The following essay is an excerpt from my new book, Some Thoughts About Relationships.
From a very young age, many of us are told stories about The One: a mystical person who is placed on this planet for us and us alone. It’s our “hero’s journey” to find this individual, wherever they may be. If pop culture is to be believed, there will be a series of comedic situations and dramatic adventures that lead up to our finding them.
In real life, however, The One is a concept that isn’t just irrational, it’s potentially harmful. The idea that there’s someone out there who is customized to make you whole implies that you’re not capable of being complete on your own. It also implies that everyone other than The One is just a stepping-stone toward grand fulfillment, which is a horrible way to approach relationships.
It’s understandable why this is such a popular storyline. Who doesn’t want to be the hero of the story? Who doesn’t want to believe that the imperfections we see in ourselves, and the bad hair days we experience, are just the buildup toward relationship bliss?
The concept of The One actually shares the same history as the concept of a “soul mate,” which comes from a tale written by Aristophanes, a comic playwright and contemporary of Plato. In this particular story, two-headed giants — some with both male and female genitalia, some with two sets of male equipment, and some with pairs of female parts — were sliced down the middle by a jealous Zeus and scattered to the wind. They were doomed forever after to explore the planet, seeking their “other half.”
As a metaphor, I get it. And the “soul mate” feeling is one I think most of us are familiar with. That vibe you get from someone who resonates with you is a connection that can be difficult to explain. It’s the sum of a huge collection of variables, mental and physical attraction key among them, which add up to something that feels almost metaphysical. It’s wonderful and memorable and often more than a little distracting.
To me, reducing something so remarkable to something as kitschy as “magic” or “fate” is borderline offensive. Those feelings are valuable; experiencing them can catalyze some of the most wonderful moments of our lives, and we’re supposed to just say, “yeah, it was bound to happen sooner or later”? Why not just celebrate the wonderful coincidences and randomness that brought such a person into your life, instead?
No, it’s not magic. And it’s not something that can only happen once. Recognizing the shallowness of The One complex allows us to see that we’re capable of loving more than a single person in our lifetime.
This is the crux of The One Policy. Why should we limit ourselves when we could be happier more of the time? Why should we be fated to endlessly pursue a fairy tale, when potential sources of actual emotional interaction and enjoyment are all around us? Why do we romanticize an idea that couldn’t be further from actual romance? An idea that keeps us from experiencing fulfillment, and which forces us to wonder about the legitimacy of our connections with other people when we’re fortunate enough to find them?
You are The One. You are the only person in the world who can complete and fulfill you, and ensure your happiness. Everyone else is a potential, hopefully wonderful, addition to that fated situation. You are born complete, you die complete, and you decide whom you spend your time with in between.