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Are Soulmates Real? Science Says Yes — But Maybe Not the Way You Think 

The laws of attraction are a tad complicated.

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Margeaux Walter
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What’s that X factor that fuels chemistry between two people? What creates a connection so intense it makes our souls feel we’ve found a mate?

The mystery, the whole idea of soulmates, is rooted in science: Human brains are wired to identify another person as special, and we have the ability to pick someone out of a crowd, declare them “the one” and commit to them.

But hold on there, Cinderella. Our brains also can trip us up faster than a midnight sprint in glass slippers. The laws of attraction are complicated, and romantic notions about soulmates can set us up for lifelong disappointment.

Here’s the science, straight from Amir Levine, M.D., a New York psychiatrist and neuroscientist: “For humans, biologically speaking, soulmates are entirely real,” he wrote in a recent Washington Post story. “When you look at the neuroscience research, you see that for rodents that are monogamous, it’s smell that bonds them together. For humans, it’s probably about sight and smell.”

To stay together, however, humans must rise above muskrat love and practice compromise and communication — the hard stuff we rarely see in romantic comedies or Disney princess movies.

Levine wrote about how couples choose each other in his 2010 book, Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love. But he did not use the term “soulmates” because the meaning of the term is so subjective, and so weighed down by emotional baggage.

In fact, if you believe there’s one Prince or Princess Charming out there for you, consider your bubble burst. I’ve had several princes ride my way in my life, and each one offered me wonderful things — but not one was the perfect fit. I didn’t expect that anyway. Lucky for me, my soul connections are many, and include more friends than lovers.

There’s no such thing as “the one,” says author and relationship-advice columnist Dan Savage, who suggests that instead we try to “meet a .64 — if you’re really lucky, you might even meet a .72. … A few years in, we can clearly see those .92s for the .64s they are and always were,” he says in his YouTube video “The Price of Admission (for Love).”

When people use expressions like “the one,” “soulmate” and “twin flame,” Florida therapist Connie Ingram raises an eyebrow.

“In my practice, I often hear the term ‘soulmate’ and more recently ‘twin flame'," says Ingram. “A soulmate indicates one soul that belongs together with another soul. Twin flames are defined as two halves of the same soul. The implication is that destiny unites each soul.”

If that were true, destiny would have a better track record.

“Over the years, I’ve worked with couples who first come in as ‘soulmates’ for premarital counseling, and after a while they come back to therapy to work through their divorce,” Ingram continues. “If people are truly soulmates, why do they divorce? Especially when by the very definition, the two were extraordinarily linked and destined to be together? In the case of the ‘twin flame’ relationship, it can be very toxic — with the identity of each person being swallowed up in the other, and/or the relationship itself defining one’s self-worth.”

The science of smell and sight may attract us to certain people, but many other needs and desires are at play.

Beth Bates, 60, a human resources executive from Maine, has been widowed twice.

Both of her husbands died suddenly, both at age 61 — and she considers both her soulmates. Her first husband, Dan, was a lawyer running for Congress when he died in her arms of a heart attack in 2012. The grieving process led Beth to a deeper understanding of what a “soul connection” is — and it lasts beyond death.

“For me, a ‘soulmate’ means your entire self recognizes the depths of someone else’s entire self, that eternal connection that will not change,” she said. “I didn’t have the depths of understanding until I experienced the depths of grieving Dan.”

She found love again with Al, a man completely different from her first husband. Al called Beth his anam cara — Gaelic for “soul friend.” He passed away in the summer of 2022 of an aneurysm. She feels both men are still with her. “Their bodies are gone but their spirits are never gone,” she said.

When Christine McVie, the keyboardist, singer and writer behind many of Fleetwood Mac’s hit songs, died in November, her bandmate Lindsey Buckingham mourned her as a “soul mate" on Instagram: “Christine was a musical comrade, a friend, a soul mate, a sister. For over four decades, we helped each other create a beautiful body of work and a lasting legacy that continues to resonate today.”

He spoke often of their rapport. They were not lovers, but they were creative partners and so in sync that they produced a duet album in 2017.

“Rapport” stems from the French word rapporter, which means “to carry something back” — what McVie sent out to Buckingham, he could send back to her. The ability to give and take, to build rapport, is what elevates soulmates beyond basic science to the deep emotional connections that ferment over time. “If there are soulmates,” therapist Ingram says, “perhaps that is because they have grown into it as they go through the mountains and valleys of life together — as they work to get to know each other in more meaningful ways through the years, and they learn to accept each other as they are.”

Do you believe there is one soulmate for every person? Let us know in the comments below.

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