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Stop looking for a soul mate, BYU professor advises

PROVO — One way to cause problems in a marriage before it even begins is to go looking for a soul mate.

That's according to Scott Braithwaite, who spoke Tuesday at BYU's Campus Education Week on “Who Decides Whom We Marry?”

Braithwaite, an assistant professor of psychology at BYU, taught that happiness in marriage comes as people accept the responsibility of choosing their spouse for themselves. He emphasized that eternal marriage is essential to the plan of salvation and that husbands and wives work together to gain exaltation.

Marriage has eternal consequences, so who to marry is one of the most important decisions people can make. However, Braithwaite continued, the Lord will not make that decision for them. The idea of soul mates, that there is one person perfectly suited for one other person, is false, said Braithwaite, who backed this claim with words from President Spencer W. Kimball.

“‘Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion …,” President Kimball said in a 1977 address. “Almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.”

Although the thought of one “right” person has become a romantic ideal, Braithwaite said that it’s more meaningful to choose a spouse conscientiously than to search for a supposed soul mate.

He suggested that it is much more romantic for someone to say to his or her spouse, “No, you weren’t chosen by someone else; you were chosen by me. I chose you. And I will continue to choose you every day of our life, every year of our life for eternity.”

Braithwaite then described some of the pitfalls that come with the desire to find one’s soul mate. First, it causes what Braithwaite called a “shopping mentality.”

“If during the process of dating and choosing who you’re going to marry you believe that there’s a one-and-only person, then it becomes about trying to find them,” Braithwaite said. “It changes the way that you think and approach that whole process.”

With this skewed view, people often have someone specific in mind as they date and might dismiss potential spouses if they don’t fit the mold of “the one.”

“We become sort of shallow, and we sort of create a weird shopping mentality that is antithetical to the development of post-romantic relationships," Braithwaite said.

Instead, he recommended building relationships with a more selfless attitude, realizing that a perfect soul mate does not exist.

“Love is not about you,” Braithwaite said. “Love is not about you getting everything you want like you’re on a shopping spree. And if that’s the way you’re approaching dating, your ability to form a strong, loving relationship is going to be compromised.”

The second problem of a soul mate mentality is that people misunderstand love and believe that a relationship with a soul mate will come easily and go smoothly. When the “feeling” of love isn’t there, someone might use it as an excuse to give up, Braithwaite said.

“People have defined love in their head as a feeling,” he said. “And they (say), ‘I don’t feel it, so I’m absolved. And I can go and find someone else who I’ll feel it with.’”

This “burning feeling” of love, though, is infatuation, and Braithwaite said that infatuation does not last.

“Infatuation is not love,” he said. “Infatuation is immature. It’s easy. It doesn’t require anything of you. Love requires everything of you. Love requires sacrifice and work and diligence and faithfulness. It is not an easy emotion.”

Finally, Braithwaite said those who believe they have a soul mate may run into problems later in difficult times because they believe they chose wrong and their spouse is not their soul mate after all. Believing they didn’t find their soul mate becomes justification to keep looking and stop being faithful to their spouse.

When people understand there isn’t any one person for them, they can begin to make their own marriage decision. Braithwaite said one of the best ways to make this decision is to date many different people.

“The more you date a number of different folks, the more likely it is that you’ll find an excellent match,” Braithwaite said. “It’s just science.”

Braithwaite also advised dating long enough to see what real life would be like with a potential spouse.

“Here’s the problem with dating,” he said. “Everyone who’s in love is kind of stupid. When you’re in love you’re kind of dumb, and you don’t really see the things that you need to see.”

Braithwaite taught that spiritual confirmation about who to marry will come to those who are actively seeking to find out on their own. He cited a 2011 BYU-Idaho devotional address by Elder David A. Bednar, who described small reassurances as he courted his wife and learned more about who she was. Elder Bednar said he received many “quiet reassurances” that Sister Bednar was a righteous woman.

“All of those simple answers over a period of time led to and produced an appropriate spiritual reassurance that indeed we were to be married,” Elder Bednar said.