What does philosophy say about finding a significant other? Is there such a concept as a soul mate? Is romance something of high priority we should pursue? How does one go about finding a soul mate?
Answer by Geoffrey Klempner
Well, Issac, if you haven’t read it, Plato’s magnificent dialogue Symposium would be a good starting point. You’ve heard of the term ‘Platonic love’? This is where the concept was coined. A man and a woman can enjoy romance and sex, but your truly ‘significant other’ is one with whom you share higher ideals. For the Greeks, it would be another man.
The idea of a ‘soul mate’ derives from Plato’s Symposium.
The reason for reading Plato’s dialogue isn’t anything like ‘Let’s do it like the Greeks,’ although one can totally understand why someone who didn’t know better would see it that way.
For Plato, the highest love is for Sophia. Philo-sophy. The desire for the Truth and the Good (they are ultimately one and the same) is also a desire that you and your beloved can come to see and grasp the ultimate reality of the ‘Forms’.
How does this translate into a modern context? Pair bonding is a natural instinct which human beings have placed on a pinnacle of human achievement. Those who are unlucky never to find their soul mate, or who are prevented by natural circumstance from pursuing romantic love, are pushed towards the margins of society regardless of whatever else they may achieve in life.
And how does this process work out in reality? Badly, in many cases. That in itself is not a reason for deprecating the search for a romantic significant other, but even for those who have a chance to play the mating game, many remain frustrated or disappointed, settling for a domestic arrangement that isn’t too unbearable, or alternatively moving from one partner to the next in the hope of one day finding their ‘one true love’.
The Judeo-Christian tradition, not the Greeks, is to blame for promoting the idea that the highest form of human relationship is a man and a woman who come together in order to procreate and raise a family. The notion that your wife — or your husband — is your one and only ‘significant other’ is a mashup, some would say a grotesque mashup, of Plato and the Bible.
Making the notion of ‘significant other’ gender neutral, liberating though that may be, does nothing to untangle the confusion.
I would argue that the two ideas — Platonic and romantic love — should be kept separate and not confused with one another. Each has its own rewards and satisfactions. Human beings should be able to pursue both, separately, without strain or difficulty.
Your romantic significant other need not be your Platonic significant other.