The Fantastic Four and the Science of Soul Mates

Perhaps the most oft repeated observation about the Fantastic Four is they are a family first, superheroes second.  This piece of their identity has been their cornerstone since Stan Lee ushered in the “Marvel Age of Comics” with their creation in 1961.  With the FF poised to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dan Slott was given the reins of  “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” in 2018.  Understanding the nature of the FF – a family of explorers and travelers who save the day when needed – he uses it to examine a captivating concept which seems uniquely suited to the Fantastic Four.  When their explorations take them to the planet Spyre, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/the Thing meet the Overseer, the leader of the Spyricans, a people who have technology they claim will show you your Soul Mate with absolute certainty.  Families are born in the bonds of love and there’s no love like a Soul Mate…should such a thing exist.  What better place to drop explorers defined by their family than the questions raised at the intersection of loving communion and a technology that can predict the mystical movements of the heart?!!?

As readers we can’t help but take this journey with the Fantastic Four and wonder are Soul Mates real?  And if they are, would we want to know?

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Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm, Sue Storm, Reed Richards, and their children Valeria and Franklin at the ceremony for the Marvel-1. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

This story begins in Fantastic Four #14 (Vol. 6).  After a ceremony commemorating the Marvel-1, the ship the FF first took into space on the flight which resulted in their being bombarded by cosmic rays and left with astounding abilities, Reed starts to get antsy.  While that flight forever changed their lives, they never completed it.  They never reached their destination.  So he and Johnny begin work on a new ship, modelled on the first, to finish that flight and go where they’ve never gone before.  They land on the planet Spyre, 44 light years from Earth.  After the traditional superhero fight-before-friends (mainly due to the universal translators Reed built into their spacesuits being damaged in their crash landing), the FF find themselves scattered throughout the Spyrican capital.  The fight leaves Ben in Lowtown, an underground city populated by monstrous beings.  Reed and Sue are taken to the Overseer’s watchtower.  And Johnny wakes up in Kaila’s bed in her apartment in Hightown.  Kaila/Sky is one of the Unparalleled, the team of superbeings who protect Spyre.  While Johnny’s initially glad the gold band he woke up with isn’t a tramp stamp, Kaila’s revelation of its meaning shows something far more permanent than a tattoo.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Sue and Reed find themselves wearing them, too, and the Overseer clarifies, “Those aren’t restraints.  They’re Soul Bindings.  The height of Spyrican technology.  They can only be worn by a couple who are true soul mates.”  Kaila further explains to Johnny, “When we come of age, every child of Spyre is brought before the Great Eye where they’re scanned and measured against the radiation signature of everyone on the planet…all to find their perfect match.”  She tells him on her day before the Great Eye, “the heavens opened” and the scanning told her her Soul Mate was on a planet orbiting a single sun, 44 light years away.

To say this story beat is a little jarring is an understatement.  The idea of the Soul Mate is all around us but the idea they are definitively real and can be demonstrably verified through science is a little mind-blowing to consider.  The first time I read this comic SO MANY THOUGHTS shot through my mind at once.  Where was this story going?  What was it ultimately going to say?  I can believe in cosmic rays giving you superpowers or a Forever Gate which can take you to any place and time across the multiverse but Soul Mates being verifiably real?!!?  This idea simultaneously seemed too much…but also a little appealing…while also being a little scary.

But Dan Slott doesn’t just introduce this idea and leave the readers to contemplate what unfolds between Kaila and Johnny.  No, at the outset he shows how the Great Eye forms the heart of Spyrican culture and how accurate it is.  Before the Fantastic Four arrive we see the Overseer with a young girl before the Great Eye.  He tells her, “Today you will peer through the Great Eye…and it shall find among our people your one, true intended.”  Naturally she’s nervous, asking, “Overseer?  What if…he or she doesn’t like me?”  He reassures her, “Impossible.  You will be two souls who share a life as harmoniously as our two suns, Kor and Kaylo.”  We then see examples from the Unparalleled to “everyday” citizens showing the people of Spyre are a people of healthy, loving bonds.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Johnny is understandably shaken.  I can only imagine what it would feel like to wake up in the bed of someone whose name I didn’t know and be told, “Oh, hi there, hello.  I’m your Soul Mate!  This is 100% absolutely true, too, because our science calculates this without error.”  How do you wrap your head around something like that?!!?  While he’s naturally skeptical, Johnny has an unquestionable connection to Kaila.

When they first meet in battle, even before they can understand each other, Kaila looks at Johnny and observes, “You’re holding back, aren’t you?  I know why.  You feel like you know me.  You do.”  As she flies around Spyre with Johnny explaining the Great Eye, her culture, and the nature of being “Soulbound” to him, she assures him, “Johnny, you can trust me.  You feel that deep down.  Don’t you?”  He agrees, “I do!  I feel this connection to you…and that scares me.”  He begins to open up immediately, about his past, his wounds, his fears, and how weird his life can be.  And he tells her, “When I was a boy, Reed let me look at a faster-than-light scan…of a world in a two-star system.  Your world.  And I felt…I felt…”  As he struggles to find the words Kaila helps, “I know.  I felt it too.”

They had an immediate connection even before they laid eyes on one another.  Once they did, they were immediately drawn together.  While their connection is undeniable, Johnny (again, naturally) struggles to understand the implications.  He asks Kaila, “So…you and me, Sky, we’re just supposed to accept this?  Like it’s our fate?  Our destiny?”  She clarifies, “More like science.  We’re perfectly compatible in every way.  Spiritually, mentally…physically.”  And, in the name of science, they lean in to test their kissing chemistry.

The idea of an immediate connection to someone, something we can’t explain yet feel all through our being, is familiar (at least in concept if not in practice for all of us).  We tend to chalk those experiences up to something mystical, spiritual, undefinable.  If there is some sort of force pulling us towards someone, we tend to see it as God or kismet or fate or destiny or the universe or something we can never fully understand.  As a result the connection itself is understood as something mystical, too.  But here Kaila is telling Johnny the Great Eye’s matches are scientific, verifiable, and never wrong.  They know.  They are Soul Mates – each other’s one, true intended.  Period.

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I, too, am a fan of science and I love me a good experiment. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

This feels uncomfortable!  Right?  Is it just me?  It takes a poetic, mystical idea and grounds it in the world of scientific verification.  In so doing it makes the idea of a Soul Mate real in a demonstrable way.  I don’t think it’s the poetry-to-science move that makes this uncomfortable, though.  I think it’s the Soul Mates are definitively real thing that makes it hard to sit with.  Because if Soul Mates are unquestionably real that means, as we traditionally understand Soul Mates, we can chose wrong and that means we’ll never know our fullest potential of happiness.  We have one chance for true happiness and the poetic allure of the stars weaving our destiny together with another seems to fall away when we look at it as an actual one-and-only person we need to find and chose.  That’s pressure!  That’s hard to think about!  And that’s part of why this story’s so brilliant :).  It makes us wrestle with this!

I think the reason this idea hits so hard is because it strikes at the very center of our lives – the idea of real, loving communion with another.  With every ounce of my being I believe the single most important question in life is What is love? because love should be the heart of everything we do and everything we are.  Love should form the foundation of our connection with our family, our friends, our significant others, and most certainly ourselves.  It should be the core of our relationship with whatever name we give the Divine and it should be the root of our jobs, too.  So understanding what love is is more important than anything else as everything else should be grounded in it.  Love is everything and we forget that to the detriment of our own happiness. 

Placing love and loving at the center of our lives is different from believing in the idea of a Soul Mate, though.  As a kid, the Fantastic Four were the first fictional example I knew of chosen family.  Sue and Johnny were siblings.  Ben and Reed were best friends since college.  Sue and Reed would eventually marry.  But they were all always, unquestionably, a family.  And this loving bond of family has been extended to so many who’ve lived, loved, and fought beside them over the years (including Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, Crystal, Sharon Ventura/Ms. Marvel, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Logan/Wolverine, Ororo Munroe/Storm, and T’Challa/the Black Panther to name just a few)!  However, believing in love doesn’t automatically equate believing in Soul Mates.  Sue, despite living her life with an ever-expanding chosen family, isn’t quick to buy into the Soul Mate thing.

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Crystal is part of the Inhuman Royal Family and Johnny fell head over heels for her as soon as they met. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

As I was doing my research for this piece, I found an article on the history of the idea of the Soul Mate written by Bradley Onishi, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Skidmore College.  In it he cites two different polls and I was SHOCKED to see a 2017 poll by the Monmouth University Polling Institute saying two-thirds of Americans believe in the concept of a Soul Mate.[1]  He contrasts this with a 2018 Pew Research Center survey which found 58% of Americans “believe in God as described in the Bible.”[2]  Now depending on a) who’s asking the question and b) the understanding of “God” and “described” and “the Bible” being invoked, I’d agree or disagree with this myself.  But still, TWO-THIRDS of Americans believe in Soul Mates.  Whoa.

As I explored the history of this idea, I learned the term first appeared in the English language care of an 1822 letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.[3]  In it the poet writes, “To be happy in married life, nay,…in order not to be miserable, you must have a soul-mate, as well as a house or a yoke-mate.”[4]

But the concept, according to all scholarly sources I consulted, goes back to Plato.  In The Symposium a group of thinkers gather to give speeches in praise of Love.  Aristophanes, the fourth of seven to speak, offers the discourse from which our understanding of the Soul Mate has developed over the centuries.  Describing the nature of humankind, Aristophanes says:

[T]he original human nature was not like the present, but different…the primeval man was round and had four hands and four feet, back and sides forming a circle, one head with two faces, looking the opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond…Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods…[Zeus] said, “I have a notion which will humble their pride and mend their manners; they shall continue to exist but I shall cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us.  They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue to be insolent and won’t be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single leg.”…After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and threw their arms about one another eager to grow into one…so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.  Each of us when separated is but the indenture of a man, having one side only like a flat fish, and he is always looking for his other half…And when one of them finds his other half, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment…[T]here is not a man among them…who would deny or who would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting in one another’s arms, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need.  And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.[5]   

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Kaila and Johnny examine their “other half” as they go on an actual date. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

How often do we hear this invoked, seeking our other half?  Seeking the one who makes us whole, becoming one instead of two?  This comes from the The Symposium.  Moving from Plato to the Judeo-Christian scriptures, Genesis 2:18 has God observe, “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make a helper suited for him.”  Then in Genesis 2:23-24, when man first sees woman, he exclaims, “‘This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called “woman,” for out of man this one has been taken.’  That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”  Again, two become one.

While Genesis only implies a Soul Mate as we traditionally think of it, “The idea of a predestined soulmate can be found in the remarks of a 3rd century Talmudic sage Rabbi Yochanan.”[6]  In the Zohar, the 13th century foundational text of Jewish mysticism, we also find twin souls being predestined before birth to come together in marriage.  The souls are split, sent out into the world, and confusion reigns until they are finally reunited.[7]  Both Jewish and Christian tradition and scripture speak of God and/or Jesus as the romantic soulmate of Israel/the Church/the faithful as well.[8]  Despite these roots, the belief in a Soul Mate exists only on the margins of formal religious thought.  It is more widely believed in New Age circles, where the Soul Mate is most often understood as a soul you’re drawn to again and again and again over many lifetimes in the effort to accomplish a particular goal.[9]

While we can follow this thread of the Soul Mate from roughly 380 BCE to the present, if we’re treating this concept honestly, we have to acknowledge it can be problematic.  We see this understanding shape (in a wonderfully comedic way) the reactions of Johnny’s friends and family to Kaila.  When the Fantastic Four return to Earth, Kaila willingly leaves her family, her friends, her planet – literally everything she’s ever known – to go with Johnny, so deep is her faith that he is her Soul Mate.  We see incredulity and loving eye rolls greeting the idea that Johnny’s finally found “the one”…again.

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First there’s Val and Franklin… / Photo Credit

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…then there’s Alicia… / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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…and Wyatt Wingfoot, Johnny’s longtime best friend… / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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…his buddy, the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, wouldn’t be left out… / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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…and OF COURSE his ex, Crystal, rounds it all out :). / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

While romantic (to some) this idea of the Soul Mate has the potential to create a deeply unhealthy dynamic in our relationships.  Research indicates those who believe in Soul Mates are more likely to break-up over time.[10]  It can lead to greater discontent as you constantly seek an idealized, romanticized version of someone who doesn’t really exist.  Relationships are hard enough as it is but this adds SO MUCH PRESSURE to them.  Capturing the weight of this idea, Stephen Colbert pens a letter to you from your Soul Mate in a “Stephen Speaks For Me” piece:

Hey there.  I’m your soul mate, the one person on this earth who’s perfect for you in every way.  Yes, I exist, and yes, everyone else you’ve been with is a pale substitute.  We’re meant to be together but we’ve never met.

You see, there are six billion people in the world and you encounter at most about 1,000 people per day, so statistically our paths would cross only once every 16,500 years.  If we’re going to beat those odds, you need to work harder, because so far you’ve done a spectacular job of messing this up….Please just get it right.  Last time, I dealt with my disappointment by sleeping with the pottery instructor.

I guess what I’m saying is, the next time you think about going to the museum today instead of tomorrow when I’ll be there, ask yourself: Do you really want to spend the rest of your life alone?  Are you going to take the bus or are you going to walk?  If you do walk and it’s raining, how are you going to see me under my umbrella, unless I don’t have one and you share yours, or I share mine and that’s how we meet?  So remember.  Never leave the house without an umbrella…or with one.  It’s your choice.  I think I explained pretty clearly what’s at stake. 

….Point is, hanging over every decision you make, no matter how small, is the sword of our loneliness.  I am out there.  Find me.  But please hurry.  I know we’re meant to be together for eternity, but I can’t wait forever.

Oh my God!  I just ran into my pottery teacher.  That’s so random.[11]

Colbert does a brilliant job of showing how hysterical, improbable, and INSANELY STRESSFUL this idea is.  Our traditional understanding of the Soul Mate also denies the healthy reality of change.  We are not static individuals.  A Soul Mate seems to imply a perfect partner forever – as the Overseer tells the young girl on Spyre, “You will be two souls who share a life as harmoniously as our two suns, Kor and Kaylo.”  Yet people break-up because we’re always growing and changing but we don’t always grow and change in the same way.  When that happens, the healthy thing to do is to break-up.[12]  One of the most damaging lessons our culture teaches is that the end of any relationship – a dating relationship, an engagement, or a marriage – is a failure.  But relationships ending aren’t failures!  They’re signs of growth and of honoring ourselves in our growth.  Imagine if the next time you spoke to a loved one going through a divorce, instead of meeting them in sadness as though their world was ending, you said, “This is so difficult but I’m proud of you for doing the right thing.  I’m happy for you, too.  You’re honoring yourself and your needs.”  Can you imagine how they’d feel?  Can you imagine the gift you’d give them?  Sometimes we grow in the same way with someone over time and that’s beautiful.  But sometimes we don’t and when we don’t relationships need to end and that’s beautiful, too.

It’s hard to imagine growing apart from our Soul Mate.  It seem antithetical to the idea.  But when we don’t acknowledge the realities of growth and change we leave ourselves trapped.  Kaila leaving Spyre behind to follow Johnny to Earth could very easily be read as the most grand and sweeping of grand, sweeping romantic gestures…yet it leaves her without any of her natural supports and her entire life is hung on Johnny Storm, her Soulbound, a man she hardly knows…but the idea of leaving, no matter how bad it gets, isn’t on the table because she knows he’s her Soul Mate.  This leaves both Kaila and Johnny in a difficult place and, as with each beat of the story along the way, Dan Slott presents this reality in all it’s painful, confusing complexity. 

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Lyja, the Skrull who was once married to Johnny, arrives on Earth. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

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Oh Kaila…this is NOT a fun place to be. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Kaila and Johnny get in a fight when Kaila learns about Lyja, Johnny’s Skrull ex-wife who he married when she was disguised as Alicia Masters (the great love of Ben’s life and his current wife).  As Johnny tires to smooth things over, he tells her about all his past relationships.  Hurt and feeling all sorts of feelings, Kaila tells him, “I have stayed on this planet to observe the rights of my culture.  My belief system states that you and I are Soulmates, yet…I don’t know if I can trust you, Johnny Storm.”  Johnny asks how he can make her see she can…when Kaila realizes she can’t see his soul binding.  Johnny tells her he’s still wearing it…he just asked Reed to make a device to turn it invisible.

Kaila feels angry, hurt, betrayed.  This is the “gravest insult” to Kaila, her beliefs, and her culture.  She’s confused but she can’t really leave – he’s her Soul Mate – so she stays.  They talk it out.  They try some regular dates and begin to explore their connection in a less superhero-y way.  But things are never quiet in the Marvel Universe for long and soon comes Knull.  The ancient God of the Symbiotes comes to Earth with plans to take over the world.  His hoard oozes over the globe, turning people everywhere into Venom-ized monster slaves of Knull.  Johnny is among those infected.  And here Dan Slott kicks this concept up even further!

Kaila comes to find Sue, telling her she sensed Johnny was in trouble.  Sue tells her, “Stop it, Sky!  I can’t deal with this nonsense right now!  You don’t have a magic love-bond with my brother.  You have an alien bracelet.  That’s it.  If you want to help him here in the real world, you’ll come with me.”  Kaila says, “That’s not true.  Wherever he is…we are bound together!  I feel what he feels…we are one heart, and we…we share everything.”

And then she transforms into a Venom-fied version of herself.

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You know what they say, “The couple that gets possessed by symbiotes together stays…” wait. Does anyone say that? / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

Kaila was never touched by a symbiote!  Nothing bonded to her!  But she turned because Johnny was turned.  This occurs in Fantastic Four #29.  Kaila’s been a part of the story for half of Dan Slott’s run at this point and he’s amping up this concept, making us stare even deeper into the idea of a definitive, one, true Soul Mate.  Why would Kaila turn into one of Knull’s possessed monster servants??  Spider-Man first donned the symbiote that would become Venom in Secret Wars #8 in 1984 and Marvel has done A LOT with symbiotes over the last thirty-seven years.  But I’ve NEVER seen one take control of someone vicariously like this before. 

How did this happen?  How could this happen?  We are given no clear answers so we are left to infer…and wrestle with where those inferences take us.  As Johnny turns, Kaila turns too.  Is the Great Eye really accurate?  Are they really Soul Mates?  Is that what caused this?!!?

After Knull is defeated and things go back to normal, Kaila tells Johnny a soul binding can only be removed by their Soul Mate.  She offers to take Johnny’s off, as she placed it on him without his consent.  Johnny stops her saying, “Wait.  This is important to you.  This is the basis of your whole culture.  And…I have to admit, I’ve never felt like this before – so complete.”  Then he says, “You’re the reason I had to travel across the stars.  All for you. For this.”  She asks, “You really believe that don’t you?”  He assures her, “I do.”  She agrees, “Me too.”

Just when we have the clearest indication of the something which bonds Kaila and Johnny followed by Johnny’s most intimate acceptance of what binds them, things get worse.

In Fantastic Four #32, Johnny and Kaila go on a double-date to a museum with Ben, Alicia, and their two children.  On the date, as they share a tender embrace Kaila says, “But I do know you better than anyone.  Can you feel it?”  Johnny tells her, “I can’t explain why…but right this moment?  Yes.”  It beautifully builds on their previous exchange…until Kaila really shows up and it turns out Johnny was with Lyja, his shapeshifting ex-wife.

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Yikes :8. / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

He was out all night with Lyja.  He had no idea she wasn’t Kaila.  Which, ok, that’s kinda what Skrulls do.  But the whole Soul Mate thing seems to make this hurt more.  How could he not know?  Also, the Soul Mate dimension makes this far more complex to navigate.  They are supposed to be the perfect forever partners, right?  This isn’t just a regular relationship.  They’re Soul Mates.  How do you not know you’re out with your ex instead of your perfect forever partner Soul Mate?

The heartbreak doesn’t end there.  Johnny navigates this complicated mire of emotions through having sex.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

…with Zora Vukovic/Victorious, the right hand of Doctor Doom.  Because of their connection, Kaila feels all of it.  My heart ached for her as I read her lamentation, “We reached out to each other, you and I.  From across the stars.  We share a sacred bond.  We’re soulbound.  I know what you’re feeling, Johnny.  I know what you’ve done…and I know it wasn’t with me.”  Again, we see further proof of their bond and again it comes with heartache.

Is that what a Soul Mate is?  Is a Soul Mate (to nick a phrase from John Lennon) a concept by which we measure our pain?  Is it an idea which takes us to a place where what we have can never been good enough and, conversely, leaves us scared and uncertain of what to do with the connections we feel?

From Plato centuries before the common era to now, the idea of the Soul Mate has stayed with us.  TWO-THIRDS of American believe in it today!  But is it any good?  Is it helpful?  Look where “finding their Soul Mate” has left Kaila and Johnny.  What do we make of this concept we’ve held onto for millennia which so often brings such pain?  And all of those complexities to the side for just a moment are Soul Mates even real to begin with?  I don’t know.  I don’t know that any of us can ever be certain of something like a Soul Mate.  I’d wager, at this point in the story, even Kaila and Johnny are unsure of just about everything.  But we can’t pretend the idea doesn’t matter.  Anything that stays with us for millennia, for better or worse, is important if in no other way than it has resonance with us as a people and that means it’s something we need to figure out how to approach.

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

In all the research I did for this piece – not to mention spending twenty years considering love from the personal, practical, theological, philosophical, intellectual, and now psychological (thanks therapy!) perspective (because if you’re studying and teaching about God/religion and love isn’t the heart of it all, you’ve missed the point) – I’ve only ever found one approach to the Soul Mate that seems plausible let alone healthy in any way.

In his novel Brida, Paulo Coelho explores the concept of the Soul Mate.  Brida is a young girl learning the paths of magic in search of knowledge.  In a meeting with Wicca, one of her teachers, the question of the Soul Mate arises.

Wicca went on.  “And when people think of reincarnation, they always come up against a very difficult question: if, in the beginning, there were so few people on the face of the Earth, and now there are so many, where did all those new souls come from?”

Brida held her breath.  She had asked herself this question many times.

“The answer is simple,” said Wicca, after pausing to savor the young woman’s eager silence.  “In certain reincarnations we divide in two.  Our souls divide, as do crystals and stars, cells and plants.

“Our soul divides in two, and those new souls are in turn transformed into two and so, within a few generations, we are scattered over a large part of the Earth.”

….”The truth is that if the Anima mundi [the Soul of the World] were merely to keep dividing, it would keep growing, but it would also become gradually weaker.  That is why, as well as dividing into two, we also find ourselves.  And that process of finding ourselves is called Love.”

….”In each incarnation we feel a mysterious obligation to find at least one of those Soul Mates.  The Greater Love that separated them feels pleased with the Love that brings them together again.”

“But how will I know who my Soul Mate is?”  Brida felt that this was one of the most important questions she had ever asked in her life. 

Wicca laughed.  She had already asked herself that question and with the same eager anxiety as the young woman opposite her.  You could tell your Soul Mate by the light in their eyes, and since time began, that has been how people have recognized their true love…

“By taking risks,” she said to Brida.  “By risking failure, disappointment, disillusion, but never ceasing in your search for Love.  As long as you keep looking, you will triumph in the end.”

….”Is it possible to meet more than one Soul Mate in each life?”

“Yes,” thought Wicca with a certain bitterness.  And when that happens, the heart is divided, and the result is pain and suffering.  Yes, we can meet three or four Soul Mates, because we are many and we are scattered.  The young woman was asking the right questions but she had to avoid answering them.

“The essence of Creation is one and one alone,” she said.  “And that essence is called Love.  Love is the force that brings us back together, in order to condense the experience dispersed in many lives and many parts of the world.

“We are responsible for the whole Earth because we do not know where they might be.  Those Soul Mates we were from the beginning of time.  If they are well, then we, too, will be happy.  If they are not well, we will suffer, however unconsciously, a portion of their pain.  Above all, though, we are responsible for reencountering, at least once in every incarnation, the Soul Mate who is sure to cross our path.  Even if it is only for a matter of moments, because those moments bring with them a Love so intense that it justifies the rest of our days.”

….”We can also allow our Soul Mate to pass us by, without accepting him or her, or even noticing.  Then we will need another incarnation in order to find that Soul Mate.  And because of our selfishness, we will be condemned to the worst torture humankind ever invented for itself: loneliness.”[13]

In Coelho’s vision, a Soul Mate isn’t a 1-in-7,882,648,013[14] shot at finding our other half nor are they “the one person on this earth who’s perfect for you in every way [while] everyone else you’ve been with is a pale substitute.”[15]  We have many Soul Mates.  They can be anywhere.  Their existence calls us to global responsibility as honoring that love means seeking justice for all.  We may find them in a lover but we may just as well find them in a parent or sibling or child, a coworker or mentor or best friend.  We needn’t spend our entire lives with them, either.  We may but meeting and accepting them is the point.  “Even if it is only for a matter of moments, because those moments bring with them a Love so intense that it justifies the rest of our days.”[16]

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Photo Credit – Marvel Comics

If Soul Mates exist (and I’m not saying they do), I’ve not found a healthier frame for what that bond would be than Coelho’s.  Look at how this understanding could affect Johnny and Kaila’s lives.  They had an instant connection.  There is an undeniable bond between the two of them.  They are tied to one another in the way neither has ever felt with another in their entire life.  All their problems have come from their attempting to create their forever relationship with their forever perfect partner when, in reality, they’ve only just met.  Instead of giving themselves over to this love and seeing where it will take them and what it will teach them, they are trying to control the expression of that love and force it into the shape they expect it to take.

I’m always curious at our attempts to control love.  As John Caputo, Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University, puts it, “Since we are told that God is love, this question, I have said, tends to draw us into a circle…Which one is the example of which?  Is love a way of exemplifying God?  Or is God a name we have for exemplifying love?”[17]  The answer to both questions, Caputo shows, is “yes.”[18]  This is to say when we think we can control love, when we think we can bend it to our whims, fit it into our boxes, choose how it moves and expresses itself, it is as fallacious as believing we can (or should!) control God.

So if Soul Mates exist, what if it has nothing to do with meeting “the one person on this earth who’s perfect for you in every way” but is all about giving ourselves over to the affirming, nourishing, and instructive experience of love we’ll find in our lives?  What if it’s about giving ourselves over to the instant connection we know is true, trusting the light in another’s eyes, and letting love take whatever shape it wants as it teaches us whatever it wishes to reveal?  What if it’s not about forever or perfect but rather approaching our Soul Mate with no agenda other than to love and to learn?  

I don’t know.  Hahahaha, obviously I’m not going to solve the questions of the Soul Mate in this piece.  I have no idea what’s going to happen to Kaila and Johnny, either!  It’d be cool if I could answer some of those questions for you.  Thankfully that’s all left to Dan Slott :).  I can’t wait to see where it goes!  And I have so much respect for how he’s brought the Fantastic Four back into Marvel’s spotlight, taking a family of explorers and placing them in stories which, in part, make us consider the very foundations of life, love, and the bonds that hold the two together.

So…what do you think?  Do Soul Mates exist?  And if something like the Great Eye existed, regardless of your thoughts on Soul Mates, would you peer through it?

FF Soul Mate 37 (2)

The love we always find at the heart of the Fantastic Four 🙂 / Photo Credit – Marvel Comics


[1] Patrick Murray, “Most Want a Partner Like Them: Two-thirds believe in the existence of ‘soulmates’,” Monmouth University.  Published February 9, 2017.  Accessed July 28, 2020. https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/MonmouthPoll_US_020917/

[2] Pew Research Center, “When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean?,” PewForum.org.  Published April 25, 2018.  Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.pewforum.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2018/04/Beliefs-about-God-FOR-WEB-FULL-REPORT.pdf

[3] Bradley Onishi, “What’s behind the belief in a soulmate?,” The Conversation.  Accessed July 28, 2021.  https://theconversation.com/whats-behind-the-belief-in-a-soulmate-113906

[4] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Marriage: A Letter to a Young Lady” (London: Thomas J. Wise, 1919), 2, Kindle.

[5] Plato, The Republic and Other Works, trans. B. Jowett (New York: Anchor Books, 1973), 335-37.

[6] Natan Ophir, “Soul Mates,” The Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions, ABC-CLIO World Religions Project. Published November 2007.  Accessed July 28, 2021. https://www.academia.edu/1320004/_Soulmates_in_The_Encyclopedia_of_Love_in_World_Religions_ABC-CLIO_World_Religions_Project_Ed._Dr._Yudit_Kornberg_Greenberg_Santa_Barbara_California_et._al._November_2007_pp._593-597

[7] Ibid.

[8] Onishi.

[9] Elizabeth Claire Prophet, Soulmates and Twin Flames: The Spiritual Dimension of Love and Relationships (Gardiner, MT: Summit University Press, 1998)

[10] Murray.

[11] Stephen Colbert, I Am America (And So Can You!), (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007), 103-4.

[12] Shauna H. Springer, “The Fallacy of the Soul Mate (Part I): Well-educated people do not usually believe in ‘soul mates’,” Psychology Today. Published July 7, 2021.  Accessed July 29, 2021.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-joint-adventures-well-educated-couples/201207/the-fallacy-the-soul-mate-part-i

[13] Paulo Coelho, Brida, trans. Margaret Jull Costa (New York: HarperCollins, 2008), 27-30.

[14] This was our global population at the time of writing – on July 29, 2021 at 2:40 pm EST – care of World-O-Meter’s global population clock at https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

[15] Colbert, 103.

[16] Coelo, 30.

[17] John Caputo, On Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002), 25.

[18] Ibid., 134.

6 thoughts on “The Fantastic Four and the Science of Soul Mates

  1. This was yet another well written and researched piece my friend 🙂

    I do think that regardless of my opinions on soul mates, I would be tempted to peer through the Great Eye. Its just one of those opportunities that feel like you can’t quite pass up.

    Now forgive me, based on your writing Storm is married to Alicia at some point, but in the current run he isn’t? Or does that happen afterwards, in which case I suppose that means him and Sky don’t work out? I was a little confused. Either way, I recognized this author’s name from other stories we have talked about so it really peaked my interest 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! The research sort of kept snowballing on this one XD. The more I dove into the concept the more I wanted to incorporate into the piece. It was so fascinating!

      And I am 1,000,000% with you. I would absolutely peer into the Great Eye. I may not agree with what it tells me XD. But I’d have to look anyway! You’re right. I don’t think you could pass it up.

      As to Alicia, sorry the post wasn’t as clear as it could be on this! Ok so, here we go. Alicia’s first appearance was back in the ’60s, in FF #8 and she began dating Ben/the Thing in FF #10. During the Secret Wars, Ben decided to stay on Battle World because it was the only place he could control his transformation. While the FF were away, the Skrulls kidnapped Alicia and used Lyja to double her to infiltrate the FF. BUT when she realized Ben stayed on Battle World she had to change up her plan, pretended to be heartbroken, and start dating Johnny Storm (’80s-’90s). She and Johnny eventually married buuut things got wonky when it was revealed she was a Skrull spy (although there were real feeling between the two of them). Lyja left. The real Alicia returns. She and Ben (who was back from Battle World for a while at this point) resumed their relationship and they got married in the last few years, Whew!

      Dan Slott is really knocking it out of the park with the Fantastic Four. AND because their comic wasn’t being published for years (Marvel pulled the plug when Fox wouldn’t sell the film rights back to Disney) when he begins his run it’s sort of a reset/the family’s back together again sort of jumping on point. I’ve really enjoyed it, not having read them myself since probably ’97 or ’98.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read your post a week ago but wanted to give it some thought before replying because the idea of soul mates has so much tied into it. When I hear the term, it is often tied into some dramatic declaration of love, most likely said by a female. It also often is attached to a relationship that is beset by turmoil, characterized as “passion” but often is a code word for dysfunction. I feel the term puts pressure on the couple, having to live up to the ideal of perfect soul mates.

    As you know I married my HS sweetheart, and I truly feel we are meant for each other, and yes, I would even say we are soul mates. But, have I ever said that aloud to others…no, I haven’t. I don’t feel there needs to be this grand declaration of love, for actions speak louder than words, and drama is unhealthy for relationships. I’m a fan of quiet steady love- in which you can build up to being soul mates, for I think fast declarations of love often burn out.

    And to tie it back to this comic, do we really think Johnny and Kaila are end-game for the writers? Look at how many romances that Spider-Man has gone through- as documented by all your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your reading this and taking time to sit with the ideas before commenting is such a high compliment. Wow. Thank you! That’s always part of the hope with a piece like this, that it’ll make people turn the ideas over in their head for awhile and knowing you did made my night :).

      I’m really intrigued by your “building towards soul mates” idea! This is an approach we NEVER see – at least not as far as our pop culture renderings go. But the idea that our relationships can develop and our soul-to-soul connection can be forged and strengthened/deepened over time makes sense on a lot of levels. First, it accounts for the fact that we, as individuals and within our relationships, grow and change over time. That’s just what it means to be human and you’ve woven that into this approach to the Soul Mate. Second, it can speak to people who experience finding multiple “soul mates.” Third, there’s something romantic/poetic to it, too – this idea that as we grow together our souls can become more entwined. I’m really intrigued by this approach.

      I also like your differentiation between the sort of public proclamation of a Soul Mate (which is always done, in part at least, for others and leads to the drama you discuss) and the lived reality (which, by its nature, would be something that exists just between the couple and those close enough to them to see it).

      Also, can I just say I SO wish I wrote this line? “It also often is attached to a relationship that is beset by turmoil, characterized as ‘passion’ but often is a code word for dysfunction.” You’re absolutely right! I think this is something else reinforced by pop culture. So many of the “passionate” stories we see are just dysfunctional ones. So we are teaching so many wrong lessons about love to begin with in our movies, TV shows, songs, and books. And you’re right – the pressure the Soul Mate idea puts on a couple can be terribly stressful.

      Connecting Johnny and Kaila to Spidey – in addition to being a nice shout out to my series 😀 thanks! – is the perfect example. The editors at Marvel resented Stan Lee marrying Peter Parker to Mary Jane from the moment he did it, saying it limited their story options. I’m sure the same mentality exists around Johnny Storm. I just hope Kaila isn’t emotionally (or practically!) fridged in the process. I’ve really come to like and feel for her!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Books and movies often do a disservice to love- making people believe it has to be a honeymoon all the time, and if its not then there must be something wrong with the relationship. One night I was out with my college friend group and one asked if we viewed our husband as our soul mate and if we would marry them again. All ten of us are happily married (no divorves, which is statistically surprising) but a few said no to the soul mates, but when it was my turn they skipped me saying, “Nancy, we know your answer!”. I was flattered realizing that although my love isn’t showy, it is obvious how I feel to others. People need to concentrate less on being soul mates and more on the building blocks of a relationship, and then they can deepen their bond from there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nancy, I LOVE this story! (No pun intended.) How beautiful! Aww :). And I think you’re right. Pop culture has done us a HUGE disservice in how love is painted in the majority of stories. I was actually joking with my therapist just the other day, telling her the one thing I really didn’t like about therapy was how it ruined so much music for me XD. What I used to think was cute or romantic I now see as wildly unhealthy/toxic. Making mix tapes is a far more difficult job now that I’m mindful of that! I guess the presumption is we don’t see much drama/story potential in laying the building blocks of a relationship and deepening those bonds…which is a shame because few stories can be more important.

      Liked by 1 person

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