Unconscious Uncoupling and Coupling with our Potential Mates : Ever wondered how we get attracted to our potential partners, how we unconsciously & consciously couple with them and then uncouple? Ever wondered why the same type of people keeping showing up in our life over and over and how to change that?

Soulmates, serendipity and the folklore that there is that one person, out there waiting for us has been popularized by many romantic movies. The most important movie around this theme, that comes to mind is Serendipity. I was prompted to watch this movie by a favorite contact (screen name Ruby) with whom I am intending to write “Love in the Time of COVID. In this movie  Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale), both in their 20’s, accidentally  meet each other while shopping for Christmas gifts.

Jonathan is instantly drawn to Sara, but Sara has this new-agey belief in destiny, happenstance and serendipity. She believes that if it is meant to happen, the universe will get them back together and it becomes wishful thinking or self fulfilling prophecy towards the end of the movie. In-spite of Jonathan’s reluctance, Sara moves away from her potential soulmate after leaving Jonathan’s number on a $ 5 Bill and her number on the end paper of a book “Love in the Time of Cholera” written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The book describes a tale of love where the woman, Femina reads how she is taken ill while standing close to her lover, Florentino as a sign that they should not be together. Then, they circulate the book and the note back into the system taking a “wait and watch” approach.

Jonathan and Sara meet other partners in their life, almost forgetting that they ever met. As the story-line develops, both of them unconsciously and then consciously uncouple with their current partners heeding their inner calling to search for the forgotten dyads. In-spite of frantic search by both, their efforts come up short. Distraught, Jonathan is walking, reading an obituary about himself written by his friend which references the theme of the movie. The obituary reads as below:

Jonathan Trager, prominent television producer for ESPN, died last night from complications of losing his soul mate and his fiancee. He was 35 years old. Soft-spoken and obsessive, Trager never looked the part of a hopeless romantic. But, in the final days of his life, he revealed an unknown side of his psyche. This hidden quasi-Jungian persona surfaced during the Agatha Christie-like pursuit of his long reputed soul mate, a woman whom he only spent a few precious hours with. Sadly, the protracted search ended late Saturday night in complete and utter failure. Yet even in certain defeat, the courageous Trager secretly clung to the belief that life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. Uh-uh. But rather, its a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan. Asked about the loss of his dear friend, Dean Kansky, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and executive editor of the New York Times, described Jonathan as a changed man in the last days of his life. “Things were clearer for him,” Kansky noted. Ultimately Jonathan concluded that if we are to live life in harmony with the universe, we must all possess a powerful faith in what the ancients used to call “fatum”, what we currently refer to as destiny.

The movie ends with Jonathan and Sara finding each other in the same city where they met, without explaining whether over time they were able to sustain that feeling of infatuation that they felt during the first meeting. I will now build a plausible theory using diverse subjects as to why the prevailing notion of “soulmates” is full of flaws and something else is happening here.

A couple of years back, sitting in an outdoor coffee shop with a clinical psychological friend named Alan, we watched a young kid playing with his pet dog, happy and blissfully unaware of the world around him. His mother came up suddenly, forced the child to abandon the playtime. All hell breaks loose. The kid starts throwing a fit, throws things around, and gets locked into a power struggle with his primary caregiver, i.e., his mother, eventually submitting to the situation while still frowning.

I was avidly studying interactions amongst humans and modeled those initial models into a simple excel based algorithm. I was fascinated and intrigued as to how sophisticated computer models spectacularly failed to model social science interactions due to the inherent complexity in them.

I could immediately fast forward and imagine the kid a few years down the line. In that imaginary future projection, I could see a grown-up adult engaged in a less or more intense brawl (a variant of his original experience) with his better half, re-enacting the same interaction in a new context, resisting, fighting and then frowning over issues.

Psychologists have always known that our childhood schemas re-enact over and over again in new contexts. They, however, view schemas with a therapeutic lens, i.e., how to resolve repressed unpleasant experiences that originate from childhood patterns. They are in the business of alleviating pain and not creating new outcomes. Usually, motivational leaders and life coaches fill this interstitial space. If undesirable schemas negatively impact our lives significantly, I have been obsessed with thinking, how could we re-frame undesirable schemas into desirable schemas to improve our life experiences. Specifically, how can re-framed schemas can create new experiences/contexts with romantic partners and potential mates.

Psychologists go through intensive training to learn how to tap into previous experiences (also called priors) and use language-based therapy or safe-harbor enactment replay, thereby improving or fixing the sub-optimal experiences or priors. The re-framing of these experiences is an inherently slow process, and it takes years of dedicated work to fix the older sub-optimal schemas. Very few of us seek psychological help or have the luxury of professionals helping us with our schemas. Even if we do reach a psychologist, the interactions and interventions are short term mostly used to alleviate serious pain.

Due to the above, our unconscious pattern recognition systems intuitively draw us to similar kinds of partners so that we can heal/re-frame our sub-optimal schemas. We continue to unconsciously search for, unconsciously couple with and in many cases unconsciously uncouple from same old, same old partner themes, repeating the cycles. As explained later in this essay, these cycles are like themes in a movie where the actors have changed, the props are different, but the movie story-line is similar. These themes are called schemas by some psychologists.

As per a research cited in Evolutionary Psychology , approximately half of the adult population experiences difficulties in intimate relationships and spends considerable time being involuntarily single. There are good reasons for this statistics.

How does Mate Recognition work?

Many think that they just meet, recognize, and bond with their potential mates magically driven by fate or destiny as in the movie “Serendipity”. Some believe in soulmates from their past lives. As someone who has spend the last two decades studying the pattern recognition process in humans, I can say with a firm conviction that fate/destiny/past lives driven soulmate search is mythical. There are many permutations combinations of people we can be drawn to that seem like our soulmates, but lot of work is required in a relationship to convert our partners to soulmates.

It is more plausible that something is happening within the same lifespan. Right from birth, the initial environment starts shaping the recognition systems, decision systems, value systems, and preferences of an individual. We are usually not consciously aware that we recognize our potential mates based on a complex combination of early life experiences.

Our past is over-represented in our present, and our future takes cues from our present. In many ways, we are beholden to our past, even if coaches and mentors would make us believe otherwise. Unless one can learn how to search for their perfect soulmate on demand, the automatic pattern recognition takes over running on auto-pilot.  We can find our perfect soulmates if we can juxtapose our best experiences across our lifetime with parents, friends, past romantic partners, and peers and transpose them to new experiences.

I will use the term “unconscious” multiple times in this essay. The “unconscious” used in this essay is also not the the same as “knocked unconscious” i.e. to be in a comatose state, where the mind does not respond to environmental stimuli. This article opts to use the concept of the “unconscious mind,” which responds to stimuli beneath conscious awareness actively and in an adaptive manner automatically. Unconscious processes or responses may or may not enter conscious awareness.To read more, please see this post, “Understanding the Unconscious/Subconscious Mind.

Our unconscious mind is like a sophisticated operating system which runs on worlds best parallel supercomputer made up of more than 100 billion neurons called the brain. As most of the processing occurs below the conscious threshold, we are largely unaware of the computational powerhouse than runs our lives.

The unconscious is a massively parallel, hierarchical, cascading, nesting, and recursively looping psycho-neuro-physiological neural network which works entirely below the threshold of our conscious awareness.

It is plausible that our recognition systems are unconsciously recognizing our potential mates long before we consciously become aware of them. How could such a process work ? We have an operating system (The Unconscious Mind) and a powerful supercomputer (The Brain). In itself, such a system is not sufficient to run our lives. It needs another key functional component i.e memory.

All Recognition Systems require a Memory

It is well established that for any type of recognition to occur, the recognizing systems require a memory. If you have ever scanned your finger or thumb print on a bio-metric system, you know that there has to be a first time your bio-metric fingerprint dataset has to be stored in the system. No stored or existing dataset will lead to null recognition i.e. match not found.

The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history ~ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Recognition processes in the brain are predominantly unconscious. These processes work at the unconscious level or the intuitive level while we are blissfully unaware of them. As recognition and motor systems (action systems) are intricately connected, once we recognize something familiar or unfamiliar, we move away or towards it unconsciously. This unconscious pull or push occurs incrementally i.e. in short, discrete or continuous steps, again, mostly without our awareness. If we are watching carefully, we may be able to connect the dots forward. It is however, a very hard skill to develop which requires extensive practice and sustained awareness. As Steve Jobs famously stated in his 2015 Stanford convocation address ” You can’t connect the dots looking forward; You can only connect them looking backward“.

The movement towards or away from a person or an event occurs in small unconscious steps i.e individual actions that are inconspicuous and unremarkable making them unworthy of conscious attention. We are usually not aware of these steps except in hindsight. Some people call this unfolding process as synchronicity or co-incidences. I have been able to model & validate this unconscious process in practice using artificial intelligence based “search and planning” sequences. In the field of AI, “search and planning” is the process used by an intelligent agent to reach their goals. As discussed elsewhere, our unconscious mind can compute upto 8 billion search and planning sequences while we sleep and 1/3rd of it while we are awake. I call this process “Unconscious Search (US)” which is always carried out by the sub-personalities in our mind. Imagine, if we could use this powerful function to our benefit in the search of a potential mate ?

Our unconscious mind provides piece by piece recognition awareness using drip feed streaming to our conscious mind, intuitively propelling us towards our potential mates or repelling us away from our coupled mates. The “unconscious recognition” process moves from an automatic search to reflex action type implementation without our conscious awareness. Landmark research by scientist Benjamin Libet has proved that our intuitive or unconscious mind takes a decision within 500 ms before we become aware of it, moving us automatically from unconscious search to unconscious implementation removing the conscious mind from the decision cycle. It is so fast that we do not even realize that our mind has just completed a sophisticated computational process.

The implication of Libet’s research operation of the unconscious mind is enormous as it challenges the fundamental premise of free-will. Pause for a moment and think of what it means. We have given the power of attorney to our unconscious mind very early in life and it runs our life and takes decisions on behalf of us. A sophisticated unconscious system that keeps repeating our previous patterns combined with a processing system that informs the conscious brain with a 500 ms delay traps us into a destiny type cyclic processes. It means that we are not in control of our life, our unconscious mind is effectively running on auto-pilot.

How and when do we form our first memory data set that activates the pattern recognition system ?

Field of Intimacy and First Connection with Primary Caregivers

We form our first intimate connection with our primary caregivers, i.e., mothers and fathers. The first relational contact is between the unconscious of the mother and the unconscious of the infant (J.R. Schore, 2012). Each of us has a personal unconscious memory of these bonds deeply buried in our unconscious mind. Unfortunately, extensive research is pointing to the fact that we have no memory of these early memories and we all suffer from childhood amnesia as during that time, our verbal and semantic brain has not yet developed. Under hypnotherapy settings, we can re