Until recently, I thought I knew what a soul mate was. Or, at least, I knew who mine was.

I met him 15 years ago moving into our college dorm. Our bond was immediate and intense and, even though we’ve spent close a decade apart since, time hasn’t changed our ability to see through each other. It’s like our souls were split at birth.

But lately I’ve been learning that an intense soul connection may not actually be the hallmark of a soul mate.

In fact, we may have this whole soul-mate thing wrong completely. 

The guy I casually dated for a few months this fall may be a closer match. Not because I felt deeply connected to him, but because he caused me so much pain.

Let me explain.

A wise woman recently shared with me that there are three types of people who play in our lives:

  1. People who help you remember your divinity by accentuating your pain.
  2. People who help you remember your divinity by highlighting your light & beauty.
  3. People who allow you to stay stuck in your lesser aspects – your shadow side – and are happy to play in the illusions with you.

You may feel intensely connected to someone yet still bring out the worst in each other (#3). This bond may be deep, but the relationship doesn’t grow your soul.

I suggest we redefine soul-mate as a person who moves you towards your soul’s work – your purpose and divinity – regardless of how that growth looks, feels, or happens. 

That means #1 and #2 can both be soul mates – both the mentors, teachers, and lovers who build you up and gently guide you to shine brighter, and the friends, colleagues, and exes who tear you apart and challenge you in ways you don’t want to face.

This is why my casual ex may be the best soul mate I’ve ever met.

Although I could’ve sworn in the beginning he was leading me to my divinity through light and love (#2), he was actually drawing a bee line of growth for me through pain (#1). In our short time together, I faced fears, lost habits, and broke open to exactly what I needed to move into who I truly want to be.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still mourn the loss of what I hoped he was, but I walk away more whole from knowing him.

As 2014 comes to a close, I encourage you to take stock of the soul mates in your life.

Send a silent prayer of thanks to the #1s who do the dirty work of dragging you screaming by your hair to the mirror to face your truth. Their job isn’t pretty but their role is invaluable.

Then pick out the #2s – the love-filled people drawing your forward with kindness and support – and thank them too. These are your joy-mates. The people who meet you in happiness and move you towards more.

And the next time you find yourself pondering your forever-love and pining for a soul mate, promise me you’ll be more specific.

Look for a joy-mate instead.

“Everyone says love hurts, but that is not true.
Loneliness hurts.
Rejection hurts.
Losing someone hurts.
Envy hurts.
Everyone gets these things confused with love,
but in reality love is the only thing in this world that covers up
all pain and makes someone feel wonderful again.
Love is the only thing in this world that does not hurt.”
― Meša Selimović