What NBC’s “the Good Place” Is Teaching Us About Soul Mates

the good place

When the NBC comedy series “The Good Place,” starring Kristen Bell, premiered, I was not a fan.

“What is this garbage?” was the thought that crossed my mind when I watched the pilot episode. The show is a fantasy representation of the afterlife that has very little to do with what we as Catholics know to be true about life after death.

So, smug in my theology-degree knowledge, I turned off the pilot and barely thought of it again for a couple of years.

Then, I started occasionally seeing other Catholics whom I respected talking on social media about how much they loved “The Good Place.” So I decided to give the show another chance, to see what the deal was.

Despite the theological inaccuracies and some pretty frequent crude sexual humor (I reviewed the first season in more depth here), I discovered that this show has some pretty thought-provoking things to say about life, what it means to be a good person, and even the question of whether soul mates exist.

Now I’ve personally always been a bit drawn to the romanticized idea of the “the one” as we often see it in shows and romantic comedies.

I grew up watching things like “Boy Meets World,” where Cory and Topanga fall in love as kids and make it to a happily ever after because they’re “meant to be together.”

It can feel like a very nice concept, to believe that there is one particular person out there who is truly perfect for us.

But in real life, things aren’t always so clear cut.

That’s why I’m enjoying how “The Good Place” takes this idealistic idea of soul mates and turns it on its head, eventually coming to a pretty poignant truth on the matter.

The concept of a soul mate is torture

the good place

If you’ve never seen the show but want to, skim past this FIRST SEASON SPOILER: The main characters in this show are actually being tortured. Though Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason have been told they made it to the Good Place, they are actually in the Bad Place.

Part of their torture includes being assigned a soul mate. It’s something that sounds nice and happy on the surface, but each of them discovers quickly that their soul mate isn’t right for them at all.

Not only are their soul mates not right for them, but their soul mates are actually the exact recipe to make them as miserable as possible.

A cursory watch of particularly the first season might bring you to the conclusion that the show’s view is, “Don’t expect to be together with someone forever – it’s torture!”

The funny thing is that, as bleak as this idea is, it has a grain of truth in it. Even in the happiest marriages, there are times when living with your spouse isn’t that joyful.

But luckily, the story line of the show has more to say about the matter than just this.

The relationships that build between the characters as the story line progresses lead to some deeper truths about the concept of soul mates, beyond merely that being together with someone can be torturous.

You can only discern so much

the good place

The torture of supporting character Chidi is actually something I identify with quite a bit. The guy is an indecisive perfectionist.

Chidi thinks that if he makes the perfect decision, things will go perfectly. Because of this desire for perfection, he agonizes over every single decision.

His particular torture is being forced time and again to make huge, agony-inducing decisions, and continuing to feel like the perfect decision on his part will lead to all problems being solved.

This is precisely how it can start to feel when looking for our perfect “soul mate.” We can feel like there’s a huge weight on us to make the perfect decision of what person to marry, if we want to be truly happy.

We can actually feel like this when it comes to making any decision. I’ve known Catholics who become totally paralyzed when it comes to things like vocational discernment or proposing marriage.

It’s tempting to think that if you pray about something long enough, you can be absolutely certain that you’re following God’s will. Sometimes, we do gain clarity about a situation. But that doesn’t always happen.

Do you lean towards perfectionism? Don’t get caught in a loop of torturous indecision, just like Chidi often does, when you start to think along these lines.

What is the answer to the soul mate question? 

the good place

The mid-season finale of the final season of “The Good Place” that aired a few weeks ago gave some really good insight into this whole question of soul mates and this perfectionistic indecision Chidi suffers from.

The episode flashes back to Chidi’s childhood and shows that his parents were on the verge of divorce when he was a precocious little kid.

Young Chidi offers them an hour-long lecture showing why they should stay together. The two of them do actually end up staying together.

But years later, in the present, Chidi learns that there was much more to the story of his parents’ marriage staying together than he ever realized.

Chidi asks eternal being Michael whether soul mates do actually exist or not. Michael answers that he doesn’t know.

Some eternal being you are, Michael!

But Michael goes on to share what he does know. If soul mates do exist, it’s because two people put in the work to make their relationship last forever.

Chidi’s parents didn’t stay together because they were soul mates, or because Chidi showed them that they were destined to be together forever.

They stayed together because they decided to put in work on their relationship.

In the long run, the burden of finding “the one” isn’t so much about endlessly discerning or trying to make the perfect choice.

We can use our God-given reason, pray to God for understanding, and place our trust in him.

From there, it’s up to us to put in the work, if we want a relationship that will last forever.

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