Archive for March, 2012

Two strangers’ eyes meet across a crowded floor. The music seems to slow, the room lights up, and the people standing between them blur like a picture with autofocus. Suddenly, they can feel a future stretching before them—a future filled with laughter and tears that they had never dreamed of before but somehow already know is reality. They have found their perfect counterpart, the person who will bring out the best in themselves. The music swells as they make their way toward each other, complete at last.

I’ve never been a believer in fate. The idea that two strangers are perfect for each other, let alone destined to be together, has always struck me as unlikely. Living in a world with a population over six billion, and a country with a population over three hundred million, I felt that even if two people were perfect for each other, the steps required to put them in the same place, at the same time, as many times as it takes for them to actually notice each other, nullify the possibility of their existence. The sheer numbers overwhelm the romantic in me and let the cynic in me free to doubt.

Despite the staggering figures involved, it appears that a large portion of people disagree with my logical interpretation of romance. According to one poll, 2/3 of people in the United States believe in soul mates. The definition of soul mate runs the gamut from the fated and spiritual to the complementary and practical. It is the last two that, from my perspective, have the potential to be explored.

Personality can be broken into components that are then sewn up again to describe a whole person. For example, the Big Five personality survey rates people on their levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. Wherever someone’s traits fall on the survey describes a personality particular to the person being tested.

There is a difference between two people destined to be together and two people who are perfect for each other. A soul mate could be a person whose characteristics bring out the best version of their partner, who enables them to complete themselves. Where one person is introverted, the other is equally extroverted. Where he borders on neuroticism, she brings him to stability.

If we drop the idea of fate, and focus instead on two people who complement each others’ personalities absolutely, the idea of a soul mate doesn’t just become possible, it becomes statistically inevitable. Now consider those numbers again. In the United States alone, there are over three million people. Even accounting for age, sexual orientation, and location, how many chances would there be for your personality traits to line up exactly with the person you’re walking past on the street? Over a lifetime, there must be thousands of opportunities.

Looking at the numbers, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched now.

Lauren Volpone