Busting Myths About Human Nature

Race, monogamy, and other lies they told you.

Desperately Seeking Soulmate? Please, Stop Already

Be part of a community and empower your whole life not just your “love life"

Matchmaking is a multibillion dollar industry with more than half of its revenues coming from a few main web-based services.  The following is typical of their claims:

We at Chemistry.com know that only you know who is right for you. So we make it fun and easy for you to take the first steps in figuring out who that is before you meet in person. Empower your love life and join Chemistry.com today.

They provide “expert” advice, tips, connections, and even pretend to use your biology to connect you to that one person that is just right for you---for a fee. Be suspicious.  These sites and many like them are playing off insecurities, increasing social isolation, and on the fact that our complex and fragmented society makes starting and maintaining relationships difficult…worst of all, they are exploiting one of the biggest myths about human nature—the soulmate—to do so. 

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Now don’t get me wrong, pair bonding is a core part of being human, and marriage and other relationships (sexual and otherwise) are central parts of our lives.  Without lasting and strong ties to other people, humans really don’t do well…in fact we need the relationships and the social interactions that come from being part of a community to flourish. However, the idea that there is one other human being that is a perfect match for each of us—one poised to connect in ways that harmonize bodies and minds perfectly—well that just isn’t true.

One way these so-called matchmakers sell this myth is by pushing the idea that humans have evolved to have one ideal mate (the bio-soulmate, if you will) and that mate is out there…we just need to find him or her. There are many problems with this notion, the main one being that mating is only a teeny part of what goes on in relationships and that the story of our evolution shows us that finding a specific mate was pretty far down on the list as to how and why we made it as a species against all odds.  Remember, humans have little “natural” weaponry—no horns, big teeth, or giant muscles or claws. We are not particular fast and can’t fly either.  All we have are our relatively large brains and each other—and that is how we have made it, and continue to make it, in the world. 

Humans did not overcome the evolutionary challenges in our history by pairing up with that perfect someone.  Sure, we form many types of relationships, some involving sex and reproduction, but always in the context of a larger picture. We were never just two perfectly matched individuals out on the savannah (because if we were, we’d have likely ended up as a larger critter’s lunch).  Humans succeeded in the world by cooperating and building community and facing everything the world threw at us together as a group. Think about it– our evolutionary challenges included, avoiding large predators, developing more and more complex tools, moving into new and unexplored landscapes, capturing, maintaining and creating fire, caring for helpless young and aging adults, developing language and complex symbols infused with meaning.  All of this requires an unbelievable level of cooperation and coordination, amongst many individuals not just two. Being human is primarily about being in a community, and then about the details of the individual relationships.

There is no biological plan, or process, to link every human on the planet (all 7 billion+ of us) with a perfect mate. There is also no functioning structure embedded in any culture or scripture in any faith that guarantees connection of the two best matched individuals. Nothing in our DNA, immune systems, religious beliefs, or personal ideologies acts as a linking mechanism to connect us, perfectly, with one other person. But this concept is sold to us, day in and day out, and buying into this myth makes all of our lives much more difficult (and discouraging). 

This is not a depressing fact; it is a liberating and encouraging one.  Under the myth of the soulmate we invest so much in searching for specific relationships because of a fear that we might miss our “chance” at happiness—the “one” might get away and we’d suffer the loss for the rest of our lives. What if there is not “one” but are many possibilities, with many outcomes, some more satisfying and productive than others.  What if we think about our evolutionary histories, and our societies, and see that it takes multiple relationships of many kinds to characterize successfully being human?  What we should be seeking are good friends, social partners, and a robust social network.  If we have that then it is likely one or more of these relationships will include a loving bond, sex, and a long-term relationship (however that is defined for the individuals involved). 

Humans need each other and for millions of years we have done pretty well at building, breaking, and remaking relationships. So when chemistry.com or any other dating site tells you they can help you (for a fee) figure out who your soulmate is before you even meet her or him, be wary. Be very wary. There are no soulmates, but there are lots and lots of relationships. Online connections are only one way to meet other human beings. We have a multitude of social tools available to us and a long history of using them successfully. Don’t pay the “experts” to tell you what you already know: relationships are complicated, important, and each of us has an immense capacity to create, navigate, and enjoy them.

So please stop desperately seeking a soulmate.  Go out there and be human—do what we do best: have social partners, engage in relationships, be part of a community. You will empower your whole life not just your “love life.” 

Agustín Fuentes, Ph.D, is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame.

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