I sat with my devastated friend who was grieving the end of his first serious relationship. In conciliatory tones, I reassured him, “Don’t worry! There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

However, my friend would not be comforted.

“I really thought she was ‘the one,’” He said. “What if I’ve missed my one shot at love?”

This notion seemed preposterous to me but, despite my reassurances to the contrary, my friend seemed largely unable to move past the idea that he might have completely and irreparably ruined his love life.

In a whirlwind of intense emotions, he had fallen for her hard. But, beyond the potent chemistry that they had for each other, it was obvious that the circumstances of their lives would make it an almost impossible relationship to pull off in the long term.

“What if I just missed my soul mate?” He lamented sadly, as he wept into his pillow.

What is a Soul Mate?

According to dictionary.com, a soul mate is simply, “A person with whom one has a strong affinity, shared values and tastes, and often a romantic bond.” By that definition, soulmates most certainly exist. After all, there are definitely some people with whom we have a strong affinity, shared valued and tastes and, of course, in whom we have a romantic interest. However, the term ‘Soul Mate,’ in the more metaphysical sense of the term, has a deeper, more profound connotation. The kind of soul mate we are talking about here is something that occurs on a more spiritual level — and historically has been associated with just one person. In other words, each person has just one soul mate out there somewhere, and if you blow it with them, that’s it.

This was the big fear that my friend had.

Who Believes in Soul Mates?

When it comes to believing in the notion of ‘The One,’ if you think the idea of soul mates is nothing more than romanticized nonsense, then you happen to be in the minority. According to a Marist poll of over 1000 US residents, around 73% of people believe in the idea of a soul mate, compared to 27% who do not.

The younger you are, the more likely you are to believe in the idea of ‘The One.’ 80% of those under the age of 30 and 78% of those 30 to 44 believe in the idea of soul mates. Belief in soul mates tends to decline with age with only around 60% of those over the age of 60 believing in soul mates. Surprisingly, men are more likely to believe in soul mates than women —74% compared to 71%.

How to Find Your Soul Mate

Even the most cursory glance at Google will reveal a myriad of blog posts and articles purporting to hand over the secret to finding your soul mate — wherever they happen to be.

So, let’s imagine for a moment that everyone actually had only one soul mate — a random person somewhere in the world.

In his book What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, one-time NASA roboticist Randall Munroe attempted to calculate the odds of finding your soul mate. Not surprisingly, in mathematical terms, the chances of finding your soulmate — if there’s just one out there for you — are slim to none. For his purposes, he defines a soul mate as someone who is in the same age range as you, which means each person has about 500 million potential candidates.

“Let’s suppose you lock eyes with an average of a few dozen new strangers each day,” writes Munroe. “If 10 percent of them are close to your age, that’s around 50,000 people in a lifetime. Given that you have 500,000,000 potential soul mates, it means you’ll only find true love in one lifetime out of 10,000.”

Mathematically speaking, if you believe in the idea of a soul mate, the odds of you actually finding them are not in your favor. Thus, in answer to the question, “How do you find your soul mate?” I offer this uncomfortable truth: You probably won’t.

But’s that’s okay. Here’s why:

A Different Approach to Love

A researcher by the name of Raymond Knee and a few of his colleagues conducted a study that asked people this question: Do you believe there is one person who is meant just for you?

Knee determined that the way people answered this question placed them into one of two broad categories based on the beliefs that they held. He found that people have either:

  • Destiny Beliefs: I am destined to be with a specific person. I have a soul mate. I have one person who is meant for me.
  • Growth Beliefs: Relationships progress slowly and people grow to fit together. Relationships take effort. Love is built over time

Knee then went on to evaluate the impact of “destiny beliefs” (i.e. belief in soul mates) on the quality of real-life relationships. Specifically, he compared the relationships of people who believed in soul mates, with those of people who possessed “growth beliefs” (i.e. a belief that relationships are developed with work overtime).

The results of Knee’s study provide sobering reading to those who believe in soul mates. He discovered that those who possessed “destiny beliefs” primarily look for positive emotional reactions and initial compatibility with a partner. They believe people either “click” and are meant to be, or they don’t and should move on. As a result, those beliefs tend to drive soul-mate-searchers to be intensely passionate and satisfied with partners at first, particularly while things are compatible.

However, when problems inevitably arise, believers in soul mates often don’t cope well and leave the relationship instead. In other words, a belief that soul mates should be ideally compatible motivates individuals to just give up when a relationship isn’t perfect. They simply look elsewhere for their “true” match. As a result, their relationships tend to be intense, but short, often with a higher number of shorter relationships.

On the other hand, those who possess “growth beliefs” primarily look for someone who will grow with them over time, resolving conflicts as they arise. They believe that any relationship can evolve with hard work and compromise, even in difficult situations. As a result, they tend to be less passionate and satisfied with partners at first. A romantic growth individual may not have the same intense, euphoric response to partner connections. However, when problems arise, they are motivated to solve them and stay committed to their partner. As a result, their relationships tend to be longer and more satisfying over time. Rather than rejecting a partner for minor disagreements, they work together, evolve, and grow a satisfying relationship.

Knee went on to conduct additional research that supported his initial findings. Those who believe in soul mates tend to be less committed to a partner, particularly when there are relationship difficulties. Additionally, soul-mate-believers are often more anxious in relationships and less likely to forgive romantic partners. Overall, when the going gets tough with a partner or requires work, soul mates tend to quit and look for the next “perfect” match.

On that basis, you’re better off ditching the idea that there’s one special person out there somewhere for you. I have a better idea.

Becoming a Soul Mate

Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I tend to believe that a soul mate is not someone that you find — if you happen to be lucky enough — but someone you become to another person over time, through a long-term, committed relationship — persevering and growing, even through difficult times.

Oh… and the research seems to support this idea!

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all relationships will work out. However, maybe — just maybe — you are passing up on true and lasting love, in your quest for the cocaine-like high of love-at-first-sight. How many potential relationships have you overlooked in your one-in-a-billion quest of ten thousand lifetimes?