When clients come to me for reconciliation work, some of them tell me that, despite fights, abuse, and infidelity, the man they are chasing is “my soul mate.” They might even say “Another reader told me so.”

I have to tell you, I have not yet had a successful case of this kind.

So what is a soul mate? Is it just another scam put out by deceptive psychics and fake readers? Is it is sentimental, starry-eyed delusion to keep women in subjection? Where did this idea even come from? Is a revelation from the Spirit?

In the mid-19th century, a woman generally did not retain custody of her children in the event of a divorce, and could not get credit or own property in her own name once she married. The legal, educational and medical establishments all assumed — they knew — that having a uterus made you a little stupid and a little crazy, or could turn you into a dangerous radical.

A married woman could not even refuse her husband sex. Yes, marital rape was legal everywhere. And, of course, there was next to nothing in the way of effective contraception, and not much in the way of prenatal care, either. So “ruining your health” in perpetual pregnancy and childbirth was a very real possibility. It amounted to enforced motherhood, and that is what reformers called it. It was, in fact, the chief reason that women were “weak,” “frail,” “emotional,” “and unfit for public life.”

So, enter not only the first generation of feminists, but also the Spiritualist movement, and their concept of the soul mate: the One True Love for which you are destined, and which must be found and retained at all costs if you are to have a true and happy marriage. But Prof. Ann Braude can explain it so much better than I can:

Spiritualists believed that marriage commonly resulted from parental or social pressure, women’s lack of economic alternatives, and man’s lust. They wish to elevate marriage to a higher moral plane so that it would become “a soul union, not a curse.” In place of conventional marriages in which women relinquished their autonomy in exchange for economic support, Spiritualists proposed an egalitarian bond based on mutual spiritual attraction. “There is no real marriage, but the marriage of affection,” they insisted. Individualists as always, they replaced parental wisdom, social sanction, and economic expediency with the internal promptings of the individual heart as a basis for forming a marriage. …

Hearkening back to the Fourierist theory of “passion of attraction,” Spiritualists advanced the doctrine of “spiritual affinities”, arguing that the natural order contained one true mate for every individual and that the union of true affinities endured forever.

This was their chief weapon against the oppressive framework of marriage in their time, against which they wrote books with titles like Legalized Prostitution: or Marriage As It Is, and Marriage As It Should Be.

The name “free love” was attached to this philosophy of individual sovereignty versus marriage. Some Spiritualists accepted this label, but on their own terms; they did not mean what we would call sexual freedom, but rather freedom from the demands, responsibilities and burdens that sexual activity brought along with it back then. “Free love,” to most Spiritualists, meant freedom from sexual obligation and its attendant burdens. Not necessarily celibacy, but certainly “liberty from the bondage of the passions… the resurrection of the soul life of love and freedom from the environments of gross, debasing sensualism,” as Cora Wilburn put it. Yes, most of them believed that Americans had too much sex.

Thanks partially to the efforts of the old-time Spiritualists, most Western folks are less dogmatic about marriage today. A good thing, too, for it is so easy to spend months and years chasing Mr. Wrong and trying to make him act like a soul mate, dammit! This isn’t a new problem, either. One of the most popular trance speakers of the period, Cora Hatch, had four husbands — four attempts to find her true “spiritual affinity,” her soul mate.

I am more inclined to agree with Scott Peck, that a person can be called out of a marriage as well has called into it. Further, my experience leads me to the idea that each of us has an “ideal type” of lover or spouse, rather than a single soul mate out of all the billions who have ever lived. If I’m right, this means that each of us has hundreds or maybe even thousands or millions of potential soul mates — and there were times in my past when I was tempted to try to collect them all.

This leaves open an extremely important question: how can you tell when you have Mr. Right in hand — or, at least, a member of the “Mr. Right Collectors Series”? I’ll take that up in a future post.