiny.

The problem here isn't believing in soul mates or The One, per se. Rather, it's a belief that long-term compatibility is signaled by instant attraction, ease, and needing to do no work on the relationship for it to be successful. But then again, people often get the nature of compatibility wrong.

Is compatibility about finding the right person or creating the right relationship?

According to psychologist Karla Ivankovich, PhD, relationship compatibility is “the ability to perceive enjoyment being together, coupled with a willingness to communicate and share a world.”

This doesn't mean your outlook needs to be identical to your partner's, but more so that each person involved has a vested interest in the other person's interests. “It does not mean that you have the exact same wants, wishes, and desires, but rather that you engage in activities and conversations that are of interest to the other person because their preference matters to you.” And guess what? That won't necessarily be easy—in your day-to-day interactions or in the bedroom. Dr. Ivankovich says it takes effort to accommodate another person in your life—and you’re not going to like all the same things.

“We think of love as a feeling and less a decision that involves thinking and logic. In fact, we hold some cognitive dissonance that the feeling of ‘love’ would require things like ‘work’ or 'effort.'” —Sarah Hunter Murray, PhD, sex researcher

Sarah Hunter Murray, PhD, a sex researcher and author of Not Always in the Mood, says our culture's preoccupation with destiny does make sense. “While we might be critical or roll our eyes at romantic cheesy movies where a couple just ‘knows’ from the moment they first lay eyes on one another, there is a reason we keep seeing this trope,” she says. “People like a fairy-tale romance. We think of love as a feeling and less a decision that involves thinking and logic. In fact, we hold some cognitive dissonance that the feeling of ‘love’ would require things like ‘work’ or 'effort.'”

Should I stay in the relationship or should I go?

Every single commitment-seeking person will eventually have to decide whether or not to invest in what they have going or to look for a more suitable relationship. There's for sure a fine line between making a relationship work and finding one that works for you—and the formula for what makes a good potential partnership, regardless to the answer to the question of are soul mates real, is a bit complicated.

To start, a lot of differences can be overcome if you have a mutual willingness to meet the other person halfway. “In the beginning of relationships, begin the process of learning how to communicate—about everything,” Dr. Ivankovich says. “Allow one another to be vulnerable, and to express their desires without feeling judged or shamed.”

From there, it’s all about preferences and whether you can you meet each other’s needs enough to feel satisfied. In the bedroom, it’s about having enough overlap. “Couples who experience sexual compatibility would more likely prefer a similar frequency of sexual activity, and they report having similar sexual likes and interests,” Dr. Murray says. “They feel they can navigate their differences in sexual preferences with relative openness and ease.”

Relationship incompatibility occurs when a partner isn’t willing to meet you in the middle on key issues, doesn’t see eye-to-eye with your values, or doesn’t aim please you at all (as you do them).

Relationship incompatibility, then, occurs when a partner isn’t willing to meet you in the middle on key issues, doesn’t see eye-to-eye with your values, or doesn’t aim please you at all (as you do them). And when you’re sexually frustrated with no plan to do anything about it, all signs point to sexual incompatibility. Dr. Murray says sometimes it’s a mismatched-libido issue, and another incompatibility factor might be a sexual preference divide.

Of course, all partners will have some difference in taste—but true sexual incompatibility happens when one or both are “more likely to feel these differences showing up often and to a greater degree, as well as feel that those differences lead to conflict or tension,” Dr. Murray says.

While this can sometimes be a relationship issue, Dr. Ivankovich says we're often too eager to pull the trigger on ending things. “We need to retrain relationship-seekers to stop trashing everything that doesn’t work for them, and start working on communication, compromise, and commitment."

Because with the presence of passionate feelings and desire for commitment, many obstacles can be overcome—if the right mind-set is in place.

So...are soul mates real or is finding your twin flame more important? And, here's when to dish on topics that aren't quite first-date material.

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