The myth of 'The One'


Are you waiting for The One, your perfect match – believing you’ll know them when you meet them? It may be time to rethink your approach…


“An ex-girlfriend of mine finished our relationship because she said I wasn’t The One. She couldn’t really explain what that meant, just that she was waiting for The One and it wasn’t me. I was sad at the time, but 14 years later, I’m now very happily married with two daughters. Last I heard, my ex-girlfriend was still waiting for The One…”

“I believe God wants the very best for us, and we should not accept less. If someone doesn’t have all the qualities I’m looking for, I won’t compromise. I’ll wait patiently for God to bring me that perfect partner he’s picked out for me.”

“I had a crush on a guy at church for two years, so when he wrote to me to say God had told him I was The One, I was thrilled. We married a year later, but we were so busy planning the wedding that it wasn’t until afterwards that we really got to know each other, and discovered we didn’t even like each other. Divorce is taboo in our church and families, so we stayed together for 11 miserable years. When we finally split up, people were shocked – they thought we were a happy couple."

“When I first met my husband, I wasn’t very interested in him. I’m quite conservative, he’s a bit of a rocker, and we have different tastes in absolutely everything! But as we became friends, I realised what a great guy he is and that actually we’re good together. We’ve been happily married for over 20 years.”

People looking for a life partner often talk of ‘finding The One’ – or perhaps more frequently reporting that, ‘No, they weren’t The One’! For Christians, this idea is often supported by a belief that God has a partner selected for each of us, and will guide us to them. However, the idea of The One is not, in fact, a Christian concept. Nor is it supported by the Bible – or indeed common sense. So where does this idea come from, and what does the Bible have to say about choosing a life partner?

It’s all Greek

The concept of The One does not come from a Christian belief system. It actually started out as a Greek myth, which grew from a public discussion in ancient Athens about the nature of love. Aristophanes was a comic playwright and poet who lived around 400 years before Jesus. In response to a philosophical discussion about the nature of love, he created a story of how human beings were created by the Greek gods, having one body with four arms, four legs and two heads. However, the gods deemed that people were becoming too powerful, and so cut them in half. Humans, wrote Aristophanes, now spend their lives searching for their ‘other half’, with true love being found in uniting with that lost other half.

This Greek idea of searching for our ‘other half’ is in marked contrast to the Judaeo-Christian narrative on marriage partnerships. Far from man and woman together being too powerful, Genesis teaches that God saw Adam needed Eve as a helpmate in order to survive. In the Christian world view, God created humans to be together, not apart. That idea continues throughout the Bible, including in Jesus’ descriptions of relationships in Matthew 19 (with the choice to remain single being exceptional, and for the sake of the Kingdom).

The One in popular culture

Unfortunately, the myth of The One still dominates our stories of romantic love, especially in films, TV shows and books. These tend to emphasise a character’s long, hard search to find and secure the object of their love – with a presumption of ‘happily ever after’ once the happy couple find each other.

Real life is quite different! The adventure may start when dating, but it continues through marriage, children, the twists and turns of life, and the challenges of ageing. When two psychologists , Wallerstein and Blakeslee,  studied what makes a ‘good marriage’, they found that the critical factor was how prepared each partner was to work through major life changes, such as the arrival of children, illness, losing a job, menopause, children leaving home, and so on (book here). People are changed through such experiences, and the willingness of both partners to accept and adapt to their changing relationship is critical to its success.

Choice, not fate

While romantic stories point to each of us having a perfect match waiting to be found, the reality is that human relationships are formed through choice, and grown through love and commitment. An unrealistic belief in The One means that people can get stuck in their desire to find that non-existent, perfect person, rather than seeking someone ‘real’ with whom they can form a great relationship.

That choice also needs to be mutual. There are many stories of Christian celebrities (and indeed non-famous people) being approached by individuals who claim God has told them that they are the one they should marry. The wise response to this is to point out that God had not told them! Relationships must be created by mutual choice.

The person we marry is ‘the one’ for us because we make that choice. When we declare our commitment, we are choosing this person as the one we will spend our life with. They’re not special because they were predestined – each is special to the other by virtue of being chosen.

This is very much in line with the Judaeo-Christian story. The Jewish people were chosen by God. The disciples were chosen by Jesus. We are chosen by God, despite our shortcomings and failings – we are sons, daughters and heirs by virtue of being chosen. In return, we are called to choose to follow Christ. The Bible emphasises, throughout its narrative, this mutual choice in our relationship with God.

Too much choice?

Unfortunately, the idea of choice has been hijacked by our consumerist society. In many aspects of life, we now have endless options. However, too much choice isn’t always helpful. Psychological studies show that the more options we have, the more anxious we become, and the less likely we are to choose anything at all. When the decision becomes harder, the temptation is to walk away from making any choice. 

This can also apply to dating, especially in the age of the internet and as we become a more mobile population, allowing us access to more potential partners than ever before in history. Millennials in particular have grown up in a world of infinite choice, and may struggle with making the ‘right’ decision, observe the high divorce rates, and decide that making a choice is just too difficult (after all, someone better may come along later). The myth of The One feeds into this, implying that the only safe choice is to find The One.

Marriage in Jesus’ time

Although we live in very different times, it might be helpful to look at how couples got together in 1st Century Palestine, in Jesus’ time. At that time, it was normal to marry someone as a teenager, selected from a small group of people known primarily through family connections – and, once married, to ‘get on with it’.

Parents, grandparents and aunts would often observe and suggest potential marriage partners (although many marriages were arranged, it appears there was still some choice involved). Some of the most moving love stories of the Old Testament also have an element of mutual choice, and then ‘getting on with it’. The extended family may have helped to develop the skills of choosing a partner and staying together, which are now thrust upon individuals to work out alone.

There’s no suggestion in the Bible of people searching the world of single people to find their ‘other half’. When Jesus controversially said that people might stay single, it was for the sake of spreading the Gospel, not to continue looking for a fictitious One. Yes, we now live in different times, with access to many more potential partners – but at some point, we still need to make a choice.

Look beyond your type

The Greek myth of the search for our ‘other half’ also contains the suggestion that your perfect partner might be ‘like you’. Many of us feel we should seek someone similar to ourselves. Indeed, couples in love often declare how alike they are, and how they ‘think the same’.

However, this is not necessarily a good thing! Psychologists have found that over 70% of marriage partners choose someone with personality traits that are complementary to their own, not the same. Researchers suggest that successful marriages require complementary skills, so where one is weak, the other can be strong. Nowhere would this be more true than in raising children.

Furthermore, someone may have had life experiences and opportunities that make them appear very different to yourself, despite shared core values. For example, they might have grown up in a church of another tradition. Different personality traits are also likely to lead people to different forms of church. Since complementary personality traits are a positive for marriage, you may actually be more likely to find a compatible marriage partner outside your immediate Christian circle. Neither compatibility, nor the fruits of the Spirit (vital in marriage), can be characterised by the church you go to, the styles of worship you favour, or preferences for certain types of prayer.

We have another article encouraging people to 'look beyond their type', which can be found here.

Choosing commitment

The myth of The One suggests that, once you find that special person, living with them will be easy. That’s not the experience of most people! However, surprisingly, it can become easier when each person commits to the other in a public act – in other words, marriage. This can provide some security during the struggle to give up one’s independence and build a new life as a couple.

It might be helpful to note that the root for the Hebrew word ‘helpmate’ to describe Eve is, in fact, ‘help in opposition’. One reason why marriage is not always comfortable is that each partner loves the other so much that they want the best for them, and does not allow poor behaviour or attitudes to continue.

Date to develop your skills

Successful relationships require certain skills. Some people relate naturally; others – perhaps those who are more introverted or reactive – may need to develop such skills. Instead of waiting for your fictitious ‘One’ to appear, it’s good to date and develop your ability to relate to another person and maintain a relationship over time.

It’s often surprising to find that others think and act quite differently to ourselves, or to how we might expect. This is where family and a faith community can help. It’s tempting to think that, when our partner does things we don’t recognise or understand, that they are ‘not normal’. However, discussing it with trusted people can help to bring clarity. For example, abusive relationships are not normal; being challenged to grow and develop (however painful) is.    

Real-life relationships

So, when it comes to successful marriages, mutual choice, commitment and working to create a good relationship are what we see modelled by Christ, instructed upon in the Bible, and confirmed by social psychologists. It’s time to put the Greek myth of The One back where it belongs, as just a story – and close the book on it.

David Pullinger, 10 May 2018



Further resources that might be of interest: