Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? (Y/N/Maybe)

Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker got married on 9 June 1987, in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21.  For someone who began reading comic books in March 1986, their marriage was a central tenant of my experience of Spider-Man.  You don’t have Spider-Man without Peter Parker and you don’t have Peter Parker without Mary Jane!  Despite Marvel’s editorial staff having “instant regrets” about their wedding, fans have passionately embraced the marriage for over twenty years.  As their relationship evolved, especially as it approached it’s end in 2007’s “One More Day” storyline, Mary Jane and Peter were increasingly painted in the light of Soul Mates.  Their relationship then allows us to ponder one of romantic love’s most intoxicating questions – are Soul Mates real?  It’s end allows us to reflect on the potential of finding and losing the one.  Now let’s see if I can write about them without getting overly emotional and/or angsty…

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Their life in love. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

When it comes to romantic archetypes, it’s hard to think of one more fascinating than the Soul Mate, right?  The idea of God, the universe, destiny – whatever force you want to attribute it to – intentionally intertwining your life with another at a point outside of linear creation is the kind of thing you can’t help but think of.  Twin souls (or two pieces of the same soul, depending on your approach) forever seeking each other.  Your other half.  Your missing piece.  The One for you, recognized by the light in their eyes and how your soul rings, filled and nourished in a way you thought impossible before them, whenever you’re in their presence.  You realize the curve of their smile, the slant of their shoulder, the lilt of their voice contains all that is magical, mystical, sacred, and real in life.  And you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the most important truth you’ll ever learn.  How can you not think about this?!?

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I’ve asked family and friends or started discussions for youth group members or students by asking – Which do you think is the more romantic idea?  That we find the one because our destinies are interwoven in the stars or because we chose them out of all our potential options?  THEN I follow it with – Which do you think is the truth of how it happens?  Do we honestly have a Soul Mate or is it all a matter of choice?  This topic has fascinated me for ages.  I’ve found our own answers are as unique varied as our hearts.

And in my life, I’ve know with absolute certainty Soul Mates are real.  I’ve also known with absolute certainty they aren’t.  Such is life :).

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

What makes Mary Jane and Peter a perfect couple to explore this idea is they’re never definitively identified as Soul Mates (although, to be fair, the Devil comes pretty close to doing so – saying all but the term specifically – when they sell their marriage to him to save Aunt May’s life in the aforementioned “One More Day” storyline…ugh, let’s leave that to the side for now).  Through the years we’ve seen Peter and MJ continually grow closer and stronger in spite of all which threatens to tear them apart.  The narrative doesn’t expressly tell us if they’re Soul Mates, just as we are left to answer the question of whether or not we believe in Soul Mates in real life.  And I find them almost as compelling as I do contemplating this in regard to my own life ;).

Mary Jane’s first appearance came in November 1966 with The Amazing Spider-Man #42.  Aunt May had been pestering Peter for nearly a year (of comics, not in narrative time) to go out with the niece of her friend Anna Watson.  When Mary Jane first entered Peter’s life, she did so with one of comic book’s most iconic scenes:

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Let the adventure begin! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

They began dating and broke up.  Through college, they remained friends but lived very different lives – Mary Jane was the forever-popular party girl, Peter the more introverted and reclusive student (obviously secretly being a superhero will do that to you).  In the wake of the death of Gwen Stacy, Peter’s first true love, Mary Jane was there for him in a way no one else was.  From there, their friendship truly blossomed.  Ultimately, MJ tells Peter she’s known he was Spider-Man for a long time.  As trauma continued to drive them into each other’s arms for healing and support, eventually Peter proposed.  Mary Jane rejected his proposal (twice over the years) but ultimately accepted.  And while the shadow of having caused Gwen’s death (both in the fact that the Green Goblin targeted her because of Peter’s double life and her neck breaking because of the angle he used to grab her with his webline) will always haunt him, Peter managed to overcome his guilt and chase real happiness in marrying Mary Jane.

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Yowza! / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Awwwww :). / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As far as exploring romantic archetypes through the lens of Spider-Man stories goes, MJ and Peter give us several classics.  First we have the idea of the on-again-off-again relationship.  We also have the best-friends-first trope.  Just like Peter’s relationship with the Black Cat gave us something we can all identify with in our own romantic pursuits, so too do Peter and Mary Jane.  We’ve all had that person (or people) we keep going back to despite the fact that it seems like it never works out.  And who hasn’t had romantic feelings for a friend??  C’MON.  It’s basic math.  In an ideal romantic relationship we’re looking for someone we can have fun with, someone we connect with, someone we love being around, someone we trust, someone who’s always there for us, someone who gets us, someone we love…that’s the definition of a great friend.  So if your good friend happens to be of the same gender you’re sexually attracted to, sooner or later the “Hm, what if…?” is going to pop into one of your minds.  From there, all it takes is a little natural sexual chemistry alongside a little fanning and that spark will blossom into a full-on romantic flame.

Where Peter and Mary Jane (may) become less real and more poetic is their relationship works out.  Their will-they-won’t-they ends with will.  Their best friend becomes their lover.  The dream comes true.  Some of us are blessed in realizing this in our own lives and they have twenty years of comics where they can see their own romantic reality represented in Mary Jane and Peter.

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We should all be so lucky, so blessed. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Despite the poetic power of their passion, the relationship itself is far from idealized.  When discussing Peter’s time dating the Black Cat, I wrote one of the things I loved about their relationship was how she could share in all of Peter’s life.  She could do the normal, banal day-to-day couple things (even if she didn’t really dig them) but she could also swing through the city alongside her lover and fight the forces of evil just as he did.  Peter didn’t have to worry about her being endangered and Spider-Man never came between them.  In fact, it was Spider-Man Felicia was first attracted to.  That’s not the case with Mary Jane.

MJ loves the totality of who Peter is.  She accepts his life as Spider-Man and honors the responsibility he carries.  She does her best to support him too.  However, it’s not an easy life.  Seeing the one you love constantly risk their life against everything from muggers to an Infinity-Gauntlet-wielding-Thanos can’t be easy.  Never knowing if he’s going to come home – never even having the assurance that you’ll know if he dies as he may die in another dimension or on another planet – is far from ideal.  Mary Jane knows their relationship, in many ways, will always be subordinate to Spider-Man’s job.  That wears on her, becoming all but unbearable at times.  How couldn’t it?  And Peter knows he will put Mary Jane through such emotional torment and his life will always put hers in danger, but he can’t give up being Spider-Man.  And that wears on him as well.  How couldn’t it?

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

So their relationship is strong but they struggle.  In this too we see something universal.  No relationship can go any length of time – whether it lasts or breaks – without encountering increasing struggles.  Dr. Cox, speaking to a psychology research fellow who’s talking to the staff at Sacred Heart Hospital about love, outlines this brilliantly in the “My Bed Banter and Beyond” episode of Scrubs:

“Relationships, well Zigman, relationships are so…fragile.  It takes just one thing one…tiny little offense and it can snowball on you.  And if that snowball starts to pick up speed, God forbid, you better tuck and go my friend.

“And BAM!  The shine’s off the apple.  And that’s when you find out that pretty little girl you married isn’t a pretty little girl at all.  No.  She’s a man eater.  And I’m not talking about the “Woah woah here she comes!” kind of man eater.  I’m talking about the one that uses your dignity as a dish towel to wipe up any shreds of manhood that might be stuck inside the sink.  And of course, I may have tormented her from time to time but honest to God that’s what I thought marriage was all about, so much so that by the end of that relationship, I honestly don’t know who I hated more, her or me.  I used to sit around and wonder why our friends weren’t trying to destroy each other, like we were.  And here it turns out the answer is pretty simple: they weren’t unhappy.  We were.

“Relationships don’t work the way they do on television and in the movies.  Will they, won’t they, then they finally do and they’re happy forever, gimme a break.  Nine out of ten of ‘em end because they weren’t right for each other to begin with and half of the ones that get married get divorced anyway and I’m telling you right now, through all this stuff, I have not become a cynic.  I haven’t.  Yes, I do happen to believe that love is mainly about pushing chocolate covered candies and you know, in some cultures, a chicken.  You can call me a sucker, I don’t care.  ‘Cause I do, believe in it.  Bottom line, it’s couples that are truly right for each other wade through the same crap as everybody else but the big difference is they don’t let it take ‘em down.  One of those two people will stand up and fight for that relationship every time if it’s right and they’re real lucky.  One of them will say something.”

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

For twenty years this is exactly what Peter and Mary Jane did.  They struggled.  They hurt.  They broke.  They almost crumbled.  But one of them stood up and fought for their relationship.  Because it was right.  And they were real lucky.  So one of them always said something.

Then in 2007, J. Michael Straczynski – at the direction of Joe Quesada, then Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief and now the Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Entertainment – penned the “One More Day” storyline that brought about the end of Mary Jane and Peter’s marriage.  I said I’d never read the story but, in preparation of this piece, I finally did.  I wasn’t impressed.  In all honesty, it was one of the most contrived, lazy, nonsensical stories I’ve ever read.  In brief, Peter had revealed his identity to the world when he joined Tony Stark’s side in the first Superhuman Civil War.  With this knowledge in hand, the Kingpin hires an assassin to kill Peter.  While Peter’s spider-sense allows him to dodge the bullet, it hits Aunt May.  As she lays dying in her hospital bed, Peter scours the world seeking help from everyone from Dr. Strange to Doctor Doom.  In the end, Mephisto – the Devil in the Marvel Universe – offers to save May’s life in exchange for Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage.  In my mind, it’s one thing to tell an honest story of struggle and divorce. .  Not all marriages last.  Relationships end for all manner of reasons.  It can be hard.  It hurts, but it’s a part of life.  If told correctly, it can make for a powerful story too.  But to just have the Devil take their marriage?  Eh, it didn’t work for me.

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I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Mephisto look more sinister, fitting considering the story. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Striking a deal with the Devil. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

BUT, while I was not a fan of the story’s execution, it IS important to our discussion here.  Because not everyone ends up with the one – with their Soul Mate, if you prefer – in the end.  Some, for one reason or another, may never romantically come together with their would-be Soul Mate in the first place.  Others, for one reason or another, may find each other only to be driven apart by life.  It hurts.  But it happens.

As Tom Petty sang with such haunting truth in “American Girl,” “God it’s so painful when something is so close but still so far out of reach.”  While I would’ve preferred a different avenue to the end of their marriage than a deal with the Devil, the fact that they’ve lost each other is still important.  Just as some of us know the blessing of ending up with the one, some of us struggle with having found them only to lose them in our own lives too.  It is in the dissolution of their union and the stories that have followed it, where those who have loved with all of their heart and soul only to have lost can see their romantic realities reflected in Peter and Mary Jane.

No matter what stage in their relationship you’re looking at, Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker reflect all that is beautiful and broken about romantic love.  They give us the highs and lows of trying to follow our heart.  Are they Soul Mates?  Are Soul Mates even real?  Who knows?  Will they find each other again in the end?  I don’t know that either.  But I choose to believe they will.  My favorite comic couple can’t be apart forever :).  More importantly than that though, I believe they’ll find each other again because I’m a hopeful romantic and because there’s nothing I believe in more than love.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

 

Want more of my li’l series exploring romantic archetypes using Spider-Man comics?  Well you’re in luck!  Check out:

Spider-Man and the Black Cat: Flirting with Perfection to see how the Black Cat represents those people we know may be wrong for us and/or we know it won’t work out with in the long run…but we’re drawn to them all the same and we seemingly can’t stop flirting with or the pursuing them no matter how hard we try :).

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10 thoughts on “Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? (Y/N/Maybe)

    1. I wasn’t either. I was so hoping there’d be some redeeming story beat when I finally decided to read it but I wish I could get the time back I invested in it. Thankfully it was only four comics! But the REST of their relationship is my favorite things ever so it works out :).

      Given I was nearly five when it happened, their marriage was certainly the first I ever experienced! I wasn’t going to any weddings or watching any on TV before I read this so it will always make me feel extra warm and fuzzy for that.

      Like

  1. I had a long conversation about this a few years ago with one of my good friends who was engaged, and, well, debating if she wanted to remain engaged.

    She asked me if I believed in soul mates. I remember being stopped short because I never once thought about it. Not when I got married and not in my past. I came to realize that I don’t believe in soul mates. I think there could be multiple good fits in a partner during your life time…you just choose to be with one that fits well at that moment. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but I do believe that if you chose not to marry them, you may well find someone else later on who also is very compatible and you love just as much.

    Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t think I am. I think people think it gets “harder” to find a soulmate as time goes on but I don’t think so – there are only more committed couples as time goes on so the pool of fish is smaller.

    Been thinking about this a lot since I read your post. I don’t think Mephisto ruining their marriage is lame. I think in some ways (I haven’t read it so I may be way off), he could symbolize external sources that drives a wedge in any good relationship. As his Aunt lays dying, perhaps Peter is so overcome with grief that he can’t get out of his own head. You hear of couples getting a divorce when a child or someone close to one or the other passes away and they succumb to grief and their partner can’t shake them. That’s just one example but it could be anything.

    Speaking from my past few months of experience, I can say that sometimes your relationship is good and your foundation is strong, but something external, a Mephisto, can rock the core of it. External influences can be a crazy mother in law, alcohol, drugs, infidelity, computer/screen time, work, etc. All that can be a Mephisto.

    Anyway, good post, got me thinking, and I finally wrote a comment. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I FORGOT TO REPLY TO THIS! Aaahh! Sorry! I read it quickly at work but didn’t have time to reply. Then life got annoying and – long story short – here we are.

      ANYWAY, I agree with you about being able to find multiple suitable partners in life. In fact, the biggest thing that’s always bothered me about the idea of a Soul Mate are the odds. I’m supposed to find ONE person in the world and that’s the ONLY shot we’ll have at total happiness? Sorry, I just can’t buy it. But I’ve read takes on the Soul Mate that reflect the multiple partners angle too.

      For example, in ‘Brida,’ Paulo Coelho writes (and I’m paraphrasing) in the beginning of time there were fewer souls as there were fewer humans. As our species grew, those first souls volunteered to divide to make more humans. So now pieces of the original soul we came from are scattered all over the world and the goal of each incarnation of our lives is to find one of those pieces. It can obviously be (and most normally is) a lover or it could be a friend or mentor too. If we embrace that Soul Mate our life has meaning and purpose – because learning to love in that way is the highest goal of life. If we reject them or are too scared to pursue it, we’re cursed with loneliness and being unfulfilled. If we find more than one in one incarnation we face the most difficult of choices, who to be with. I’ve always been intrigued by how he uses/adapts the idea of the Soul Mate in a way to reflect multiple potential partners. I still don’t know if I buy it…but it is intriguing.

      As to Mephisto symbolizing outside forces, I totally get that. And I agree – the story of any one of those things ultimately pulling their marriage apart would have been very powerful. I just wish they actually used something like that! In the lead up to this story, Mary Jane and Peter’s marriage was under incredible pressure. He’d revealed his identity to the world, became a fugitive, had half the country love him while the other half wanted to kill him, and he, Mary Jane, and Aunt May were on the run because of this. Then Aunt May gets shot and he goes all grim-black-suit-hunter Spider-Man and leaves Mary Jane to try and figure everything out on her own. She even tells him she can’t live with this, with him falling further and further into his Spider-Man identity.

      They’ve also had (in the past) painfully intense stories – one of the darkest being MJ was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage, because one of Peter’s enemies poisoned her and caused it. It was FUCKING HORRIBLE. They had to deal with the loss of their child on the heels of Peter dealing with the death of his parents. There were so many times they could’ve directly dealt with what you’re talking about – an external force driving a wedge and then breaking an otherwise strong relationship. Instead they always have Peter and Mary Jane say they’ll love each other through anything and then sell their marriage to Mephisto.
      Maybe I’m being too critical but it bugs me.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I’m happy it got you thinking! That’s my hope with these :). I’m having fun with them and I’m glad to see they’re making people reflect a little. Yay for love and Spider-Man!

      Like

      1. Hahaha don’t worry about it at all. I do it ALL the time. I read it on my phone and I’m like, “Agh, too long to type over my phone, I’ll do it next time at my computer and completely forget.”

        I think you have every right to be critical – you are the superfan here, not me. I’m just giving my outsider’s view.

        I really, really love the idea of different souls split up and finding that soul…which also helps explain why there are different matches. It’s almost like a center puzzle piece, it has 4 other puzzles pieces that can work with it. If anything, it helps explain how you can love multiple people, or, how when someone is widowed, they can find love again.

        Liked by 1 person

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