I am in love with my wife.
Katie and I have been married for thirteen years and I cannot even imagine my life without her. Married life is rarely easy and there are days when I do not feel in love with her (and likely many more days when she does not feel in love with me!), but I never desire to be married to anyone else. She is the only one for me. You might say that she is my soulmate.
Perhaps you don't believe in soulmates. Neither do I, at least not in one popular sense of the term. That is, I do not believe that there is just one person out there in the world with whom I could have been happily married, or who is uniquely "perfect" for me. In fact, had my life gone differently, I expect that I could have fallen in love with someone else and that she (whoever she is) could have ended up being "the one" for me.
Of course, I couldn't have been happily married with just anyone. Katie and I are united by our common faith in and love for Jesus Christ, we have always had compatible senses of vocation and visions for family life, we share many interests and passions, and we have always greatly enjoyed each other's company. But surely she is not the only woman with whom I could have been so compatible.
In what sense, then, is she my soulmate? In what sense is she the only one for me? In his essay "Love's Bond," the late Harvard University philosopher Robert Nozick explains that when two people enter into a loving romantic relationship they begin to form a "shared identity" with each other. The two, who were once "I" and "you," begin to form a "we."
One aspect of this new shared identity is shared emotions. My love for Katie causes me to be saddened by the things that sadden her and to share in her joy when things go well for her. I really do love her with all my heart.
Another important aspect of a "we" that Nozick highlights is the "pooling of autonomy." When Katie and I first began dating, I made most of my decisions independently of her, except when we were planning to spend time together. The longer we have been together, however, the more we naturally take each other into account in our decisions. Of course we make major decisions together about our finances, our parenting, and our long-term plans. But we also take each other into account in more mundane decisions, such as what kind of food to buy at the grocery store, what shows to watch on TV, and what to read. Sometimes when I am eating at a restaurant without Katie, I will even avoid ordering a dish that I know she would like because I do not want to enjoy it without her.
In marriage, the two become one, not just physically, but psychologically through the forming of a "we." Even before you are married, when you fall in love and begin to share your beloved's emotions and pool your autonomy, your individual identities - your very selves - begin to overlap. This can be illustrated by two overlapping circles like the wedding rings pictured above - Nozick suggests that this might be the traditional heart shape. What were once two independent selves become united in a shared identity.
Each person in a "we" maintains some of his or her independence and unique personality, but the new shared identity - the "we" - is a part of each of them. Just like our individual identities, every shared identity is unique. Once you have formed a "we" there is only one person who can "complete" you in love. This is how someone who might not have been your soulmate before you met can become your soulmate over time. Soulmates are not "out there" to be discovered, but they can develop.
This is why breakups can be so painful. To lose the one you love is, in a very real sense, to lose a part of yourself. Sometimes it is best to breakup with the one you love. But the more that you have formed a shared identity, the more difficult and painful the breakup will be. So you must be careful about whom you choose to date. You might think it is merely a "casual" relationship, but you could unknowingly be forming a "we" with someone who would not be a good lifelong partner for you. Fortunately, God's love can heal any broken heart. It is His love that makes our hearts whole. Even so, those of you who are searching for "the one" must try to guard your hearts, only allowing your heart and your self to be formed together with another whose heart is already shaped by God's love.
What about those of us who are married? How can we learn to love our spouses as our soulmates? I said above that I am in love with my wife. I also love my wife. Loving and being in love are not the same thing. To say that I am in love with my wife is to say that I have passionate, loving feelings toward her, I am preoccupied with her beauty, I am filled with excitement at her presence. Although I always love my wife, I do not always feel so in love with her. As anyone who has been married for very long knows, the feelings of being in love are fleeting, even in the best marriages. We must not depend on the feelings of being in love for our happiness. If we do, we will not only miss out on happiness, we will miss out on true love.
If we want to be happy and whole in marriage, we must commit to treating our spouses with love, kindness, and tenderness even when we don't feel like it. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we must do the works of love even when the feelings of love are not present. Husbands, we must follow the example of Christ by loving our wives as we love ourselves (Ephesians 5:25). Wives, you must do the same for your husbands. For, once you have formed a shared identity, to love your spouse is, in a very real sense, to love a part of yourself - your "other half," your soulmate.
I love Jesus, my family, basketball, and music. I teach philosophy and I think and write about ethics, emotions, virtues, and Christian thought. In a culture that encourages us to jump to conclusions and form firm opinions with little reflection, I invite you to think slowly and carefully with me about how to live well in our complex world. Follow me on Twitter @AdamCPelser.