https://www.smh.com.au-By Natalie Reilly
Twins Erin (left) and Jennie Noonan consider themselves soulmates.Credit:Edwina Pickles
Jennie Noonan had been happily married to her husband Paul for over a decade – they had two boys together – when she was asked to write down her emergency contact on a routine insurance form.
“I wrote down Erin’s name as my next of kin and the lady asked, ‘So you’re not married?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes actually. Sorry’.”
Erin is Jennie’s twin sister. But she’s also something else. A type of life partner. What modern pop psychology (and a thousand Instagram quotes) would term a “soulmate”.
“We talk pretty much every day”, says Erin, who is a GP and married with two kids. “We use each other to [reduce] our stress without necessarily trying to fix each other’s problems.”
Jennie, a Sydney-based journalist who now has three boys with Paul, adds, “Having a built-in ‘soulmate’ from birth means we’ve never had the feeling that we’re searching for something or somebody to make ourselves feel whole.”
“Feeling whole” is something the ancient Greeks based an entire mythology on. They had the idea that we used to be “at one” with another person, before Zeus cut us all in half. And it’s our job to wander until we find that missing half and re-join. Decades of romantic movies, along with the wedding industry, have capitalised on the idea that a soulmate is a romantic partner who completes you.
Certainly, so the narrative goes, you can be close to a friend, your sibling or your mum. But your significant other – who was almost always the opposite sex – takes primacy. Putting that best friend above your partner was traditionally suss – just look at Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King who have had to weather years of homophobic interpretations of their close friendship.
But as the marriage rate declines, and same-sex friendships – including the concept of “The Bestie” – have been lionised in popular culture, the idea of a soulmate who is not your spouse has gone mainstream.
“Good connections right now are more important than ever. If you have someone whom you feel knows you truly and really gets you, then make a conscious effort to maintain that relationship,” says Sydney-based psychologist Samantha Symes.
The benefits, says Symes, include lower stress levels and a stronger sense of wellbeing. But how do you know that your person is really your person?
According to clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Dr Mary Lamia, there are three ways to know for sure. In a piece for Psychology Today, she writes that a soulmate is someone you are so emotionally tuned into, you can communicate non-verbally. “Typically, those who describe interactions with a soulmate note communication based on eye contact,” she writes.
Such is the case for Melbourne-based writer and producer Marieke Hardy, who met her soulmate, Katherine Robertson, six years ago, at Women of Letters, an event Hardy organises.
“Kitty’s face is a novel unto itself – the tiniest flicker and I can see a page turning,” says Hardy.
The pair feel so connected they got “Friend Married” last year at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. “It unexpectedly deepened something for both of us,” says Hardy. “We are family, blood. She comes before anybody else.”
Robertson, an artist who specialises in vintage fashion agrees, adding, “I like that sometimes my sentences are finished my Marieke … because she always knows.”
Good connections right now are more important than ever. If you have someone whom you feel knows you truly and really gets you, then make a conscious effort to maintain that relationship.
Samantha Symes, a Sydney-based psychologist
Non-verbal communication is also a defining part of Erin and Jennie’s relationship.
“I can think of times when we’re at a dinner with friends, for example, and I can tell Erin not only knows what I am about to say, but then with a slight eyebrow raise will communicate for me not to say it,” says Jennie.
Lamia writes that soulmates have a heightened sense of empathy for one another, often feeling the other’s emotions. She cites studies that describe the phenomenon as “affective contagion” – the experience of being “infected” with another’s feelings.
For Jennie, “affective contagion” is a big part of her shared history with Erin.
“At a school assembly in about Year 7, I remember suddenly feeling like I needed to check on her and I stood up, peered across the sea of students and she had fainted,” says Jennie, before adding, “You know what? I actually can’t even remember if that story is about me fainting or her. Our memories often get tangled and I can’t remember which one of us it happened to, but I can ‘feel’ both sides of the story.”
For Robertson and Hardy, affective contagion is also a significant part of their relationship. “Katherine often senses things in me I’m yet to understand myself,” Hardy says.
But since social distancing came into effect, the pair have had to rely on technology to stay in sync.
“But my hand misses her hand terribly and I’m afraid that when we do embrace again I’ll not want to let go,” says Robertson.
And that, according to Lamia, is the third characteristic of the soulmate relationship: the willingness to be vulnerable.
Natalie Reilly is freelance writer for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WAtoday.