Every Hollywood romcom and book about unrequited love is based on the premise that everyone has a soul mate. Once the two of you meet, you’ll live together happily ever after — unless you are kept apart by outside forces, which means you’ll lead a lonely, miserable life. Jean Cirillo, Ph.D. says that’s all a bunch of nonsense. In fact, in her new book The Soul Mate Myth: A 3-Step Program to Finding Real Love Cirillo says that searching for your one and only soul mate is what’s keeping you from finding the relationship that you want. iVillage asked Cirillo how to stop looking for love in all the wrong places.
iVillage: What do you mean by the soul mate myth?
Jean Cirillo: The soul mate myth is derived from the mythology that somewhere in the world exists your “other half;” your exact match that God or fate has determined to be your perfect lifetime partner.
iVillage: Why do we need to ditch the idea of soul mates?
JC: For several reasons. First, the idea is false. Like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, the soul mate myth dissolves into the realization that it is real people, not fantasy creatures, who satisfy our needs and desires.
Second, if we remain stuck in the idea that every potential mate must meet an idealistic standard, we miss out on real opportunities to meet real people.
Third, it is important to understand the reason why imaginary lovers are always better than real ones. It’s because we write all the parts. All human relationships involve some degree of unpredictability, in that no two people feel exactly the same at the same time. Therein lays the basis for the excitement found in romantic relationships.
iVillage: Does that mean women should “settle”?
JC: No, settling is about desperation. It comes from the irrational belief that “I am a failure without a partner” or “any relationship is better than no relationship.” Authentic love, on the other hand, is not based upon momentary attraction, which will fade, but upon a realistic perception of what you want to experience with a lifetime partner.
iVillage: If we’re not out there looking for Mr. Right, who should we be looking for?
JC: It doesn’t have to be Mr. Wrong or Mr. Nobody, just make sure he is Mr. Long Term. When women speak of the ideal Mr. Right they often mean a fantasy image of the perfect man — that is what we are trying to avoid.
iVillage: What’s wrong with sticking to a particular “type?”
JC: A type is nothing more than familiarity. Whether the familiar sense of comfort comes from the image in your head or the fact that your ex had red hair and green eyes doesn’t mean you can’t feel equally comfortable with someone with different characteristics. As the familiarity increases, your new “type” develops.
iVillage: How do we know when deal breakers are too extreme?
JC: Deal breakers are too extreme if they are leading to your unhappiness. They are probably too extreme if they eliminate a man based on physical characteristics, wealth, ethnic group or just one or two annoying characteristics.
iVillage: What are some red flags to look for (or at least notice)?
JC: Look at how he treats family and acquaintances. If he seems nice to you, but rude to others, quick to anger or disrespectful of his mother, these are important signs of trouble. If he becomes frustrated and gives up easily when a situation becomes difficult, he may not stick with you when the chips are down. Observe him in different situations. How does he handle money? Does his drinking seem excessive? Observe his family. If you see a great amount of dysfunction, remember, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If you don’t like what you see, take heed.
iVillage: What are your top five dating tips?
JC: One, if you meet someone online, meet in person as soon as possible to see if the chemistry is there.
Two, give him a chance to show all his traits — don’t write someone off after one date.
Three, unless you only want a hook up, hold off on sex and get to know the person first.
Four, try dating outside your “type” i.e. someone with a different appearance or from another ethnic group. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Five, have fun! You show yourself in the best light when you are having a good time.
Jean Cirillo, Ph.D.has more than 25 years of experience as a practicing psychologist. She has appeared as an expert guest on Fox News Live, The History Channel and MSNBC. Cirillo has also served as president of the New York State Psychological Association’s Division of Women’s Issues. She lives in Huntington, NY.