Wuthering Heights, the immortal novel that not only troubles the Leaving Cert consciousness of teenagers nationwide, but that more disturbingly haunts our notions of love, obsession, and that tall, dark, brooding stranger, the soul-mate; ‘The One’ that “whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same”. Over a hundred and sixty years on, all Kate Bush wailing, Cliff Richard flailing; Ralph Fiennes hailing, the power of Emily Bronte’s dark romance refuses to slumber quietly, most especially in how this haunting idea of soul mates continues to gravely roam throughout our culture’s thinking and our own emotional unconscious. We live in the shadow of thoughts of ‘great passion’; ‘inseparable loves’; ‘impossible desires’, all of which highlight our desperate longing to hold onto some fiction of relationships and the fantasy of love. Maybe I am Heathcliff!
Soul-mates are perhaps the most dangerous concept to flood dating and love culture since text flirting; they too are all symbols and no substance, abbreviated rather than complete, and extraordinarily immature. Soul-mates are a fantasy, rather than a reality; an ideal that is valuable to be aware of, but treacherously costly to believe in. The idea of soul-mates is like a siren call to destruction; enticing and luring, you should never aim your emotional ship towards them, but wisely observe, regard but steer well clear. It is all very well for Cathy and Heathcliff to be wandering the moors eternally bound to each other, because we never see them dealing with the realities of relationships, sulking over bedside lamps in IKEA, arguing over the hoovering; worrying over credit card bills. No, Cathy and Heathcliff went the only way soul mates have gone since Romeo and Juliet, which is towards death; and in death their love remains unconsummated and thus can persist as an ideal.
So ten things to bear in mind with soul mates:
- Intense feelings are intense because they are fuelled by fantasy not by reality. Remember your feelings are yours; take responsibility for them by being aware that they are coming from within you and are not coming from anyone else. Get to really know the other person; the more you know someone the more they will drive you crazy because they can never live up to your fantasy of them, but they have a chance to live in reality.
- Though we all like to say that looks aren’t important, they are. But each of us is attracted to our own look, unless we have been completely brainwashed by society’s dictates of ‘attractiveness’. Be aware that ‘Tall, Dark, and Handsome’ too often translates as selfish, vain and emotionally stunted.
- There is something intrinsically narcissistic about looking for someone who is your ‘soul-mate’; who is “more myself than I am”, and as with most narcissists it usually points to a deep insecurity and low self-esteem. Differences in relationships are good; differences that are compatible and that recognise each other. It is only through differences that we learn and develop. The same just keeps us stuck being as we were.
- If you want a soul-mate then be a mate to your own soul; that part within that makes you an individual. Get to know your soul, explore it, enjoy it, have your own relationship with yourself. Find out what you like, and pursue your own hobbies and interests. Don’t project responsibility for your soul’s care onto somebody else; you will always end up disappointed.
- Everyone always believes they have one soul-mate until that relationship/affair/fantasy ends; then they either deny that first soul-mate – “Oh no, they weren’t the one” or else they create a new myth and speak of how every lifetime brings two great loves; Stand up and take a bow Sex and the City’s eternal romantic, Charlotte York. Life is full of many people and many different kinds of love and lovers, there is no one way or person.
- Soul-mates hurt. Heathcliff destroyed the lives, loves and dreams of everyone around him, including Cathy. People who project into the ‘soul-mate’ are very often emotional masochists who unconsciously enjoy ‘la douleur exquise’ – the delicious pain of suffering. Life is meant to be lived not suffered; if your ‘One’ is being mean then that can only mean they aren’t meant for you.
- It is not a coincidence that Wuthering Heights is doled out to teenagers; only in youth and inexperience can we love so freely, blindly and naïvely. Our first loves are hopefully a joyous, crazy, overwhelming and completely embarrassing story. Enjoy them; learn from them; then onwards and upwards. Relationships throughout life are more a decathlon than a single sprint.
- Romance is magical, love is real. People tend to talk of soul-mates as a way of avoiding reality. Notice soul-mates’ keenest disciples are more often those who feel themselves toxically single, or those who are frustrated in relationships. The soul-mate then can act as a justification for any behaviour; be it their kitten-filled spinisterhood or that disastrous affair they just had to have behind their spouse’s back, because after all who can say no to a soul-mate. ‘The One’ is a treacherous carte blanche that is used to justify everything. It is a get out of emotional jail free card, except that it always comes with a price.
- Concentrate a little more on the mate part of the relationship and a little less on the soul and you might discover a worthy companion through life. Okay, so they might not be howling undying love at your window each night, but they are also more likely to be there for a genuine happy ever after, or at least an honest conclusion. Affairs are founded on foolish passion; solid relationships are built on genuine friendship.
- The One is solitary, a sole mate; keep on dreaming of them if you want to stay single and alone.