The Personalist Project

In my last post I declared that belief in the soulmate phenomenon is in better accord with the truth about persons than the alternative. Maybe at this point I should explain exactly what I mean by the soulmate phenomenon and what by the alternative. It's hard to be exact about such complicated and elusive things. But I can at least try to zero in on it a little better than I've done up till now.

By the soulmate phenomenon, I mean the lived experience two people have of being so well-matched interiorly—on the level of the soulthat they feel practically designed and destined-by-God for each other. It typically involves a view of courtship and marriage that encourages single men and women to hope and pray that they will find their perfect match—not a perfect person, but a "perfect match" for them. Raissa Maritain captures the phenomenon beautifully in her memoir, We Have Been Friends Together, when she describes her early acquaintance  her future husband Jacques:

For the first time I could really talk to someone about myself, emerge from my silent reflections in order to share them… For the first time I had met someone who at the outset inspired me with absolute confidence; someone who from that moment I knew would never disappoint me; someone with whom I could so readily come to an understanding on all things. Another Someone had pre-established between us, and in despite of such great differences of temperament and of origin, a sovereign harmony.

By the alternative, I mean a view of courtship and marriage that downplays romance; that dismisses the notion that God has "someone special out there just for you" as silly nonsense; that sees "feelings" as relatively unimportant, even problematic, in courtship, and  that talks as if the mature approach to finding a spouse is to look for solid, objective, good qualities in a potential mate, then make a firm commitment of the will.

Many Christian leaders and teachers promote this alternative, implicitly or explicitly. Eric Metaxas is only the latest example. I've more than once heard priests preach it. Lots of singles act on it, or try to, believing that they should, if they want to be serious Christians.

Keeping in mind the caveats offered in my earlier post, I want to give some reasons why I think the soulmate idea coheres better with Christianity and with personalism. In other words, why I think it's much truer than the alternative.

1. It corresponds to the natural desires of the human heart.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Among the deepest and most universal desires of the human heart is the longing for a great love—not just any kind of love, but conjugal love—a passionate, permanent, all-encompassing companionship of body and soul with another human being.

2. It is everywhere found in experience.

It not only in fairy tales and novels and poetry and music and rom-coms that we come across moving and thrilling examples of the soulmate phenomenon, but in ordinary life too, in our family and among our friends—sweet and tender and touching stories of "matches made in heaven"—couples who years and decades into marriage still talk of their meeting as if it were almost a miracle. Just last month I met a widower, the grandfather of one of Benedict's classmates. Within minutes, a conversation about biking led to his telling how he was a seminarian in England in the 1960's, when the upheaval around Vatican II made him doubt his vocation. He was at a  pub one night, when in walked "a lady in a red dress," and "the rest is history." "She made me very happy for 50 years." People like him (and me too) don't find talk of soulmates "silly nonsense." They find it simply true to their experience.

3. Scripture, Tradition, and the lives of the saints univocally teach that God's provision for us isn't general, but personal. He not only gives humanity everything it needs to live a properly human life; He provides for each soul, individually and intimately. "Even before a word is on my tongue, oh Lord, thou knoweth it." Is it probable that the same God who knit us in our mother's womb, who calls us each by name, who knows when we sit and when we stand, who has numbered each of our days, would have no particular plan for our prime vocation?

4. In all the deepest acts of the person, and in human life as such, subjectivity has a certain priority over objectivity.

We feel it in our most important choices and decisions; we feel it in friendships. We are drawn to others not primarily because of their objective qualities, but because of their subjectivity, their unique and incommunicable self. And the deeper the friendship, the more we feel it. Dr. Crosby used to quote an author saying, "If you ask me why I loved him, I can only say because he was he and I was I." Their "interior configurations" (a term I learned from a letter Wojtyla wrote to a young woman) matched. For Wojtyla, this was clearly key to marriage discernment, and it is beautifully illustrated in the opening pages of the Jeweler's Shop, where Andrew and Teresa experience themselves as being made for each other.

I went quite a long way before reaching Teresa, I did not find her at once…
After a time I realized that she had come into the focus of my attention,
I mean, I had to be interested in her,
and at the same time I accepted the fact that I had to.

Though I could have behaved differently from the way I felt I must,
I thought there would be no point.

There must have been something in Teresa that suited my personality.

I thought much at the time about the “alter ego”.

If a young man were to marry because that was what was expected of a young man of his age and class in his general circumstances, or if a young woman were to marry because her father told her he had found her husband, we might not call it absolutely wrong, but we would intuitively feel it was sub-par. The vital core is missing. We want to choose and be chosen for ourselves, not for objective suitability. It belongs to the dignity of person and to the essence of marriage.

I have several more reasons, but this is getting too long, so I'll take them up in a separate post in the next day or two.

Comments (10)

Sam Roeble

#1, Oct 12, 2016 5:16pm

Hi Katie,

"someone with whom I could so readily come to an understanding on all things" 

This quote says a lot about friendship and even faith, a kind of "faith seeking understanding" which supports the notion that friendship is both a means and end


Sam Roeble

#2, Oct 12, 2016 5:27pm

Sam Roeble wrote:

friendship is both a means and end

 By this, of course, I don't mean that any person is a means.  But, that the dynamic of friendship is both a means and an end, ultimately in Christ face to face.

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Oct 12, 2016 5:33pm

I wouldn't describe friendship as a means to end. Rather, it's an end-in-itself.

Needless to say, like every great and true and beautiful thing, it points beyond itself. But I wouldn't call it a means.

Sam Roeble

#4, Oct 13, 2016 9:31am

It is both/and.  Would you agree it is a conditional relationship? 

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Oct 13, 2016 11:25am

I don't know what you mean by conditional. It's certainly not conditional in the usual sense, viz. "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine;" "I'll be your friend if you remain popular."

But human beings aren't absolute and human life is contingent, so in that sense, all our relationships are conditional, including our enmities. "I will keep opposing you, as long as you keep doing this harm." "I will keep confiding in you, as long as you prove trustworthy."

As I've written elsewhere: love is unconditional; relationships have terms.

And, as I said above, everything good, everything valuable-in-itself in this world, points to something higher in the next.

I wish I understood what you're driving at and how it relates to my post.

Sam Roeble

#6, Oct 13, 2016 12:37pm

I think "soul mates" implies a permanence that is inevitably disrupted by mortality, for example.  That's why, I think it helpful to stick to Wojtyla's principles regarding friendship, which are conditional:

Sympathy→ Conformity of Wills (Trust & Sympathy) → Virtue of Hope (Trust & Sympathy)→Beatitude   

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Oct 13, 2016 12:44pm

You are still rather vague and cryptic. You haven't explained at all what you mean by conditional.

The soul mate experience as I am defining and defending it doesn't conflict with the mortality of human life or the possibility of happy second marriages, just as Wojtyla's references to matched "interior configurations" or "alter ego" doesn't. See my earlier post.

And conjugal love is not merely friendship. It involves a permanence and a exclusivity that friendship doesn't. 

I have lots of friendships, some deeper than others. I have only one soulmate, my husband.

Sam Roeble

#8, Oct 13, 2016 12:50pm

thanks for the clarification.  I didn't realize it was appropriately limited to marriage--makes sense as I was reading too much friendship into soulmates and vice versa (I've been doing a lot of writing and thinking about friendship and not about soulmates)

Sam Roeble

#9, Oct 13, 2016 1:33pm

On the other hand, you have folks like Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoire who were interiorily matched, per se, and yet it is clear that they were matched in vice rather than virtue.  That is to say that, this dynamic isn't always geared toward the good, true and beautiful...

Katie van Schaijik

#10, Oct 13, 2016 1:55pm

The point is that it it's real, and that it coheres better with the truth about persons than the alternative.

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