What is a soul mate, anyway?

People commonly use the word to describe the most perfect person in the world for them, otherwise known as "The One." Some say we only have one soul mate. Others say we have many. I say we misunderstand what the term even means.

Here are some of the definitions I found:

  • A person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner.
  • A person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs.
  • One of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity.
  • A person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity. This may involve similarity, love, intimacy, sexuality, sexual activity, spirituality, or compatibility and trust.

Some of these definitions are actually quite different, which leads to some of the confusion about what a "soul mate" actually is.

The major conflict amongst the definitions above seems to be the interchangeability of similarity and compatibility. These are two different concepts. Similarity means you've got matching attitudes, beliefs, and temperament. Compatibility means you're capable of existing harmoniously with another person. Sometimes, you experience compatibility with people who are very similar to you; other times, you experience compatibility with people who are quite different (the "opposites attract" phenomenon).

The mainstream understanding of what "soul mate" means isn't wrong—it's just not comprehensive.

Your soul mates are your mirrors. Even if you've never met the other person before, there's this instant recognition—it is as though you've known them forever. How do we make sense of that feeling? Here's the explanation we rarely talk about:

Our souls "mate" with other souls not always—or just—because it's a sign you should go off and get married or become best friends. They mate when we recognize ourselves in someone else—consciously or subliminally.

Soul mates aren't necessarily the people you get along with better than anyone else—the ones you share perfect, frictionless compatibility with. Sometimes, it's quite the opposite.

The people we're most similar to are the ones who make us feel the most understood—that we completely "belong." But, they are also the ones who make us feel the most uncomfortable.

Sometimes, soul mates reveal the ugliest parts about ourselves (because we tend to see other's imperfections more quickly than our own). They expose our self-limiting beliefs and behaviors or habits that hold us back. They hit you over the head with a dose of reality; "they tear down your walls and smack you awake."

They force you to question your own ego, addictions, and fallibility. In the midst of their pinpoint accuracy about your character and integrity, the thoughts and feelings they bring up in you are somewhere between deeply resonant and deeply annoying—sometimes both. Because you know what they are saying is true.

They know you. Your soul matches theirs. And their souls match yours.

That's how you're able to expose one another's truths—good and bad—so rapidly and precisely.

Soul mates are, perhaps, the most important people we'll meet in our lives. They are the ones capable of breaking our hearts open so we can deal with old wounds we've been holding on to for too long. They crack us so new light can flood in and create undeniable warmth. They make us feel so out of control that we have no choice but to deal with the unflattering parts of ourselves. They catalyze our transformation.

They bring us to our own attention, so we can understand ourselves better, and grow in unimaginably powerful, abrupt, revolutionary ways.

They shake us alive in a way no one else could.

So, it doesn't matter if the relationship we have with our soul mates is short-term or long-term, hard or easy, painful or joyful, or a mix of it all.

What matters is that we allow ourselves to be cracked open by them. That we go into the relationship with as little judgment or expectation as possible. That we dance gracefully with them. That we go into every moment with an open mind, and open heart. And that we allow ourselves to be completely, uncomfortably vulnerable.

And that we express and feel enormous gratitude and unconditional love for them.

Because they are our greatest gifts.

They are the ones who help us become the best version of ourselves.