- Flickr / Simon Powell
- Esther Perel is a couples therapist and the author of “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs.” She says there’s no such thing as The One. Instead, you find someone you’re compatible enough with, and work to build a fulfilling life with that person. Research suggests that believing two people are either destined to be together or not can be counterproductive.
If you want to understand the science of relationships, you need to start with the phrase “cognitive dissonance.”
It’s psychologists’ term for that uncomfortable feeling you get when your behavior doesn’t match up with your beliefs. Usually when this happens, you take steps to realign them. For example, you think accounting is boring; then you get a job as an accountant and decide, before you even start, it’s actually riveting.
But cognitive dissonance also helps explain why so many people think they’ve found their soulmate – The One, if you will. Ask Esther Perel and she’ll tell you that once you’ve picked a partner:
“We come up with all the arguments to justify why that was the right person. But this is the way that we like to have coherence; we can’t agree with the idea that I chose this person, but it’s not the right one. So we make it fit.”
Perel is a couples therapist as well as the author of “Mating in Captivity” and “The State of Affairs.” When she visited the Business Insider office in September, Perel said a lot of people today feel anxious about choosing the wrong person from a pool of thousands, all just a swipe away.
Yet while it’s probably true that some of those people are better matches for you than others, it’s probably not true – at least in Perel’s view – that one of those people is your absolute best match.
Perel told it to us straight:
“There is never ‘The One.’ There is a one that you choose and with whom you decide that you want to build something. But in my opinion, there could also have been others – you just chose this one. And when you choose one, you renounce others. … Then you decide that because you’ve chosen that person, you turn that person into The One.”
Research suggests that believing that two people are meant for each other or not – what psychologists call a “destiny belief” – can in fact be detrimental to a relationship.
One 2007 study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that people who held destiny beliefs were less likely to forgive their partner for transgressions than people who held “growth beliefs,” meaning they believed that relationships could benefit from work and overcoming obstacles.
Another study, published in 2004 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that a growth belief served as a buffer against negative feelings after fighting with a partner.
Consider a growth belief a version of “job crafting,” or molding your job to become more meaningful by tweaking both your responsibilities and your perceptions of your role in the organization. When you “relationship craft,” you put in effort to make the partnership more perfect for you.
The point here isn’t to settle, and figure you’ll work to improve the relationship later. That sounds like a terrible idea.
Instead look for someone who makes you happy and who you could see yourself spending a long time with. But know that, regardless of who you choose, some conflict and disappointment is inevitable.
Perel said: “There is no one and only. There is the one you pick and what you choose to build with that person.”