The Fantasy of the “Soul Mate”

By Cliff Springs

NOTE: This was originally published in The State Newspaper, July 9, 2009.

As a Christian family man, I was disheartened to see a once-principled man choosing to risk everything in his life for a temporary thrill. How could Mark Sanford allow himself to veer so far off track? The given explanation is that Sanford’s mistress was his “soul mate”—a term I pointedly reject.

My wife is not my “soul mate”. When asked, she confirmed that I am not hers either. Our marriage is not in trouble and I’m not pining to discover my mythical predestined lover. When I proposed to my wife, it was a choice. I chose to spend my life with her. We committed to doing what it takes to making this partnership endure all of the things in life that could certainly undermine it if left unguarded.

Lest that sound remarkably unromantic, let me emphasize that I love my wife and our relationship is one of great yin-yang compatibility. Our personalities and temperaments differ, but our likes and dislikes are wonderfully comparable. From our taste in music, food, and décor to our views on child-raising and our faith, we are of very similar minds.

If I was a gambling man, I’d always bet on a marriage of “choice” over a marriage of emotion. Make no mistake, my wife stirs emotions in me, but they weren’t the reason I asked her to marry me. I proposed because I could see us growing old, pursuing dreams, and raising children together. Emotions fluctuate. Chemistry and that new relationship spark almost certainly fade with time. Without compatibility—and more importantly, commitment—there would be little reason to tough it out.

The word “love” is so often mistaken for being “in love”. Love is an action and an attitude—not a flimsy emotion. Ask any couple that celebrates a Golden Anniversary (as my parents will do next year), and they will tell you that commitment and appreciation for the other sustained them far more often than gooey-eyed moments. I do not believe there is a specific individual that is pre-ordained to be our one and only “perfect” mate.

“The Bridges of Madison County” was an enormous hit as a novel and a movie, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. I didn’t read the book, but was dragged by my wife to see the film. “Bridges” is told in flashback as the adult children of Streep’s character read her diary after her funeral. In the story, Streep is married to a good man in every regard, but their daily routine apparently lacks excitement. While her husband and children are out of town for three days, a world-traveling photographer (Eastwood) stops by to ask for directions.

Fascinated with each other, they’re having sex the next day and repeatedly until the husband returns. Convinced that they are soul mates, Eastwood wants her to leave with him, but she realizes she can’t abandon her good husband and their children. Sadly, she makes this decision by the thinnest of margins, barely able to resist running away with Eastwood. As her adult children read the diary, they realize that she never stopped “loving” Eastwood nor he her, and for some incomprehensible reason, Streep’s children find the idea romantic and touching.

I left the theater thinking it was one of the most disturbing and evil representations of romance I had ever witnessed. The idea that a dalliance—completely lacking in the tribulations of life and filled to the brim with sexual intrigue and indulgence—was sufficient evidence to determine their soulful compatibility was disgusting. I jokingly reminded my wife that I still thought she hung the moon after three days. It was only once the initial emotional thrill subsided that we had a fair chance to determine whether our relationship could last.

I suspect Mark Sanford has been emotionally duped in his affair with Ms. Chapur. Duped by the thrill, the intermittent nature of it, the exotic locales, and the lack of responsibility it required. If he spent 20 years with her—as he has with his wife, Jenny—Sanford might well realize that the idea of a “soul mate” is far more fantasy than reality—or eternity. I suspect he has “fallen out of love” with his wife because he forgot that “loving” her is a choice and an action—not an emotion. I’m often reminded how much more loving my wife is to me when I’m demonstrating my love to her and vice-versa.

With the common ebb and flow of life, marital struggles are not difficult to understand. But if Sanford continues to convince himself that his affair with Ms. Chapur contained a magical element that his relationship with his wife does not, I would submit that the “magical” missing element is the commitment that he promised God and Jenny to bring to the marriage.

–CS

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One Response to “The Fantasy of the “Soul Mate””

  1. This is the best article I’ve ever read on marriage. I only hope our wayward governor has read it several times. I’ve made four copies, which I have sent to each of my grown children. Cliff Springs’ wife is very lucky. She married a man who really “gets it!”

    #106

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