Here is my idea for a good way to drive people mad: get them to believe there is only one right car for them. Not one make or model, but one actual car. And they have to find it. When located, it would make them giddily happy whenever they drive. If, on the other hand, they didn’t find the car, or if somebody else owned it and didn’t want to sell it, or they inadvertently settled for an automobile that was not quite perfect, then the drivers might have wheels to get around in, but they would always, in some sense, be stuck with a lemon.
How would you get people to believe such a crazy thing? Easy: just craft a lot of beautiful stories about people finding their One True Auto. Have people sing about driving it home, at last. Get car buyers to believe that it will come fully loaded and never need a mechanic or run out of gas or break down. It would help if you could create a network of potential cars that these seekers could access and browse so that their search could go global and their specifications could be exactly met. People could enter their preferences — four-wheel drive, fuel efficiency, a blue light around the base — and suggestions would be delivered right to their personal computing device.
And of course, if the automobile ever failed to make the driver happy, if it got a scratch or the seatbelt got stuck or that stupid brake light kept flickering, the car owner could offload it but would lose a lot of money on it.
Obviously, that’s bonkers. People would either never buy a car or just trade in endlessly, making themselves crazy. Believing that there’s just the one car or pair of pants or haircut or bottle of beer that is perfect for you is a great way of never wearing pants or drinking beer again.
In the same way, the search for a soulmate is fruitless and destructive. A soulmate is not a thing. At least, it’s not a thing you can find. That’s a myth trafficked to us by folks who need to peddle movie tickets and iTunes downloads and subscriptions to eHarmony. The chances that you can somehow locate, attract, bond with, and contractually bind yourself to the only person who is the one perfect match for you in the whole world are vanishingly small.
We don’t find soulmates, like some fantastic shell on the beach. We become them. And as we do, the other person becomes ours. One of us is the waves and the other is the sand, and together we make the beach, changing the shape and passage of the other and maybe even bringing some amazing conches to the surface alongside the seaweed and knotted fishing wire.
This does not mean, however, that your partner is going to make you whole. He or she is not going to catapult you into a different version of you, one in which you are always happy, or always on time, or never make mistakes. You may think you’ve found the perfect combination of sexpot/chef/nurturer and now all your problems are solved, but it is not so. That’s not what you’re doing, for example, when you’re getting married. Marriage means you’re throwing your lot in with a person and saying, “This journey looks like it might be more fun with you.”
Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has a theory about fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is one in which people believe their abilities and interests and intelligence are set from birth. A growth mindset is one in which people believe that interests and abilities can be cultivated. Those with a fixed mindset spend a long time looking for their passion or their career. Those with a growth mindset tend to work at things longer and build on them. Relationships, and especially marriages, require a growth mindset. You are not setting up your life with the one, you are setting it up with someone. From there, you work on perfecting communication and adoration and appreciation of eccentricities.
Finally, it’s helpful to realise that nearly everything about your partner will, at some point, enrage you beyond reason. They won’t change when you want them to. They’ll change when you don’t want them to. The more that you get to know them, the more the things that charmed you in the first place will become the things that make you want to set your own hair on fire just to get away from them for five minutes. You don’t solve this problem by choosing the right person — although for the love of mercy, please select carefully — you solve it by choosing what you will do when the blinkers come off and you realise that this may be the person who is going to be in your life for the rest of your life. “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths,” wrote Mark Twain. “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”
Adapted from Marriageology by Belinda Luscombe. Copyright © 2019 by Belinda Luscombe. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, A Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.