Lisa Elkins knew the minute she met Ron Elkins during a middle-of-the-night coffee break in college that she’d spend the rest of her life with him. She was 18 and he was 20.
Today, the two architects, who have been married for 18 years, share a home and a company together, working just 5 feet away from each other in an Illinois suburb.
“I think you can make things work with different people, but I think there’s a really special connection that makes one significantly more right than anyone else,” she said.
An overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the idea of soul mates. Psychologists and relationship experts, however, dispute the idea of a soul mate, saying that multiple people can match each other romantically.
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This can have a positive or negative interpretation.
For instance, if you could love multiple people, it may be easier to back out of a bad relationship, but at the same time, it also can offer an excuse to have an affair.
“The idea of a soul mate often results in a sense of security — if they are my soul mate, then I am theirs, and they could never leave me since they can’t find another soul mate,” said Ramani Durvasula, professor of psychology at California State University in Los Angeles. “It’s likely a false sense of security but a sense of security nonetheless.”
The soul mate idea is also a fairly romantic notion, says relationship expert Gary Lewandowski Jr.
“In reality, there are likely several people with whom any one individual could be compatible,” said Lewandowski, a professor and chairman in the psychology department at Monmouth University in New Jersey. “We see evidence of this when people have multiple high-quality relationships over time.”
A 2016 survey conducted by online dating site Match.com found that men fall in love just over three times in their lives, while the average woman falls in love a little more than twice in her life — a stat that appears to dispute the idea that “you’re the only one for me.”
“This belief that there’s only one person for you — the soul mate idea — comes out of our farming past, when you had to marry young, and you had to stay married for life: You couldn’t take half the farm with you,” said Helen Fisher, author of “Anatomy of Love.”
Part of the reason why love interests change over a lifetime is because people change — and partners might grow apart.
The person who was perfect for you at that period in your life may not be perfect anymore.
And, you may not fall out of love with a person before feeling in love with another. Loving two people simultaneously doesn’t fit with society’s current norms or expectations about love, but it happens.
There’s a growing body of research suggesting that polyamory – loving more than one person at a time – is more common than we once thought, Lewandowski said.
“It really depends on whether loving more than one person at a time is your ideal,” he said.
The more committed you are to your partner, the more likely you are to devalue other potential partners. For example, you may be able to resist falling for another person by finding things wrong with him that make him appear to be less desirable.
“There are a lot of things we do mentally to make our partner fit our ideals and keep ourselves committed,” Lewandowski said. “That commitment then helps us avoid paying attention to other potentially viable partners.”
Different kinds of love
Affairs do happen, however, but most of the time, even if you think you’re in love with your spouse and with the other person, the feeling of love is actually different for each, Durvasula said.
There are different forms of love. There is companionate, long-term love that may be less romantic or passionate, and there is passionate love, which is often more exciting, consumptive and exhausting, Durvasula said.
“It’s quite possible that a person could be in a long-term, companionate relationship with a person they love, and also then love a new, passionate lover, and feel genuine love for both,” she said.
But for most people, the emotional bandwidth required to love one person romantically delimits their ability to maintain that feeling with multiple people.
“There is a sort of tunneling quality to being in romantic love, which often closes us off to maintaining that emotional state with multiple people simultaneously,” Durvasula said.
If someone is prone to falling in love while already in a partnership, it may be time for them to do some heavy self-reflection, as it may speak to numerous psychological and relationship issues.
“A passionate friendship may put a swing in your step, but if you want your marriage to last, you can bring that swing home and invest that energy back into your marriage, or view it as a wake-up call, and, perhaps, it is time to consider letting go of your marriage or committed partnership,” Durvasula said.