Soul mates, part 1

“I love you.  You…complete me.”

As mentioned in Pastor Aaron’s sermon on relationships this past weekend, so goes Tom Cruise’s famous romantic line from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire.  Equally famous is Renee Zellweger’s tearful response: “Just shut up.  You had me at ‘Hello.'”

Hollywood both reflects and shapes our understandings of love and romance.  Remember 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle?  The heroine, Annie (Meg Ryan), essentially stalks a man (Tom Hanks) she’s only heard on the radio, believing she is destined to be with him despite her engagement to someone else.  Her inspiration?  The 1957 romantic classic An Affair to Remember, the quintessential “chick flick” that she’s seen so many times she knows the dialogue by heart.  As Annie’s best friend (Rosie O’Donnell) tells her, summarizing the movie’s core theme, “You don’t want to be in love.  You want to be in love in a movie.”

So: “You complete me.”  Do people really think that way?  Apparently.  As a woman named Betsy admitted:

Before Phil and I got married, I didn’t spend a ton of time thinking about what marriage would be like.  I had always heard, though, that marriage completes people, so I guess I believed that through marriage I would become spiritually and emotionally whole.  I honestly don’t know where I got that.  But it was there in me—and big time.  I also believed that being married, I would feel loved and adored at least 99 percent of the time … Especially when we first got married, I wanted Phil to meet all my needs.  It was as if the ring went on my finger and Phil went on my life pedestal.  And because I had put him on mine, I wanted to be on his life pedestal, too. (Quoted in Jerusha Clark, When I Get Married, pp. 27-28, emphasis added)

It’s not just Betsy.  A survey of over 1,000 Americans in their twenties, conducted by the National Marriage Project in 2001, reported that 94% of the never-married singles agreed that in marriage, “you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.”  A full 88% agreed that their soul mate was “waiting for [them] somewhere out there,” and nearly as many (87%) believed that when the time came to marry, they would indeed find that person.

Indeed, the idea of a soul mate is an ancient one.  In Plato’s Symposium, the playwright Aristophanes tells how human beings used to have four arms, four legs, and one head with two faces.  They were powerful and arrogant creatures, who sought to challenge the gods.  To put them in their place, Zeus ordered that they be split in two, leaving the sundered halves desperately looking for their “soul mates,” embracing each other and trying to be whole again.

Depressing, isn’t it?

There’s even a Christian version of the idea: “Somewhere out there is the person that God has chosen as my mate, and I simply have to find him/her.”  Sorry, but I know of no solid biblical basis for such a claim (please don’t shoot me).  I’m not saying that our choices don’t matter, nor that God leaves us entirely on our own.  But we should always beware of putting a religious gloss on a secular idea.

That Christianized version of the notion of romantic destiny leads its own problems.  How many people do you know who feel jilted by God because they haven’t found their special someone?  And please don’t say to them, “Hey, c’mon, cheer up.  I’m sure God has someone for you.”  That may simply prolong the pain.  The destiny God intends for us is not that we would be united with our designated soul mate.  Our destiny is in Christ, and in him alone.

Here’s another example.  Some Christians justify divorce by the need to search for their true soul mates.  The logic goes something like this: “Somewhere out there is the person God intended for me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I do now: I married the wrong person.  My mistake (sorry, God!).  But surely God doesn’t want me to be unhappy for the rest of my life…?”

Hang on: I’m not saying that God’s response would be, “Tough.  You made your bed, now sleep in it.”  Nor am I saying that God legalistically wills our unhappiness.  But notice how the logic above defines happiness in terms of romantic union.  The question is, where did we get that from?

Certainly not from the Bible.

This post is already running long, so I’ll finish it tomorrow.  Meanwhile, ask yourself, what’s the biblical alternative to the secular ideal of finding our romantic destiny in a soul mate?