Thanks for reading Can We Talk?, a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Last time, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, helped a reader who couldn’t seem to find someone they wanted to date long-term. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers about their stances on finding their soulmate or “the one” they’d stay with forever… and if “the one” even exists.
Leah Marie, 39
After Leah Marie lost her mother to an asthma attack at 16 and her dad to pancreatic cancer at 21, she found it difficult to navigate her adult relationships, some of which did more harm than good. "I looked in all the wrong places and learned just about every lesson the hard way,” Leah Marie says. When she finally found the person she saw as “the one," she was 37 years old and twice divorced.
"I married my first husband because I was desperate for stability,” she says. "He was also someone I wasn't physically attracted to, but I told myself it was shallow of me to think that way.” They eventually got married, but about five years in and one daughter later, Leah Marie says she found herself restless and wanting out. "He wasn't my person,” she recalls. "When I left that marriage, I did exactly what you're not supposed to do: I hopped right into another relationship and brought my unhealed wounds and emotional baggage with me. I was a late bloomer when it came to realising my sexuality and wanted to explore the parts of me that had never seen the light of day. I dated (and lived with) a woman that I was very attracted to for about two years.”
After that relationship ended, Leah Marie dove into online dating. "Instead of building my own confidence, I outsourced the love I was lacking and married the first person I went on a date with,” she says. "We dated for three months before he moved in, and were engaged five months later.” Meanwhile, she was ignoring red flags and shrugging off what her intuition was telling her: that he wasn’t the so-called “one." "Two years into our marriage I dropped to my knees crying in my bedroom because I knew what I had done,” she remembers. "I had rushed into another relationship with someone I wasn't compatible with because I was afraid of being alone. The fear of abandonment from the death of my parents had woven its way into all of my relationships, especially the relationship I had with myself.”
So she started doing some self-work and extricated herself from that partnership. "I knew I needed to break my patterns; I knew I couldn't keep dragging my daughter through these relationships,” Leah Marie says. “I knew I needed to do the scary thing and learn how to be alone… I had to face all of the parts of myself that I hadn't given enough attention to. I had to give myself the love I so desperately searched for in outside sources.”
It turned out this was the best thing she could have done for herself. She realised she had to make herself the “one” she focused on, in order to find someone great. "Once I began living my life for me, knowing my worth, doing the inner work, and fulfilling myself, I met the person I was meant to be with,” she says. "The absolute love of my life. And it was because I didn't need him. He wasn't filling any kind of void. He was extra, like a cherry on a sundae. We just celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary last month. Life is good when you're good to yourself.”
As a queer kid growing up in small-town Ohio, Lewis didn’t think much about finding “the one.” All she really wanted was to move away to a bigger city. “That’s what I cared about more than anything,” she says.” I struggled for a little bit with my sexuality throughout high school… But once I finally got out, I started to become 100% secure and didn’t care what other people thought. I wasn’t searching for validation or hiding from my family, and that was important.”
But little did Lewis know at the time, she actually had found someone great in her hometown of Warren, OH. It was there she first met and later reunited with Mea Hooks. The two had the same group of friends in high school, but never hung out one on one. After Lewis graduated, she came home to Warren on a snowy mid-winter break. On the way, her car slid into a ditch. “I ended up in front of her house and she let me stay there while some of my other brothers came to help us get out of the ditch,” Lewis recalls. “That’s how we reconnected.”
For the next several years, the two stayed in touch on Facebook. But it wasn’t until after Lewis had moved away to California — and been once-married and divorced — that they really got close. Although at the time, Lewis’s life felt as stormy as it had the day she slid into the ditch, Hooks was a beacon of light. She listened to and supported Lewis, even from afar, as Hooks still lived in Ohio. Soon, Hooks came to California for a short visit. “I dropped her off at the airport in L.A. and I couldn’t stop crying,” Lewis remembers. “It was freaking me out; I’m not really a crier.” After the dropoff, Lewis parked her car at a beach near the airport and just watched the planes fly over her, sobbing and wondering which one Hooks was on.
Soon, Lewis asked Hooks to move in with her. Now the two are married, have a child, and are traveling the world together. They’re currently based in Mexico but move around a lot. Lewis went from thinking the idea of “the one” was made up and rarely worrying about finding such a person to “100% believing in” the concept.
“She made me believe in love and truly willed me through some of the worst moments of my life,” Lewis says. “The biggest thing I’d tell my younger self about love, now, is to work on yourself and not stress about looking for that one person. Oftentimes, things find us when we’re ready.”
Alice Eve, 29
Growing up in Fort Worth, TX, in the 2000s, Alice Eve believed in the idea that "everybody had a soulmate out there," and that everyone's story was destined to end "happily ever after." "That could have been partly because I was absolutely obsessed with fairy tales and Barbie culture,” she says.
But in order to actually find “the one,” Alice Eve says she had to learn the hard way. When she first started dating her husband, she felt she "knew for sure that he was the one,” she says. "I was certain that we were meant to be and that we would last because my brain, heart, and loins all had equal weight in the equation. I'm ashamed to admit that I was even a little cocky about my brilliant decision... I was extremely sure that my search was over.”
However, the couple divorced after 6 years, and this brought Alice Eve to the conclusion that "nobody knows when and if they've met ‘the one.’”
"You’ll fall in love — that person will be your 'right-for-all-time' or 'right-for-a-time’ partner,” she reflects now, "and you'll deal with whatever happens.” She’s since come to the conclusion that you’ll meet people you love in life and "how long it lasts is anyone's guess.”
"You can't really work on that,” Alice Eve says. “What you can work on is loving and cherishing your partner and making the most out of the time you have together.”
Even though her husband wasn’t it, to some extent she still believes she made a good decision to marry him. “We had many happy years together and, even after divorce, we remained cordial, amicable, and respectful, and we continue to brilliantly co-parent a well-adjusted child,” she says.
Her path also led her to find love again. She says: "Today, I'm happily engaged to a man who I hope is my right 'one for all time.’”
Kirsten McKinley, 34
Jersey City, NJ
Jersey City, NJ
Working as a wedding planner, McKinley has heard a lot of stories from people who were certain they’d found “the one.” Perhaps by trade, this led her to categorize herself as a “hopeless romantic.”
"I always had high expectations of what my own journey would be like,” she says. "I wanted that rom-com spark, the sudden coup d’amour, and the assured feeling of having found a soulmate.”
McKinley’s life didn’t go quite that direction, and she says that’s okay.
"I actually met my husband at an after-wedding event that a client was throwing,” she says. "Although there was instant attraction, it wasn’t instant love, and we both had to work through our own issues before being ready to be in a healthy relationship.”
Once they started dating, her concept of “the one” still shifted. After going through life’s ups and downs together, she realised it’s not about finding that perfect other half — it’s about finding someone willing to build a future with you. “I now believe that soulmates are made, not born, through the slow intertwining of lives, hopes, and dreams,” McKinley says.
The couple ultimately got married, and they work at their relationship every day.
Elena says, so far, she’s happy enough with the way her life is going, with no “soulmate” in sight. “I feel pretty good about my friends, career, and general life,” she says. “I get along with my family, I spend a lot of time outdoors, and I own a house. I'm proud to be successful in most aspects of my life so far, except the absolute trainwreck of relationships in my rearview mirror.”
So far, she’s been in four long-term relationships — the longest of which was six years. “I know that I tend to gravitate towards people who seem like they need ‘help,’ whether it's mental health issues, finally moving out of their parents' houses (which has happened twice now) or both,” Elena says.
The relationships have crumbled for a variety of reasons. “My first boyfriend was cheating on me; the second's mental health issues were too much; in the third, we grew apart; and the most recent was so filled with resentment it turned me into a shell of myself,” she says. “I think some of this is reflective of my own self-worth, where I believe I need to offer something in order to be worthy, so I take on ‘projects.’”
Now Elena says she feels ready to date again, and she’s ready to set stronger boundaries and stick to them. “I know I need to break this pattern,” she says. “I learned that I have lowered my standards in order to be partnered, and that's not something I'm willing to do anymore… I'm done wasting time on people who aren't good enough.”
She’s dead set on not “settling” now, and is going to trust her gut going forward. She doesn’t know if that will lead her to “the one,” but hopes it will at least lead to finally feeling content when it comes to love.
“I used to believe in ‘the one,’ but I do not anymore,” she says. “I think most people in happy relationships have ended up with a good fit for themselves, but it's hard to believe you found your soulmate with your own limited location and circle of interactions. The only reason I’m still motivated to find someone is that I do desire companionship, even though it's proven excruciatingly hard to connect with people, and I've been historically drawn to men who are terrible fits for me. I do feel lonely, and I would like to end up with a good partner for myself.” For Elena, that would be more than enough.
*Names have been changed.