According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs, and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.
Just like that, the enduring ideal of the soulmate was born. And for well over 2,500 years this concept of a ‘one true love’ has been seized upon by poets, artists, TV and filmmakers. We’ve seen Disney princesses dream of true love’s kiss, crooned along to love songs about finding that special someone, and become fiercely invested in celebrity romances, too.
It’s even cropped up on several online dating sites, too, with many boldly promising that you’ll meet ‘The One’ using their algorithm – or having you take a personality test to reveal what percentage ‘soulmate status’ you and a potential first date might have.
With this in mind, then, it makes sense that pop culture’s relationship with ‘The One’ has slowly begun to shift at last.
The science of soulmates
Spike WS Lee, an assistant marketing professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, conducted a study that seemingly confirmed that this idea of the soulmate might actually be damaging our long-term happiness.
For the study, participants had to choose between phrases and images that indicated whether they felt that love was a search for The One or a lifelong, compromise-filled journey.
Those who picked the former, it transpired, had significantly more negative thoughts when they reflected on conflicts in their relationships than the love-is-a-journey group.
“People who view themselves as soulmates tend to be less satisfied when they think of the conflicts in their relationships,” he said.
“It’s inevitable. In the soulmate frame, conflicts are bad. People think, well, maybe we’re not the perfect fit.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Samantha Rodman agrees with this read, adding that our obsession with finding ‘The One’ won’t just lead to discontentment; it will put enormously damaging pressure on any and all romantic relationships, too.
“Relationships are difficult enough without placing unneeded extra expectations on them,” she writes.
“You and your partner can learn to reframe what love is, while respecting each other as separate people that may not agree on everything. Furthermore, your romantic connection will likely ebb and flow over the course of a long-term relationship.
“Expecting that passion will stay ignited at ‘soulmate pitch’ can be disappointing and ultimately destructive for your relationship.”
Rodman adds: “Instead of thinking about your partner as your soulmate, it may be healthier to envision them as someone you love deeply, but who is unlikely to meet every need and desire that you have.
How TV is redressing the balance
While plenty of films are still being churned out to promote this idea of ‘The One’, a number of TV shows are doing their best to expose the ancient Greek ideal’s many, many, many faults.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, for example, sees two highly compatible individuals sit down for a perfect first date in Hang The DJ. When they check out their ‘soulmate status’ on a futuristic app, though, they learn that their relationship has a predicted 12-hour expiry date.
Sadly, they bid one another goodbye without a second thought, dooming themselves to a seemingly ceaseless cycle of unfulfilling relationships as a result.
Amazon Prime’s new series Soulmates, meanwhile, sends us rocketing 15 years into the future when science makes a discovery that changes the lives of everyone on the planet – a way to find your soulmate.
As a devastated Kurt Shepard (Charlie Heaton) learns in the series, though, the test can point you to your soulmate too late: he has been predeceased by his match, and so he is forced to spend the rest of his days grieving for the so-called love of his life that… well, that he never had the chance to actually meet. Go figure.
Now, Netflix’s The One is joining the fray with its own coldly scientific approach to soulmates. Based on John Marrs’ novel of the same name, it challenges us to answer the following: if you knew your soulmate was out there, and could be identified by a small sample of DNA, would you take the test to find your match?
Considering the show promises to deal with a truly twisted murder plot, we’re going to hazard a guess that the answer should be a resounding ‘hell no’.
So, is love dead?
The message of all of these shows is abundantly clear: love isn’t about science and DNA, nor is it about fate and destiny. There isn’t only one custom-built person out there that renders every other useless. And love, real love, takes time, and effort, not to mention a willingness to let yourself be vulnerable.
That’s the crux of the matter, when you get down to it: any psychologist will tell you that an initial spark is great, but that it’s communication, collaboration and constructive conflict resolution that leads to happy and fulfilling relationships.
Because, while we might have found the concept of a soulmate to be a thoroughly romantic one, stripping away the ‘magic’ and replacing it with icily cool science helps us to realise it for what it is: thoroughly limiting.
With more and more shows tackling this idea head-on, then, perhaps we’ll see more and more people embrace the romance that comes from working hard at a relationship and choosing to love someone (despite their flaws) each and every day.
Soulmates is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Black Mirror and The One are streaming via Netflix.
Images: Netflix/Amazon Prime
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.