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Tolkien on Marriage

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.

—J. R. R. Tolkien

I was talking about the above Tolkien quote recently with a couple in counseling and remembered that I'd included it and some reflections about it in The Inconceivable Surprise of Living: Sustaining Wisdom for Spiritual Beings Trying to Be Human. The core idea of that book is that spending time with some of the best thoughts ever thought can be helpful to us when our own thinking is confused. If you or someone you know is married, perhaps Tolkien's words and the reflections they inspired in me (below) will be of interest.

Tolkien is, of course, best known for writing about the make-believe world of Middle Earth. Who would have guessed that he would have such wisdom to impart about the make-believe world of “happily ever after”?

When people talk about finding “the one” they are focused on the idea that it is the rightness of the match that will determine their happiness with another person. A little mathematics reveals that a perfect match is perhaps not literally impossible, just statistically extremely improbable. Suppose you wanted to find someone who fits you perfectly on twelve different dimensions. Assume, rather generously, that ten percent of people in the world would be a perfect match for you on any one dimension. The probability of finding a person who matches you perfectly on all twelve dimensions would be one in a trillion. As of this writing, there are only seven billion people on earth. To find your one perfect match, you’d need to search 143 planets with the earth’s population! If you expand the number of dimensions you want to match to fifteen, you’d have to search 143,000 planets; if you want to match on twenty dimensions you’d need to look on 14.3 billion planets with earth’s population. Good luck.

All of this mathematical nonsense disappears when you realize there is only one person in the universe with whom you have shared a significant portion of your one wild and precious life, and that is the person you are with, your real soul mate. Being soul mates has nothing to do with perfection; it’s about going through life with another person soulfully. A perfect match and perfect happiness are unattainable. Going through life’s day-to-day-ness and its exquisite joys and heartbreaks soulfully with your imperfect mate is a more worthwhile and achievable goal.

Excerpted from The Inconceivable Surprise of Living, copyright 2014 by Kevin Anderson. All rights reserved.

Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and speaker who lives in the Toledo, Ohio area. His latest book Now is Where God Lives: Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul is available at Amazon or

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