Once, long ago, a primeval kind of human walked the earth. A union of man and woman (man and man, and woman and woman, too), these beings had four legs and four arms, one head and two faces. They had two of something else, too.
As man is the child of the sun and woman the child of the moon, these conjoined ones belonged to the earth.
They were terribly strong, and one day rose up against the gods. In retaliation, Zeus decided to cut the people in half, thus diminishing their strength.
There is more to the story, but to skip ahead, today we are those same divided beings searching for our other halves, longing to reunite.
And those who succeed?
“These are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another.”
Aristophanes presents this story in Plato’s Symposium. It is one of the oldest iterations of the soulmate theory to which many still adhere today. The idea that we each have one “other half” who, if we find them, will complement us perfectly and make us whole.
I find the above parable alluring, but I don’t really believe in its message. I think we probably have many such halves.
Still, it is a worthwhile concept, when taken with a grain of salt.
After all, what good does saying “there are plenty of other fish in the sea,” do us? It can help mend a broken heart, sure. It can free someone from an unhealthy partnership. It can assuage disappointment and alleviate loneliness.
But it can also render us complacent.
He wasn’t so special anyways—I’ll find someone else just as good. Why bother struggling to make this relationship work when I could leave it and find another—maybe a better one? There’s no such thing as “the one” so why even try?
But what if? What if Aristophanes were right? What would we do if we were lucky enough to find our “other half?” Another being with whom we melted into primordial one-ness. The only other being. Well, we would “pass our whole lives together” of course, wouldn’t we? We would ferociously defend our improbable good fortune. We would cherish it.
Even if we have five other halves, or 20, or 1,000, the odds of finding such a union are still infinitesimal. And so the fierceness, the reverence still applies.
This is what I propose: when we find someone who captivates us, though “we could not explain what we desire of one another,” we might act as though Aristophanes were right. As though we have found a part of ourselves once lost and never replaced.
Let us perceive our lovers with the same sheer amazement as Aristophanes’ divided beings, reunited across time. Let us cherish them as the miracles they are.
As love is an utterly unique experience each time it occurs, would it really be so delusional to embrace it as singular?
Let us love like we only get one chance, one “other half,” one soulmate. This mindset may not be quite true, but I think it is useful.
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Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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