Q: I’m a single dad of three children, who are my world, and it was a battle to get custody of them. For three years, I’ve dated a woman with grown children, and on our shared birthday (Valentine's Day), I proposed and she accepted. Two days later, she ended everything via text and hasn't spoken to me since. She claimed she wants to come first in someone's life, and my kids and dealings with my ex-wife took priority. Didn’t she figure this out earlier? Three weeks after she broke things off, I learned she was “in love” with an older rich guy with no children and that she’s spreading lies about me to mutual friends. We had a great relationship, and using her words, were “total soulmates.” Now she tells people how miserable she was. Even her friends are confused.
A: It seems she’s got a new take on a classic soulmate anthem: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, except, hey, check out that old rich guy over there!”
What a lucky lady. No sooner did she realize that her current soulmate was no longer working for her than another popped up, right in the same town and everything. The truth is, even nice, well-meaning people can go floating along thinking they’re in a relationship they want until their partner says, “Hey, wanna make it for realsies?” Chances are, your girlfriend long resented your prioritizing your kids but just sucked it up — until you got down on one knee and presented her with the fork in the road. With the prospect of permanence on the horizon, everything suddenly became clear: One road leads to a lifetime battling for your cash and attention, and the other has Snow White awakening from her coma and realizing she could get a better deal.
A partner’s use of the term “total soulmates!” suggests that one is either dating a 14-year-old or somebody about as emotionally and romantically mature. The idea of soulmates actually traces back to Plato. He wrote about a “symposium” (ancient Greek for “kegger”) at which an apparently tanked Aristophanes claimed there were once three sexes — male, female, and this weird he/she thing, round like a soccer ball, with four hands, four feet, and two faces. According to Ari, humans got power-hungry and attacked the gods. The gods were pissed. They contemplated annihilating humanity with thunderbolts and then realized there’d be nobody left to leave them offerings. Zeus instead punished the humans by hacking the he/shes in two — male and female — and after Apollo reshaped them to look like we do now, the gods dispersed them, compelling them to forever be searching for their “other half.” Supposedly, those few who are lucky enough to find theirs spend the rest of their lives making googoo eyes at each other on a picnic blanket while all the other couples are taking turns sobbing into a pillow in marriage counseling or sex therapy.
Ironically, back here in the real world, a person who believes she’s your soulmate is actually a flight risk. Social psychologist Dr. C. Raymond Knee has explored the effect on relationships from “destiny belief” — the belief that people have “soulmates,” that relationships are either fated to be or they’re not — versus “growth belief,” the belief that successful relationships don’t just fall out of the sky; they take work. Partners with growth belief think that relationships are “cultivated and developed” over time, that problems are a natural part of them, and that working through them is a way to build a closer and stronger bond. A destiny believer, on the other hand, tends to see problems as a sign she’s in the wrong place and as reason to bail.
As for why your self-proclaimed soulmate dumped you via text and then trash-talked you all over town, well, some women are into shoes that match their handbag; yours turned out to have a cold heart to go with her cold feet. This strongly suggests that what she felt for you was not love but “love the one you’re with” (aka adventures in mercenary pragmatism). A romantic partner might need to end things with you, but if she ever loved you, she doesn’t turn on you the moment you’re no longer of use to her. In trashing you now, chances are she’s trying to punish you for her failure to figure out what she really wanted and maybe trying to justify dumping you to both herself and her friends. The way for you to go forward is by looking backward. Explore whether you bought into the idea that she was loving and didn’t allow yourself to see the woman she appears to be — one who’s looking for that special someone to take her hand and walk off into the sunset with her toward his bank’s nearest ATM.
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