The idea of a ‘twin flame’ is a derivative of the idea of the ‘soul mate’. Both concepts have been appropriated in spiritual discourses to describe a state of emotional bonding between two people. I purposely jumbled the terms ‘soul mate’ and ‘twin flame’ together in the title of this post to at once highlight the interchangeability of the terms whilst pointing to our use of arbitrary labels to describe a type of human experience that often eludes description.
So what is a ‘soul mate’?
‘The Symposium’, a fictitious dialogue, written by Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, is cited as the origin of the concept of the soul mate and, latterly its derivation, the twin flame. But it should be stated from the outset that the concept of the soul mate, as presented by Plato, is in the form of an exchange with Aristophanes, the comic playwright, and therefore the views espoused by Aristophanes are not endorsed by Plato: if anything, they are ridiculed by him. Moreover, Plato’s dialogue focuses on the topic love in all its manifold beauty and complexity; but it should be remembered that Plato — and his mentor, Socrates — had sexual relations with multiple young men: his views on love and relationships, as outlined in ‘The Symposium’, therefore need to be interpreted in this context of polyamorous homosexuality.
In the play Aristophanes recounts the story that, in the beginning, humans were androgynous and had two faces, four arms, and four legs. They were fearless, strong, and a threat to the Gods due to their “overweening” pride. Afraid that the powerful and physically whole humans would rise against him, Zeus bisected them to create distinct male and female counterparts. The splitting into two is therefore a punishment for human pride and hubris, condemning us to spend our lives physically and spiritually incomplete.
According to Aristophanes, this is why people speak of looking for their ‘second half’ — that is, someone to make them whole again. In the play, Plato challenges Aristophanes’ account of the origin of the genders — the idea that one person can be half of a whole — and in other writings he rebukes the idea of the divided soul as an unfounded concept, especially the idea of becoming whole with another person: for we are born whole, we are independent. Indeed a healthy relationship is when two independent people come together rather than being mutually inter-dependent, for that is tantamount to co-dependency.
It is this part of Plato’s play — Aristophanes’ speech — that has been coopted to serve our definition of a ‘soul mate’ or ‘twin flame’. But whilst Plato’s dialogue is considered to be the origin of the concept of the soul mate, the actual term itself — ‘soul mate’ — was first used by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a letter dated 1822, where he states: “to be happy in married life…you must have a soul-mate”. What he means here is that a successful marriage is built on more than economic or social compatibility — there must be a spiritual connection, too. Here, Coleridge may be using the term ‘mate’ in the same sense at it is used in ‘The Book of Genesis’ whereby Eve is created as a companion, or ‘mate’, for Adam, which in Hebrew translates as ‘spouse’. So if we apply the concept of a soul mate here: Adam and Eve represent the division of the sexes — as in Plato — and their ‘marriage’ represents a union, a return to wholeness.
The only common theme between Plato and Coleridge is the idea of something that was once whole was subsequently divided by a Divine Power and yearns to return to wholeness through a form of sacred union. The division of the sexes is linked to the ‘Fall’, or our acquisition of knowledge and the hubris attendant upon it: essentially, our ability to challenge the Gods. In this respect, the search for wholeness is the search for redemption.
Putting soteriology aside, we might wish to consider the skewed history of the soul mate myth, for Plato’s drama and Coleridge’s letter not only differ in the nature of the ‘mate’ they describe, but they are separated by two thousand years.
Two. Thousand. Years.
In the Twentieth Century, it seems we have appropriated a phrase from the previous century, taken it out of context, and transposed it onto a myth that was recounted in a work of fiction written two millennia ago.
But at least we have a hypothetical origin and an etymology for the term ‘soul mate’.
What do we have for the concept of the ‘twin flame’? Nothing, except an entry in the ‘Urban Dictionary’ and a mass of contradictory definitions of what constitutes a ‘twin flame’ connection.
So what is the difference, if any, between a soul mate and a twin flame?
In essence, a soul mate is someone with whom we share a deep affinity — a friend, relative, or a romantic partner — whereas a ‘twin flame’ is person who is our mirror: they are the other half of our soul and reflect everything about us, for better or for worse. A soul mate is generally someone who mutually enriches us and facilitates our personal growth; and whilst a twin flame serves the same purpose, the eventual union between twin flames — and the concomitant awakening it brings — is more aligned to a sense of service to humanity. Soul mates are, generally, emotionally available to us and bring harmony, whereas the twin flame connection involves many challenges, often resulting in confusion, angst, chaos.
Some sources say we have many soul mates but only one twin flame. Other sources say we encounter many twin flames. Indeed, definitions of a ‘twin flame’ are hugely inconsistent. In one source I read that a ‘twin flame’ is when a soul splits into two souls, so the connection you feel towards another person is precisely because they are/were part of you, and your eventual union is a ‘coming home’, a return to the wholeness of being one soul. But then I read in another source that we have multiple ‘twin flames’. So does that mean our souls separate into more than one soul? If so, how can we ever truly find that sense of homecoming if our souls are severally divided?
How can we ever be truly whole if we are so dependent on another person external to us?
There is an inherently sinister undertone to this concept of the twin flame, for if the twin flame dynamic is essentially that of one soul mirroring the other soul, then not only is the twin flame relationship one of co-dependency, but the very act of ‘mirroring’ is a tactic used by narcissists to lure their victims in order to manufacture a soul mate connection. We must therefore be discerning. Moreover, there are often clearly defined ‘stages’ in a twin flame union involving the role of a ‘runner’ and a ‘chaser’; but if we get too preoccupied with the supposed patterns of behaviour associated with the twin flame connection — and the various stages we are supposed to experience — then our outlook is at risk of becoming grossly restricted.
What if our experience does not match that of the typical twin flame union? This can lead to more confusion, angst and chaos. Whilst some twin flames experience harmony and happiness in their union, others do not. Personally, I have experienced both a ‘soul mate’ and a ‘twin flame’ connection. At the risk of being reductive, for me a soul mate brings calm, harmony, and mutual enrichment whereas a twin flame tends to bring chaos, disharmony, and mutual destruction.
But isn’t a soul mate or a twin flame a good thing? Not necessarily.
According to some definitions — and indeed experiences — of a twin flame union you can each bring out the very worst in each other: you mirror each other’s darkest fears and deepest insecurities; and you trigger the shit out of each other in the name of ‘growth’. The result: constant questioning, crippling self-doubt, and what feels like endless anxiety.
If your twin flame bond is of a romantic nature then surely true love isn’t so challenging: love should be fluid and organic; your lover should diminish your insecurities, not trigger them. Every relationship presents us with challenges for our learning and growth, but at what cost? If your twin flame’s role is to bring your demons to the fore then that relationship smacks of co-dependency: you rely on each other for mutual insight — which is of course true of any healthy relationship; but the difference is, in a twin flame relationship the process feels like an insurmountable challenge, whereas in a healthy, balanced relationship, mutual growth and insight happens naturally over time, organically, not painfully.
A soul mate connection brings out the latent qualities inside us. It brings out the best in us. On the other hand, a twin flame connection can force us to challenge and change our outlook and beliefs. It can bring out the worst in us. Does challenge and change sound like the basis of a healthy relationship? How do we discern between what is a healthy challenge that facilitates inner awareness, and an unhealthy, seemingly impossible incompatibility? How much pain must we endure in the name of ‘growth’? Where do we draw the line?
Throughout our lives we inevitably encounter people who we do and do not resonate with. That’s pretty normal, given the rich diversity of human beings we meet: if we are in energetic alignment with someone — if we share similar experiences, values, hopes and dreams — then we connect with them on a deep level; and so a ‘soul mate’ is simply a term used to describe our compatibility with someone that goes beyond merely superficial attraction, and therefore we need not overly romanticize such an affinity.
A twin flame connection is a similar sort of deeply felt, strong connection, but one that ultimately reveals the misalignment between partners. As one person mirrors the other, all their fears and insecurities are revealed, and so perhaps too much ‘sameness’ is a recipe for conflict. Our twin flame is indeed our shadow, our doppelganger, and so the term ‘twin flame’ can be seen as a superfluously romanticized way of describing someone who is hugely incompatible, yet someone to whom we are irresistibly drawn to, either platonically or sexually.
At the heart of both the soul mate and the twin flame concept is the idea of inner growth. But aren’t all our encounters and experiences about growth? Our invention of the concept of the ‘soul mate’ reveals our deep human need for connection or completion. We seek unity and wholeness in each other, for it is in our nature to seek companionship and union with the ‘other’: they embody what we lack; they have attributes ostensibly missing in ourselves; they reveal our inherent differences which serves to either complement or contradict our own values and beliefs.
Human beings are torn between the polarity of uniqueness and sameness. We are individual and yet we seek belonging. But how do we identify with ourselves except through difference, through the ‘other’? All people are mirrors to a degree — some reflect while some distort. I do not suggest that soul mate or twin flame connections are not real, for they are: they are part of the richness of our experience of human interaction; and it is natural to assign labels to those encounters to help us understand them. But do those labels need to be so restrictive?
Why do we seek to label our experiences and, more to the point, what drives us to seek connection, or completion in the ‘other’?
The Greek philosophers agreed that human beings are existentially wounded and seek to fill an inner void. As Aristophanes puts it in ‘The Symposium’: “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature”, so that when “a person meets the half that is his very own something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another.”
As human beings we are predisposed to seek fulfillment in the possession of material goods, through power and control, and even through a desire for fame. But as we know, a life devoted to any of these goals is vapid on an existential level. The allure of money soon dwindles when we realize there is more to life than possessions; and the ecstasies of the flesh may bring instant gratification, but they do not fulfill our need for longstanding connection and security.
After the ancient Greeks, the idea of the wounded human was adopted by Christian leaders, most notably St Augustine. He believed that the pursuit of worldly pleasures is a symptom of our innate sinful nature. Writing much later in the Seventeenth Century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal held an alternative view that associated our wounded nature with our secular sensibilities. He claimed that the origin of our ‘sin’ or desire for earthly pleasures lay in our inability to be still, to be alone and ‘complete’ in ourselves. Indeed, we are always looking for something more — meaning, validation, fulfillment — often outside of ourselves, as if the external world holds the answer to our soul’s plight.
Our search for ‘answers’ is the root of our perennial suffering, or what Buddhists might term our ‘dissatisfaction’. We resort to distractions — such as drink, drugs, sex, power games — to numb the pangs of emptiness. Perhaps we are alone. Perhaps there is no benevolent God or a supernatural life hereafter. We can never truly know, for the ‘answers’ we seek elude us, and so we teeter between anxiety and hope in our constant search for meaning.
Our wounded nature is our existential condition of dissatisfaction. The soul mate theory is indeed a remedy to the suffering, the emptiness, the loneliness — not the feeling of being alone per se, but the feeling of being alienated from the world; the feeling that we do not understand other people and they do not understand us. A soul mate connection is one way to fill this void, for it is a connection whereby you understand each other by virtue of the fact that you function on the same energetic level: you are inwardly aligned in the respect that you harmoniously converge on the same frequency.
But putting our hopes and expectations into seeking the ‘other’ to complete us risks further dissatisfaction. The idea of completion — or even worse, mirroring — smacks of co-dependence. Therein lies the problematic nature of the soul mate and twin flame concept, for we are already each uniquely whole, so that when two pre-existing wholes meet, we form something greater than the sum of the constituent parts.
Perhaps this is the crux of what we mean by a ‘soul mate’: someone who does not complete us, but rather someone who complements us.