Considering the Soulmate

Friday, February 19, 2010

Question

I've been going through an unsettled period in my life after the breakup of a seven-year tumultuous relationship with a man I still consider my soulmate.

I seem to crave attention and/or sex constantly, as if trying to fill a void. I'm able to restrain myself most of the time but lately I've had a few encounters where I definitely wasn't in control of my impulses and went further than I should have and that included unprotected sex.

I'm blessed with good looks and have frequently been told I'm hot. Men constantly approach me at clubs. I know they get the impression that I'm very sexual/easy, but I'm experiencing a surreal mix of feelings: anger at them for seeing me as a sex object, anger at myself for lowering my personal moral standards, sadness that I can't seem to allow myself to become emotionally intimate with guys, even contempt for the whole human sexual experience, which reeks of weakness, pathology and dysfunction.

I want sex to return to what I used to experience—magical, passionate, playful and loving—but the men I've been meeting seem uninterested in more than just the physical experience. So I succumb to my own carnal desires for my "fix" and leave feeling emptier than before. Now I'm completely shutting down emotionally and just going through the motions.

I should mention that I've had several traumatic sexual experiences, including incest with my father when I was 12 and an incidence of "non-consensual" intercourse with a man I was having an affair with.

Not So Hot

Answer

I like that you use the phrase "consider my soulmate." This choice of words implies that the feeling is one-sided and/or you have some vague agency over the concept. What I've come to realize about the soulmate label is that as a species we are so in awe of this type of union that we've developed an irrational and single-minded craving for it. The soulmate is the ultimate expression of our ability to love and be loved in this world, yet many of us couldn't effectively articulate what a soul is and why it's preordained to have one very specific mate.

This is not to say I haven't met couples who fall into this category. I have also met people for whom I felt this kind of connection, only to have it go awry—sometimes spectacularly, sometimes like a balloon slowly deflating.

I don't say this to be cynical. We want these deep connections because we want to love in a significant way. There is great beauty and profundity to this desire, but as with so many things that are beautiful and profound and make us want to bond with other human beings meaningfully, problems arise when we give a feeling a name but don't fully accept its unpredictability.

After all, when you name something, doesn't that give it unquestionable validity?

Hot, you need to find a way to look at this relationship differently, or at least accept that you can have an array of people in your life who fit this bill.

We have the power to do this, but it's frightening because it feels calculated, not spontaneous, yet somehow fated. Implementing this concept requires a more expansive view. This, as Norman Doidge writes in The Brain That Changes Itself ($17.50, Penguin), is the most distinctive thing about neuroplasticity, the idea that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

"What we have learned by looking closely at neuroplasticity contributes to both the constrained and the unconstrained aspects of our nature," Doidge writes. "Plasticity is far too subtle a phenomenon to unambiguously support a more constrained or unconstrained view of human nature, because in fact it contributes to both human rigidity and flexibility, depending on how it is cultivated."

As you cling to the concept of a soulmate while indulging in unsatisfying sex, you're telling yourself that these are your only options. You've got to clear those neural pathways and cultivate some different ideas. With your history of abuse, you might consider inviting a therapist along for this ride, too.