Plato’s 2000-Year-Old Warning About Soulmates

“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.”

Erich Fromm

Sometimes medicine tastes bad. Then… revulsion subsides, you feel amazing, and you fully recognize how necessary it was. For many of us, understanding the truth about soulmates, (or true love, or kindred spirits, or twin flames) goes something like this.

If you still believe in these things, and you manage to read this without running toward the exit – bravo. Don’t worry. While you may briefly mourn the loss of this idea, you will be left with a version of love that does not implode under the unfathomable weight of “making us whole”.

Ruthless Conditioning

For some reason – at least in the US – romantic fantasies are drilled into our minds from a very young age. Weddings are THE mega-event and major “defining” moment of our lives. We are led to believe our dreams can be realized in someone else.

Exhibit A (there are an ocean of these)

(I have never seen someone shine a brighter spotlight on this than Charles Bukowski. See a brilliant two minute commentary, here.)

Perhaps a few of us somehow evade this fantastic illusion growing up. But to the rest of us, it can be brutally hard to finally see “true love” for what it is — a beautiful idea that cannot possibly bear the weight of expectations. This hurts us. This hurts the other people we engage with. And if both we and our partner are complicit in the illusion, it’s only a matter of time until the truth reveals itself. Yet, who will be the first to speak honestly to the other, after a partnership forged in fantasy? Surely, it must be possible to weather this together, with honesty and courage – to compassionately orient to a more humbling reality. But what drives us toward this impossible situation to begin with?

A 2000-Year-Old Warning

Firmin DeBrabander, professor of philosophy, beautifully observes how 2000 years ago, Plato describes this exact situation! Seemingly everyone in 340BC believed they could fulfill themselves “out in the world”, and “within another person” to “complete themselves”. Sounds familiar, eh?

For Plato’s actual excerpts and analysis, please, do read the article linked below. Here are poignant excerpts from Firmin himself.

As a philosopher, I am always amazed how Plato’s account here, uttered by Aristophanes, uncannily evokes our very modern view of love. It is a profoundly moving, beautiful, and wistful account.

Humans insist on looking for satisfaction in things that cannot provide real or lasting fulfillment. These false lures include material goods, also power, and fame, Aristotle explained. A life devoted to any of these goals becomes quite miserable and empty.

Humans seek to satisfy desire in worldly things, Augustine says, but are doomed, because we bear a kernel of the infinite within us. Thus, finite things cannot fulfill.

Is love an answer to life’s problems?

“Returning to Plato’s proposition, issued through Aristophanes: how many view romantic love as the answer to life’s problems? How many expect or hope that love will heal the “wound” of our nature and give meaning to life? I suspect many do: our culture practically decrees it.”

Excerpt from Plato’s Symposium

Aristophanes places demands and expectations on love that are quite extreme.

[When] a person meets the half that is his very own,” he exclaims, “something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment. These are people who finish out their lives together and still cannot say what it is they want from one another.

This sounds miraculous and alluring, but Plato doesn’t believe it. Which is why he couches it in Aristophanes’ satirical story. In short: it’s all quite mythical.

Enduring love is more mundane

Love is not the solution to life’s problems, as anyone who has been in love can attest. Romance is often the start of many headaches and heartaches. And why put such a burden on another person in the first place?

Love is not the solution to life’s problems, but it certainly makes them more bearable, and the entire process more enjoyable. If soulmates exist, they are made and fashioned, after a lifetime partnership, a lifetime shared dealing with common duties, enduring pain, and of course, knowing joy.

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