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Is There Really Such a Thing as 'The One'?

14/10/2014 17:19 BST | Updated 14/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The idea of 'The One' or soul mates has been romanticised through films, books, poetry and tales of old: the premise that fate will lead us to one person in the whole world who will make us truly happy and with whom we will have a lifelong, exclusive bond. This idea makes us believe that life is not messily random and the perfect partner, who will complete us, is out there, it is just a case of finding them.

But is this really the case: Are we destined to be with one person who makes us complete, or are there more opportunities to find happiness in different relationships? Can we simply become another person's soulmate as a result of deep and lasting love?

Written in history

The idea of soul mates has a very long history. From the Greek mythology of Paris and Helen, through to Mallory's Lancelot and Guinevere and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, literature is bursting at the seams with lovers who are fated to be together. In China, the 'red thread of fate' is the idea that lovers are bound together, regardless of social class, background or geography. The belief dates back to the ninth-century and according to the myth, gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers and this magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break.

The idea is rooted in Platonic myth and it was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said "love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." The term soul mate was only coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote in a letter in 1822, "To be happy in married life... you must have a soul mate." Now it is the norm to want to find someone who we are physically attracted too, laugh with, are compatible with, and also have some sort of spiritual bond with, too.

Is it healthy to look for just one person?

Research led by Dr C. R. Knee, a social psychologist at the University of Houston has showed that having a strong belief in romantic destiny can be harmful to you and the success of your relationships. He showed that believing you have found 'The One' can lead to short, infatuated relationships, where only perfection will do. He argued that people with 'destiny beliefs' were more likely to finish a relationship the moment there are problems because they take these as a sign that the relationship isn't meant to be.

Another study by Professor Spike Lee of Toronto University and Professor Norbert Schwarz of the University of California backed up these ideas, showing that rows are harder to get over than those who see relationships as a journey or a partnership that needs to be worked on. Professor Lee said: "Our findings corroborate prior research showing people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out."

A project at the Open University called Enduring Love, spoke to over 5000 people about their relationships and notions of love and discovered that friendship with their partners ranked highest among men and women and was most frequently used to describe closeness. Respect, encouragement and kindness were valued features, rather than the idea of a spiritual connection.

Hundreds of soulmates?

The dictionary definition is "One of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity" and "someone for whom you have a deep affinity." This broader definition of the term widens the possibility of applying the principle of soul mates to more than one person in your life. If we separate the traditional concept of a soul mate from the romantic ideal, we extend the field.

My advice is to look for qualities, traits and characteristics that based on the things you know you need and want in a relationship. Find a relationship that is healthy and makes you feel happy and respected. Take one step at a time and if you are both equally willing to invest in your future together, you can build a loving relationship. I think most couples that think they are soul mates would also class themselves as best friends, where honestly, respect and trust are also a sign of some sort of spiritual connection. We may never know if we should be looking for one - or more than one - soulmate. In the meantime, look for someone who is the best fit.