After writing about how to tell if the person you’re seeing is your soulmate, I have been wanting to write about how to find a soulmate.
Except, I’ve been married for almost 12 years. My wife and I met at the ripe old age of 19 and 18, and we’ve been seeing each other for over 14 years. I can’t credibly relate to or theorize the paths to find a soulmate at this point, since I’ve been out of the game for such a long time.
That said, “finding my love” was definitely a concern (to say the least) until I found her — and how we ran into each other is a story I remember well, and one from which I drew a few lessons out. So in sharing my personal story and my findings, hopefully this information will be useful and encouraging to everyone on the quest.
Junior High and High School
I never had a “girlfriend” in junior high or high school. It probably didn’t help that I went to a Japanese middle school in São Paulo, then went on to an English-based international high school. Both schools were tiny — class size of 40+ students per grade. That said, I don’t think it was likely that I would have had a sustaining romantic relationship even if I had a bigger social circle. I was simply too immature.
That didn’t mean I didn’t have crushes or fall in love. On the contrary, I fell in love quite easily. It seemed like in every phase or social circle, I would pick a girl who was the closest to my type — even when she wasn’t really all that close to it — and would have a crush on her.
More precisely, I wanted to be “special” to someone. I wanted to be close, intimate, and safe with a girl, where she would confide in me some personal secrets, or perhaps she would share her hardships and cry over my shoulders. I wanted to be the guy who was needed, who was there for her, a gentle knight who stood by his girl and helped her out.
Basically, I wasn’t in love with the person. I was just trying to fill a void. I wanted a girlfriend.
But I didn’t know that back then, and I pursued most of them the best way I could: I cared for them. That wasn’t a bad approach, I suppose — who wouldn’t like someone who cared about your well-being?
But virtually all the relationships I pursued never really got started. I never even went on a date. I would become friends with the person I was fond of each time, but from there my attempts were so
awkward that I can see how everyone sort of recoiled as I came on to them. For the details you’d have to ask them how I came across, but I think I came on too intensely most of the time, making them feel uncomfortable. In most cases, my imagination would run off before I made any approaches, and I would indulge in my fantasy of being with that girl. It never occurred to me that it was to take a long time for such a closeness to develop.
To this day, recalling some of my advances make me cringe. In some people’s memories, I am forever that boy who had a crush on them and made them feel uncomfortable. 😉
Anyway, this went on throughout my adolescence and came to a spectacular climax during the summer when I was 19. It was the summer after my first year in college (during which I went through a few crushes) and I fell hard for someone at the summer camp I was working at. She was a good friend and remained a close friend even after this incident for a number of years. We had a very strong connection and I felt that there was something special there, but she didn’t think it was a romantic one. Summer camps can be an intense place to begin with, and I felt anguished all summer, alternating between elation and despair, over this relationship that was so good, so strong, yet not working out.
Breaking the Pattern
I returned to my college in the fall. It took me a few weeks to recover from the drama of the summer. But when I did, I decided to do something different this time.
I wasn’t going to look for a girlfriend any more.
I was so sick and tired of unrequited loves, and decided that I wasn’t going to fall in love and I wasn’t going to pursue anyone. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull that off, as I virtually found someone to fall for in all situations, but I was determined — and that determination made me feel lighter and more empowered. I didn’t need a girlfriend, and that seemed like a huge baggage lifted.
Lo and behold, I was in a meeting of the Christian outreach group at school — the group that went out to churches in the area and did youth programs and lock-ins — and I noticed a cute first-year student. I went. “oh, here I go again,” but kept my promise of not pursuing her. I would spot her in places — cafeteria, the music building (she and I were both music majors at the time), and the outreach group — but I kept my distance. I didn’t avoid her or acted in unfriendly ways, but I definitely didn’t pursue her and tried not to indulge in fantasizing about her.
Turning of the Tide
Now, I was a foreign student (though not an exchange student — I was in for a 4-year degree) and didn’t have my own family or any host families to go to when the school was on break. So every major break I had to find some place to stay other than the school dorm. Christmas was fast approaching that fall and I didn’t have a place to go. I would mention this to my circle of friends. I usually found somewhere, so it wasn’t anything desperate, but it was a concern. And I mentioned this concern in the outreach group.
Some time later I was eating in the cafeteria, alone. The cute first-year student came by with her friends — and stopped by and told me that I was welcome to come to her home for the holidays.
I was completely dumbfounded. Since I was intentionally trying not to get to know her, all I knew at that point was her name, her major, and friends she hang out with. I thought she was cute and nice and all, but I hadn’t gotten all that fixated on her like other times. I wouldn’t have even called her a “friend” at that point — more like an acquaintance, somewhere above a stranger but not a friend. Was bringing home a boy from school not a big deal to her or her family? Is this something she did with other boys she knew? Or (do I even dare entertain the thought?) did she have feelings for me?
I thought hard for a few days, trying to decide whether I was going to accept her invitation. On one hand, I feared that I was on the same slippery slope — falling for someone and eventually the feeling would be so strong that I wouldn’t be able to contain or control it. Would I be setting myself up for a trap by spending the holidays with her? On the other hand, I did need a place to stay….
In the end, I accepted and spent the Christmas break at her house. I quickly learned that she had a boyfriend from high school, though she wasn’t sure where that relationship stood. Her friends at college were trying to set her up with another guy. She definitely didn’t have feelings for me. I accepted that and was still determined not to act on my feelings.
But over the course of the next 2 weeks or so, she and I stayed up late talking almost every night, having deep conversations about life. The connection was strong and exciting. But she saw her high school boyfriend once during that time and I saw her kiss him goodbye at the end — so I still didn’t have my hopes up.
However, even after we returned to school, it appeared that we wanted to spend more time together. We had many meals together at the school cafeteria (the primary mode of socialization at this school). I went back and forth on whether I was going to pursue her, but after that much time of getting positive feedback from her, I finally gathered up my courage and asked her out 4 weeks later.
(Later she confirmed that she had absolutely no feelings for me when she invited me originally. She didn’t know how I felt about her, either. To this day, she isn’t sure what prompted her to invite me. )
Recognizing What We had
I recall feeling constantly elated the first year of our relationship. She and I had so much in common, and we never fought. She had struggles with her academic life (she eventually changed her major) which she confided in me and I was so happy to be the guy who was there for his girl. Although she was my first girlfriend, I started wondering if we were destined to get married, for I just couldn’t imagine a better relationship.
After a year or so of this intensely positive trend, the relationship did go to the next phase and we started discovering our differences and conflicts. We had some vicious fights, but the strong bond we built during the first year seemed to carry us through our rocky patches.
A little over 2 years later, we were married on campus. The path to our marriage and our walk afterward were anything but smooth, but that’s another story. We went through a lot, and we stayed together.
Almost 12 years later, I can tell you that if I were to draw a picture and/or list out the qualities that would make the woman of my dreams, she would not be my wife — though she and my wife would be very, very alike. Once in a while I spot another attractive woman and the thought enters my mind — what is it like to be with someone else? That’s a thought I struggled with for a while early on, especially whenever we had problems, since I married my first girlfriend. But at this point this idea doesn’t stay with me at all — nothing more than a fleeting thought. I simply haven’t come across anyone else who was even close to being as compatible, as close of a match to my ideals. I still look at her sometimes and am amazed that I found somebody this great.
It is theoretically possible that we will grow apart or disillusioned enough to divorce. The danger is constantly there, and I expect it never completely goes away. But in the last 14 years, we’ve been through really, really tough times, that tested both of us and our relationship. While life continues to challenge us, I feel confident and optimistic that we can weather the rest of our lives and stay together.
The Lessons Drawn
So, how did I find her — the woman of my dreams?
I didn’t exactly “find” her. We just bumped into each other. And she was the one who opened the door.
But clearly, I did something different that time than all the previous times. Namely, I had decided that I didn’t need a girlfriend. This decision apparently resulted in a couple of profound changes in my outlook:
- Because I didn’t need a girlfriend, I was no longer trying to manipulate someone into liking me. I became more honest and more “me” in my relationships. It’s easier to open door to someone who’s not trying to knock it down.
- Because I didn’t need a girlfriend, I was no longer dependent on somebody else’s approval and affection to make me happy. Independence and happiness are two very attractive, sexy traits.
If you are a person who is looking for a soulmate but haven’t found one, my first inclination is to say: look at yourself. What are the roadblocks that are keeping you from being happy and self-sufficient by yourself? Because if you’re looking to someone other than yourself to fill a void, meet a need inside you — you’re simply looking to use that person to fill your deficiency.
My father once told me that an ideal marriage is a union between two independent people, forming inter-dependent relationships. If you want to find a soulmate, you need to first make yourself soulmate-able.
In addition to that one decision that changed my outlook, there were other factors that worked in favor of me finding the right person:
- I had a clear idea of who I wanted, or more precisely, what qualities I was looking for in a significant other. At any point I can draw up a good list, and be able to organize my list into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” groups. When I discover that the person is missing any of those “must-haves,” then I would lose interest, no matter how many other qualities she has.
- Because of my clarity, I was able to judge the characters of the girls I fell in love with fairly well. I never fell in love with someone who turned out to be anything less than a genuinely nice person. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who date or marry, only to discover the other person isn’t what he/she wanted. This suggests “falling in love with love” rather than falling in love with the other person.
- It did help that I was in an environment very fertile for romantic relationships. At my school, St. Olaf College, something like 95% of the students live on campus, in dorms. Things happen when you lock up 2700 college students in a small town in a cold state, without much access to the outside world. If I were single now, I would try to put myself in a similarly potent environment, without a forced intention to “match you up.” A church with active singles group comes to mind, for example. I hesitate to use any services or communities that are overtly about matching you up, as that would feel too manipulative and forceful for my taste. Like a college, I would be more comfortable being in an environment where likely candidates are plentiful, but the focus of the community is elsewhere other than finding a mate. This will allow me to get to know people in casual and relaxed ways. This may not be true for everyone, but in my life, nothing good has ever come out of starting a relationship with specified outcome in mind — too much baggage.
Before I found my wife, I wondered if I would ever find a girlfriend. It seemed like everybody else had happy relationships, but somehow it wasn’t available to me. I felt desperate.
The right person came to me only after I decided that my life wasn’t dependent on finding that person. I see many people struggling with this issue of finding a soulmate. It’s bad enough when you’re alone and lonely, but some people “settle” with incompatible mates, just to avoid loneliness. They settle because they don’t have the fundamental self-confidence to know that they can be perfectly happy on their own that they deserve someone better. Solve this problem on your own first, and then (and only then) you truly become available to form a lasting relationship with a soulmate. It’s not necessary to isolate yourself or make yourself unavailable. Just resolve your own issues first before you go actively seek a partner.
While the challenge of finding a soulmate seems to elude many people, there are also many of us who have found the right person. It happens, and it can happen to anyone. Don’t lose hope. Watch out for desperation — don’t use someone else to fix it. It’s nice to be with someone you love. But your life doesn’t depend on it.
Be happy right now, and fulfill as much of your life as you can on your own. Then see who will be attracted to the real, fullfilled “you.”