The Concept Of 'The One' Isn't Only Outdated, It's Also Rife With Patriarchy

No matter your age or culture, there's a very good chance that you've been subjected to the idea of "the one," and how in regard to romantic love, finding "the one" is the most important thing you will do in life. The concept of "the one" is what keeps people returning to dating apps even after bad experiences; has us thinking up mental lists of this one "perfect" person for us; and keeps Hollywood neck-deep in money with every soulmate-related trope they toss onto the screen.

The idea of "the one," soulmates, twin flames, other half, or however you want to define it, has such a profound impact on our society that a 2021 survey by YouGov America found that 60% of adults believe that soulmates exist. Along the same lines, a 2018 survey — also by YouGov America — found that 60% of adults believe that holding out for "the one" is far more important than settling for someone who doesn't fall under the soulmate/the one/twin flame umbrella.

But this thinking is deeply problematic. Not only is believing in "the one" outdated, limiting, and something that is very likely to lead to disappointment, but it's bursting at the seams with influence from the patriarchy. Case in point: Marriage was invented by men. Although being romantic has its place, it's important to realize that our current ideas about love are not without a complicated history — a history that involves men pulling the strings. 

Why it's outdated

The idea of "the one" dates back to Plato's "Symposium," a philosophical text written between 385 and 370 B.C.E. that addresses many topics that we still discuss today. But there's one subject in particular that has a very limiting view of love. As Plato wrote, "According to Greek mythology, humans were created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces." However, in fearing the power of such a creature, Zeus split it in two, "condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves." Should the two halves meet, they would become "lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other's sight ... Love is ... [the] pursuit of the whole."

While the theory is beautiful, we should keep in mind that it's steeped in mythology, which is not unlike fairytales. Also, getting down to facts and figures, in 400 B.C.E., the world population was roughly 162 million. Today it's over eight billion, meaning trying to find "the one" is practically impossible, statistically speaking — not that your chances were much better when there were only 162 million. Firmly believing there is only one person for you is naïve, unrealistic, and unfair to your potential to meet someone who may not check all the boxes. But knowing there is no one person and no soulmate, but an entire ocean of matches, allows you to shake those distorted expectations from your bones and take control over who is good for you, as opposed to who most resembles Prince Charming.

How the patriarchy plays a role in the concept

Evidence of marital ceremonies goes as far back as 2350 B.C.E., with the first recorded evidence coming out of Mesopotamia (which is now home to Turkey, Syria, Kuwait, and Iraq). At the time, marriage wasn't about love, but binding a woman to a man so he could feel secure in knowing that any child she birthed would be his. Families would hand over their daughters with the promise that they would remain faithful and produce offspring that was guaranteed to be legitimate (via The Week).

While fidelity was expected of women, it was accepted that men could have as many sexual dalliances and liaisons as they chose, and should their wife not produce a child, the man could give her back to her family. In other words, women had no choice in the matter, as they were ultimately seen as property, a belief that in some corners of the world still exists. For example, dowries, in which a man receives financial compensation for marrying a woman, is a modern-day practice in some cultures, according to Brides. Such arrangements continue to facilitate the patriarchy's hold over relationships. 

The Married Women's Property Act of 1848 made strides in giving U.S. women independence from their husbands. They were no longer viewed as property. They had more control over their lives and their finances, and they were allowed to own their own property. However, the mentality persisted. Marital rape only became illegal in every U.S. state in 1993, as it was believed you couldn't rape something that belonged to you.

How the idea marginalizes and controls women

In believing in "the one," you're giving into the patriarchal construct that women need men and that being in a partnership of two people is the only way to have a relationship. In doing so, you give up your power to make decisions. You're giving control to the patriarchy, especially if you think you've found "the one" and you allow yourself to endure things that you wouldn't permit otherwise.

"Learning that our partner is abusive, manipulative or controlling are all legitimate reasons to exit a relationship," licensed psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Kimber Shelton tells Bustle. "However, if we hold on to the idea that they are our soulmate, we could stay in a relationship that is unhealthy and possibly toxic. We wed ourselves to the idea of 'the one' instead of continuing to evaluate the quality of the relationship."

Tolerating abuse all in the name of "the one" can extend past control and marginalization, and become deadly. According to a 2022 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2021, 56% of women who were murdered worldwide were killed by a partner or another family member, making femicide a major concern in every country.

Unfortunately, at least as of now, the patriarchy still exists. Historians theorize that male domination came into existence between 8000 B.C.E. and 3000 B.C.E., and the patriarchy has had a stronghold ever since. While there's nothing wrong with being romantic, it's important to take into consideration the patriarchy's role in marriage, monogamy, and one's pursuit of "the one."