All over the internet, and in newspapers throughout much of the world, there are thousands upon thousands of ‘singles adverts’. You know the type of thing; they usually go something like ‘Divorced 50-year old man with Peter Kay eyes and John Smiths s.o.h. seeks 18-19 year-old university student – preferably Charlotte Church-look-alike – for penetrating conversations down the Pig & Whistle’. Unlike this example, they are usually full of vague adjectives: funny, sexy, kind, generous, open-minded, intellectual, caring etc. On the surface, they appear completely unsurprising, but they hide a bizarre fact about love.
Let’s say that one of those adverts is placed by a 30-year old woman who lists five qualities to describe her ideal man: ’30-45 years old, athletic build, tender, a lover of music, and someone who’s great with kids.’ Now, just imagine how many guys there are throughout the world who conform to those qualities – there must be hundreds of thousands of them! Does that mean that the lady who placed the ad would love every single one of them? Of course it doesn’t! Now, partly, that’s because some of them will possess those qualities along with other attributes that she finds a turn-off – they might be obsessed with playing Fifa or with blog-writing, for example. But even if we narrow down the list by assuming the existence of even just a few hundred guys who would match a vast list of such desirable characteristics, what is it that distinguishes the man (or men) she loves from those she doesn’t love?
This is a common conundrum. Don’t we all feel that sense of pointlessness when someone asks us what it is that we love about our partners? I could list so many things, but none of them seem to capture exactly what it is that makes my girlfriend so special! And that’s because a person is not a list of attributes. A person is both more and less than any list of words you could use to describe them. They are like the beautiful darkness in constellations, so that even those with similar stars perform them in totally different rhythms and dimensions.
And this leads to something I really don’t know the answer to, but please respond if you do: is this what we mean when we talk about the soul?