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Lexical Investigations: Soul mate

soul mate, soulmate, Buster Keaton, true loveThough the phrase soul mate gained steam toward the end of the twentieth century, the idea goes all the way back to Plato’s Symposium, written in 385–380 BCE. In Symposium, when the two dialogists discuss love, Aristophanes tells Socrates that human beings used to have four arms, four legs, and two faces, and they were happy and complete. But Zeus was jealous and split them in two with his thunderbolt, and now humans spend their lives searching for their other half. This idea of an “other half” has been with us ever since.

But the phrase soul mate itself was first recorded in 1822, when the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in a letter, “To be happy in Married Life . . . you must have a Soul-mate.” Inexplicably, the term has skyrocketed in use since the 1980s, according to Google’s nGram viewer. What do you think precipitated the spike in usage?

Popular References:

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, musical, song “Origin of Love” tells the story from Symposium. Song and lyrics by Stephen Trask, musical 1998, movie adaptation 2001.

Relevant Quotations:

“To be happy in Married Life . . . you must have a Soul-mate.”

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Letter to a Young Lady,” (1822)

“Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.”

–Carrie Bradshaw (character played by Sarah Jessica Parker), Sex and the City, Episode “The Agony and the ‘Ex’-tacy.” Season 4, June 3, 2001. Directed by Michael Patrick King. Writing credits: Darren Star (creator), Candace Bushnell (book), Michael Patrick King (teleplay)

Read our previous post about the word fiat and its connection to the origin of the universe.

70 Comments

  1. Katharine Dalton -  August 23, 2016 - 10:41 am

    Although I’d love to believe in all the aspects of “soul mate”, it is a concept asserted by Plato, and based on mythology. It simply isn’t true, though it would be lovely if it was.

    I do think we meet people that can really influence us, or that we can form a lasting and powerful bond with. Perhaps we did meet them in another dimension. Who really knows. The term, “soul mate” can be applied to anyone, even a platonic friend, with whom we really relate and feel a close bond with. Otherwise, it is not true in the literal sense of the word—it was made up by Plato.

    Reply
  2. green as glass -  March 14, 2015 - 6:10 pm

    I appreciate the research. The soulmate concept – brought to you by Plato, also known as one of the inventors of the concept of the ever burning hell. If I didn’t already think the soulmate idea was a silly fairy tale, this article would convince me. I think the increasing rate of broken families leaves more and more people longing for a sense of belonging, and the construct of a soulmate gives them hope of finding it.

    Reply
  3. stupid -  November 18, 2013 - 7:14 am

    wonderful thread.

    Reply
  4. stupid -  November 18, 2013 - 7:05 am

    I first met my soulmate 15 years ago. whether or not she is my “solemate” is something that has denied my soul of “solace” for all these years.

    Reply
  5. Angalyssa -  October 15, 2013 - 9:21 am

    Soul Mates <3 Joshuaa & Angalyssa <3 9-27-12

    Reply
  6. samina saifee -  September 9, 2013 - 6:24 am

    Solemates seek solace within themselves rather than being soulmates.

    Reply
  7. red robi -  September 7, 2013 - 3:06 am

    Years of love, experiences joyful & awful, triumphs & recoveries from defeat, & most of all, the tenacity to depend on the mutual support of your “soulmate”, are the great proof that a soulmate does exist for you in this mortal life. That, along with the knowledge that your life couldn’t be tolerable or enriched without this other soul, leads me to the belief that, yes, we DO have soulmates. I don’t think we’re limited to only one such person in our existence, nor do I think that death of our physical bodies forever severs that unique connection. Perhaps we’ve ALWAYS been soulmates, & will always remain so.

    Reply
  8. folley chidula -  September 4, 2013 - 11:06 am

    Soul mate. In other words it simply means beloved one .

    Reply
  9. Selma -  August 28, 2013 - 8:07 am

    I have found this pretty interesting I will share it with my students.

    Reply
  10. douglas -  August 27, 2013 - 10:29 pm

    soul mate? it probably is a word to simply say that you cant really explain what it is about to another who has never exsperianced it. so you simply say a soul mate. those who have beleived the have found a soul mate dont have to explain to another who believes they have found or experienced the same also. just say soul mate and they relate on some level tho there reason could and might be a bit differnt. and being that some one who has never exsperinced it or just chooses to denie something that cant be exsplaind as nothing or irrational or just non exsistant . you say soul mate because not only is it confusing to try and explain it to someone who might understand . its even more ridiculouse to some one who has never exsperinced it. and as you try to e plain it. you kinda think maybe it is ridiculouse so you say soul mate instead of trying to explaine something to some one who just doesnt want to believe it any way. kinda like saying it is what it is. basicly your saying it prolly wont make since to you but i feel that somehow it does to me and to explain it not pefectly would only create more questions. because if some one already has it in there head what they believe is how it is and truth. then youll always be wrong in there mind. maybe even with more reasons to be wrong after the failed attemt to explain it clearly as it happend in real time in the shoes you were wereing at that time.used not loosly it is what it is. .. is a usefull phrase to end a conversation that you might feel you dont have to explain . unfortuney only after saying it . do you realize how strongly someone might have actualy felt Bout the conversation. ….sorry if that drifted. … life apears to have more grey than black and white . and grey seems to be cought in the middle of a fued. -

    Reply
    • Armageddonfrank -  April 15, 2016 - 6:12 pm

      I love the way you explained this. Although it seem as if it drifted, it didn’t. Thats just the way to explain it.

      Reply
  11. Arlen Williams -  August 26, 2013 - 8:54 pm

    @ Charles Goldberg

    I suspect nearly all the “great, classic Greek philosophy” is a revision of what certain Greeks learned from certain Israelites and Jews, right after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem.

    (And I think there likely is a longstanding tradition of arrogance in the academic community, in not seeing that.)

    Reply
  12. Arlen Williams -  August 26, 2013 - 8:49 pm

    I’d guess the movie, Sleepless in Seattle has something to do with the use of the word; also the use of dating sites, online.

    Reply
  13. Marci -  August 26, 2013 - 8:27 pm

    I think the spike in the 1980′s has to do with “Sleepless in Seattle”. I personally think that the possibility of soul-mate is real and have been married to mine for 15 years. It is not the same as “feeling” in love. I feels more like the YinYang where opposites surround each other on one side. I started believing and researching the idea of soul-mates after reading Richard Bach, Bridge Across Forever.

    Reply
    • Michael Iacangelo -  October 8, 2014 - 3:32 pm

      Marci, I’m fairly sure that Richard Bach’s “The Bridge Across Forever” book is what brought the term “soulmate” back into widespread usage.

      Reply
  14. Josh Kelley -  August 26, 2013 - 9:47 am

    You don’t find your soul mate, you become soul mates. It’s a long, difficult, but joy-filled journey.

    Reply
  15. Romiette33 -  August 26, 2013 - 5:40 am

    I’m still looking for my soulmate. :(

    Reply
  16. Atif -  August 26, 2013 - 4:07 am

    ahhh…I am waiting for my “SOULMATE”

    Reply
  17. Euphoria Spliting -  August 26, 2013 - 2:07 am

    Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  18. nyspirit54 -  August 26, 2013 - 12:31 am

    Sorry, really don’t believe in a “soul mate”. I’ve found a few people who I consider “soul mates” in the romantic sense and in the platonic sense. Limiting “soul mate” to just one person really narrows your ability to experience love in various forms. It’s wonderful if you feel you’ve found “the one”, but in my life I’ve found that there really isn’t one person who can fulfill all of my wants and desires. Some would say I really haven’t found “the one”, but I have found that person in different people in various stages of my life. Call me a cynic, but the knight in shining armor who sweeps you off of your feet is a myth. I hate to say it, but living happily ever after is also a myth.

    Reply
  19. Brina -  August 25, 2013 - 10:35 pm

    My soul mate agrees he is my soul mate but doesn’t want to be with me as boyfriend. TI think it’s not enough.

    Reply
  20. percinette -  August 25, 2013 - 10:28 pm

    there is no such thing as soul mate. it is simply a conceptual product of a poetic imagination. let’s refrain from using it and let the term rest in peace.

    Reply
    • Robyn -  October 24, 2014 - 7:27 am

      YES! Thank you!!

      Reply
  21. StillLooking -  August 25, 2013 - 8:40 pm

    Two friends of mine are getting married, now, announced today. And I came here to look up a definition, and here “Soul Mate” sits on the home page. I linked them to here, of course. :)

    Reply
  22. Greg Smith -  August 25, 2013 - 8:31 pm

    It rose in popularity when it became fashionable to leave the one you promised not to leave but are now tired of, to be with someone new.

    I.e., it’s an excuse for breaking a vow you made earlier: “Oh, I have now found my true soul mate. (And it’s not you.)”

    In other words, there is no such thing as a soul mate. You’re just trying to rationalize doing what you want to do. Please just keep your first promise instead. Thanks.

    Reply
  23. Suz -  August 25, 2013 - 3:24 pm

    no one mentioned, Richard Bach using it in his novel “A bridge across forever”. Unfortunately, his soulmate, Leslie and he divorced many years ago.

    Reply
  24. Me -  August 24, 2013 - 4:45 pm

    Your soul mate would not be the same as YOU I’m Quite sure.

    Reply
  25. Victor mabaso -  August 24, 2013 - 3:16 pm

    I thnk wen they said soulmate they meant 1 must hv a soul “mate” 2 be happy as in 1 must hv a soul “dear frnd” 2 b hppy(australian language) or ur soul must mate wth anada in orda 4 1 2 b happy

    Reply
  26. Patricia Davidson -  August 24, 2013 - 10:19 am

    I love the meaning of “soul mate”. I makes the words “true love” pale in comparison. I have always believed that everyone has a soul mate out there somewhere, you just have to keep looking. For some they come alone at an early age but for others it just takes time.

    Reply
  27. WB -  August 24, 2013 - 9:30 am

    I lost mine 13 years ago after 30. Someone said popularity was probably because of the internet. Let’s try the “hippie generation”, the 1960″s era. This was also the era beginning the use of personal computers, though their popularity became big in the next decade.
    An observer of the times…

    Reply
  28. Andy Doerksen -  August 24, 2013 - 7:34 am

    Aristophanes apparently gave a poetic spin to what the Creator had declared to the first couple thousands of years previously: “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” (Genesis 2:24)

    Reply
  29. David -  August 24, 2013 - 5:03 am

    Partners should value one another’s notions. My aunt and uncle, married over 60 years, have a shared belief in commitment. That viewpoint is presumably more prevalent than a shared conviction that one’s partnership was preordained: soul mates. Our big brains know when it’s safe to reveal themselves: to ourselves and to others.

    Reply
  30. John P, McKenzie -  August 23, 2013 - 3:32 pm

    !

    It is so amazing … this computer thing.

    It gives millions of Cliff Claven – like mailmen and other bored to death persons the ability to post their STUPIDS and go to sleep happy in the knowledge the world has be enriched … by their … ???

    Right! Deep knowledge.

    Reply
  31. Charles Goldberg -  August 23, 2013 - 6:58 am

    Actually, this is incorrect. The origin is even older. Kabbalah (around five thousand years old) says that before humans are born into the world, their souls exist within G-d’s “mind.” The soul is divided before it’s sent into the world to complete its assigned mission. It explains that each half is placed into a man or woman who are destined to reunite over the course of their existence. Unfortunately, due to the soul losing touch with its purpose after existing in the physical world, sometimes the couple never reunites; it actually says that a soul finding its other half is as difficult as the “splitting of the sea.” Nonetheless, Kabbalah literally refers to each individual as literally having a “soul mate.” This is actually a central tenant of Judaism; the Jewish star, (further verified in the Da Vinci code :-)), the symbol most strongly associated with Jewish people, is the perfect blending of phallus (male) and chalice (female), representing the reuniting of the two halves of the human soul. Btw, according to Genesis 1:27, or Bereshit as Jews call it, “And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them;” Plato was ripping off the Torah; Adam and Eve existed as one before they were separated. This was the first splitting of souls that occurred in paradise. Bouyah.

    Reply
  32. Joe -  August 22, 2013 - 10:16 pm

    I guess it’s like a meme. People want an easier way to live. Thus, an easier way to express themselves. Like a meme, but distorted, as well as fornication, it just helps connect people dangling on their own and having a chance to get priceless goods for less effort. So while people grow poor enough in spirit, the inventors/idealists come up with something that fits just right into what new frame of love people are looking for. Such od happened to Kurt Cobain; poor, but with a bright spirit on the inside. Because of the price, demand, and poverty, Kurt Cobain rebelled gangster but by music. Then, a newer generation, seeking a new frame of love, bashes his history ignorantly until there’s a day few words are spoken yet so powerful that they can easily honor just a picture of him instead.

    Reply
  33. Frank Chowaniec -  August 22, 2013 - 7:59 pm

    I have a soul-mate with whom I play chess.
    She’s Czech. So I call her……..

    Reply
  34. iq145 -  August 22, 2013 - 6:57 pm

    Each of my shoes has a Soul mate..

    Reply
  35. NoAngle -  August 22, 2013 - 10:56 am

    I don’t know… I can be pretty annoying. The prospect of spending the rest of existence with some one ‘just like me’, isn’t going to be appealing to either one of us.

    Reply
  36. Genesis -  August 22, 2013 - 7:28 am

    I never knew. So many things to learn so unexpectedly.

    Reply
  37. Clay -  August 22, 2013 - 7:10 am

    I will forever maintain that Sex in the City is one of the worst shows to ever happen (it could now be considered the grandmother of all the crappy shows that are on tv now). Great phrase choice to highlight Dictionary.com! Can’t wait to marry my wonderful fiance (my soul mate)!

    Reply
  38. BARRY TAYLOR -  August 22, 2013 - 7:05 am

    IF AND STATMENT FROM SUPPORTING.

    Reply
  39. Kwwinn -  August 22, 2013 - 6:06 am

    Awww :) I agree wonderful article I found my soul mate and he’s one of a kind.

    Reply
  40. loy -  August 22, 2013 - 4:44 am

    :-)

    Reply
  41. judy ann veloria -  August 22, 2013 - 4:42 am

    . . . I hope it is true…..that when I met my SOULMATE . . .
    . . . I must say that I’m happy in my Married Life . . .

    Reply
  42. Graye Writer -  August 22, 2013 - 1:17 am

    I’ll admit I’ve always enjoyed the idea of soul mates, and I have loved the story of Zeus’ jealousy ever since I was a child and found it in a mythology book at the library, but I can’t say I’ve ever considered soul mates to be romance-specific as most people seem to do. After all, the idea of soul mates is simply that they are the two halves of one soul, right? That doesn’t have to mean true love, the concepts aren’t reliant upon one another in the slightest. It could be your best friend, or sometimes even your worst enemy, someone you clash with, and yet you can’t seem to avoid being near to each other in some capacity or other. I once knew a person who theorized that identical twins were the lucky few who were born with their soul mate. And after all, identical twins are one person in two bodies, biologically speaking, so why not? I have to admit that, as silly as I feel, I believe in soul mates. I have to, because whose to say I’m not living with mine? We aren’t in a romantic relationship as such, we are very aware, in fact, that we wouldn’t do well together in a “normal” relationship, and yet beyond just being very close friends we feel an unreasonable, illogical, inexplicable NEED, not desire, to keep one another close. Soul mates exist, and the skeptics are just looking in the wrong direction for theirs.

    Reply
  43. axds -  August 21, 2013 - 6:38 pm

    asfsdaf

    Reply
  44. david -  August 21, 2013 - 6:27 pm

    I found my soul-mate,..and her name is Loreto

    Reply
  45. Maneki Neko -  August 21, 2013 - 6:15 pm

    Hey – congrats Ole TBoy. My parents had 50+ together before death intervened. Marriage is not a short-term contract. It requires give and take of two intelligent people who make the commitment to celebrate all that Life can deliver together – good and bad. Just waking up in the morning is worth celebrating.

    Reply
  46. Cherry -  August 21, 2013 - 4:31 pm

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch… lol

    Reply
  47. Hebeestie Wallopman -  August 21, 2013 - 2:42 pm

    I think the spike in usage is due to the invention and popularisation of the internet, the ngram viewer is somewhat limited by that.

    Reply
  48. MW -  August 21, 2013 - 2:41 pm

    It became a widely used pop psych word. That’s what did it.

    Reply
  49. luvmonkey -  August 21, 2013 - 2:18 pm

    I think I first heard the thing about Zeus splitting humans in half and everyone having a soul mate in a Xena, Warrior Princess episode that crossed over with Hercules… oops, my nerd is showing. I adored the concept that everyone has one perfect match at the time, but now I think it’s depressing. I think the spike in usage is probably due to the increasing cheesiness of romantic movies. *cough*Twilight*cough* Movies used to be a little more subtle, don’t you think?

    Reply
  50. ssbrtn -  August 21, 2013 - 1:37 pm

    I found mine…

    Reply
  51. Ole TBoy -  August 21, 2013 - 12:11 pm

    July 5, 2013 my wife and I celebrated our 60th year of marriage. We are true embodiments of the term, soul mates.

    Reply
  52. founditinwa -  August 21, 2013 - 11:27 am

    All of that is so true. I finally found my soul mate and this is the first time in my life that I feel complete. If you haven’t found that person that can be your best friend, your confidant, your partner, and your lover, don’t give up… He or she is out there somewhere and you’ll only find them when you least expect it.

    Reply
  53. WWW.Byte Show. com -  August 21, 2013 - 9:54 am

    Wonder how long it will take untill the cynics come on and state the obvious that TRUE love went out in the ’80s, marriage is no longer a valued institution, and that “LUST” mate would be a more accurate term…

    I Know my stopwatch is ticking…

    Reply
  54. me -  August 21, 2013 - 9:20 am

    so lucky I found mine <3

    Reply
  55. S.S,Kalra -  August 21, 2013 - 7:33 am

    A good direction to the word ‘LOVE’ & with supporting facts of of history of the word SOUL-MATES are satisfying for the lovers of emotional poetry, world over in all languages. Thanks a lot for this researched facts behind the emotions and thoughts.

    Reply
  56. kalpana -  August 21, 2013 - 6:13 am

    The other half is our twin flame or twin soul, we finally meet them in the last birth, after we balance all our previous karma’s with other souls and each other, the two halves merge into one another, forms one soul, which eventually unites with the almighty………..

    Reply
  57. the reader -  August 21, 2013 - 5:50 am

    Things which make people think and which are worthless spending your time on.

    Reply
  58. divinadayalan (divine) -  August 21, 2013 - 3:55 am

    OMG, OTHER HALF it’s even awkward to read it

    Reply
  59. nina -  August 20, 2013 - 11:57 pm

    This is simply romantic.

    Reply
  60. lol -  August 20, 2013 - 5:38 pm

    that’s awesome :)

    Reply
  61. Ray -  August 20, 2013 - 2:51 pm

    Poets are notoriously absurdists–e.g. “I got plenty of nothing, and nothing’s plenty for me…” (Porgy And Bess / Gershwin’s & Heyward 1935);–To the poet, soul is an aloneness that every body has… The archaic Egyptians further defined the soul as an experiential Ba and accessional Ka… Poets, are like Greeks bearing gifts of barbecue sauce, (you supply the meat)…

    Reply
  62. Cyberquill -  August 20, 2013 - 1:39 pm

    I have a South Korean Seoul mate.

    Reply
  63. weddinginloves -  August 20, 2013 - 12:55 am

    other half,There is so much meaning, see this article today regarded as an increase of knowledge and experience it.

    Reply

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