Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Harem

Saekano title.JPG

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata is an anime all otaku can resonate with. Season 1 follows the ups and downs of a high school indie game development group, with a mix of humour, harem hijinks and character interplay. Season 2 exchanges the humour for drama, with interpersonal tension and conflict threatening to tear the group apart. With its mix of superb voice acting, characterisation and production values, Saekano is an excellent piece of entertainment – if you don’t think too hard about the relationships.

This is not a review. There are plenty of reviewers who can do a better job than me. Instead, I’m going to write how Saekano is emblematic of everything wrong with modern harem anime.

The Boring Harem

Saekano girls

Just a high school boy and his groupies, nothing to see here

Saekano is centred on Aki Tomoya, a Japanese high schooler who happens to be a diehard otaku. Right off the bat, you can tell who the anime is aimed at: like many high school otaku of his breed, Aki is the audience stand-in, distinguished by his undying love for all things otaku—light novels, anime, manga, video games—and his utter obliviousness to emotions.

One fine day, while Aki is cycling home, he sees a beret floating down a slope. As cherry blossoms swirl around him, he looks up to see a girl at the top of the slope. The encounter inspires him to create the perfect dating sim. Returning to school, he discovers to his complete shock that his classmate, Kato Megumi, was the girl he met.

Aki ropes Kato into his project, and quickly enlists his friends (naturally, all girls) to help out. The team artist is Sawamura Spencer Eriri, Aki’s half-English childhood friend, who also creates adult-themed art for a famous doujin group Egoistic Lily. Third-year student Kasumigaoka Utaha, in reality a bestselling author who writes light novels under the pen name Kasumi Utako, handles the script. Later in the first season, the anime introduces Hyodo Michiru, Aki’s cousin-cum-other childhood friend who plays in the band Icy Tail, as the music composer. Together, they form the doujin circle Blessing Software.

We see here the essential ingredients of a Japanese high school harem anime. First, there is a male otaku main character with the emotional intelligence of a rock. Second, a bunch of girls who for some inexplicable reason are attracted to him. Third, a joint endeavour that demands all of them to work together.

If Aki resolves the romantic conflict by choosing any of the girls, it would end the primary source of tension, humour and drama within the series – and, quite likely, end his life. Every girl except Kato (maybe) is motivated by romantic intentions, so if any of them are forced to give up on him, it’s quite likely they will quit the group. Thus, the story demands that the harem situation be strung out indefinitely, even well past the point of unrealism.

This is the primary pitfall of harem-type fiction where the harem members are motivated primarily by amorous intent: the second the romantic conflict is resolved the whole cast, and thus the story, must fall apart. To keep the story going, the MC must remain an idiot into eternity and the harem’s character development must centre on their relationship with the MC.

Of Stereotypes and Romance

Saekano 2

Go on, guess who’s the normal one

Saekano sets itself apart from other harem stories by making half of the female cast otaku. When placed side-by-side with the non-otaku, the audience can see a sharp contrast in their personalities and how their hobbies and lifestyles influence their behaviours.

Unfortunately, the show confines these characters to their archetypes instead of doing much about them.

Sawamura is the classic tsundere: blonde, twin-tailed, slightly shorter, zettai ryouki stockings, and prone to violently abusing Aki at the drop of the hat. She defined her entire relationship with him based on being childhood friends, having gone to the same elementary school as him. They fell in love with the same works together, be they dating sims, light novels or anime. However, their elementary school classmates started insulting and shunning Aki for being an otaku, and fearing the same treatment, she began to hide her otaku self and distance herself from Aki. Even though they still talk otaku stuff, their relationship is clearly strained. This becomes the focal point of her story arc in the anime.

Kasumigaoka is a yandere without the murderous intent…probably. They first met at a book signing, when Aki recognised her as his senior. Eventually they started talking intensely about her books, with him praising them to high heaven and starting a fan site that single-handedly accounted for a significant fraction of its sales. While she acts cold, sarcastic and domineering most of the time, she is also highly obsessed with Aki and will manipulate everyone around her to get time alone with him. She is the most aggressive among the girls, and can match Sawamura for jealousy. Many of the show’s comedic beats come from her verbal sparring with Sawamura and her cutting remarks, but her arc is focused on her trying to express how she feels about Aki through her work.

Through their portrayals, Saekano displays a stunning lack of understanding about romance. Shared hobbies are the basis for friendship. It can graduate to romance, but it needs more than what is portrayed on-screen.

In Kasumigaoka’s case, we see Aki chatting excitedly about her work and later helping her with her writing. This is functionally no different than the relationship between superfan and author, and then editor and author. As a bestselling author, Kasumigaoka would have received similar praise from other fans, and she works with an editor to produce new stories. Aki doesn’t offer anything beyond that.

As for Sawamura, it’s shown that she and Aki spent lots of time together reading the same books, playing the same games and discussing the same fiction. But nothing else. They don’t do much more than that, and we don’t see them trying to talk about stuff other than the otaku culture. Sure, Aki may celebrate and promote her work enthusiastically—but that is simply who he is, and as an artist of a renowned doujin circle she would also receive similar praise for her work from her other fans.

To be perfectly cynical about this, the girls’ feelings for Aki reflect a distorted image of romance: that obsessing over common hobbies and interests will lead to someone falling for you. That is simply not true. You need trust, emotional intimacy and overall compatibility, and throughout the show there are no indications of any of this between Aki and the girls.

Why would Sawamura and Kasumigaoka fall for him and act the way they do? Just because he is a superfan? Because they have similar interests? This is the basis for friendship, not romance. Romance demands both sides to get closer than that, and that emotional closeness is simply lacking.

Hyodo’s motivation is even more suspect. She and Aki were born on the same day at the same hospital, and they played together a lot as children. Eventually she moved away, enrolling in an all-girls’ school and joining a band. When she meets him again, though, she acts overly-familiar with him, deliberately dressing skimpily and clinging to him whenever she can. She is not herself an otaku, so she doesn’t even have the excuse of having a similar hobby, and they aren’t so close that Aki immediately thinks of her when putting together his circle. She is flighty and whimsical, but it’s hinted that she has feelings for him.

But why?

Her presence in the show basically serves two purposes: to throw Sawamura’s identity as Aki’s childhood friend into disarray, and to satisfy the disturbing Japanese obsession with cousin romances. There is neither rhyme nor reason for her to act the way she does with Aki, unless she were either toying with him or genuinely interested in him, and the show doesn’t make it clear either way. While they were close as children, such childhood experiences do not translate into shared intimacy as teenagers; indeed, after she moved away, Aki doesn’t even mention her until her it’s time for her arc. Throughout both seasons, Hyodo enjoys the least character development among the main cast, and her feelings for Aki remain as nebulous as her heart.

Throughout both seasons of Saekano, there’s only one character with whom Aki shares a quantum of emotional development: Kato Megumi, the titular boring girlfriend. It’s clear from the start that she’s meant to win his affections. As a non-otaku she isn’t read into the culture, but she begins to enjoy the process of making games. As the heart of the circle, she helps to mediate conflicts and keep everyone on task. True to her epithet, she is very reserved and has little outward expression. This sets her apart from the rest of the cast’s exuberance, and when she finally displays a wider range of emotional affect in Season 2 you can tell she is warming up to Aki. She is the only normie in the entire cast and, in a realistic setting, quite likely the only person for whom he would even have a snowball’s chance in hell of having anything resembling a romantic relationship with.

Our Hero, the Masochistic Idiot

Aki.jpg

Otaku intensifies

Aki is an idiot.

Let’s examine his relationships with Sawamura, Kasumigaoka and Hyodo. What do they have in common?

Violence.

Again and again and again, the girls’ first response whenever they feel jealous or angry or embarrassed is to take it out on Aki. Sawamura smacks him all the time. Kasumigaoka alternates between acting scary and acting out. Hyodo reveals her secret passion for wrestling. Somehow, this is supposed to be hilarious.

It’s not.

Firstly, it’s predictable. Casual female on male abuse has been an anime and manga staple since well before I got into the scene. Whenever Aki trips up (read: all the time), you can expect a girl to lash out at him. The outcome is already guaranteed; the only question is how she, or they, will do it. By being predictable, it becomes eye-rollingly stale.

Secondly, why doesn’t Aki walk away? The violence is always out of proportion to what he did. He may simply be a high schooler, but why would he consider girls who routinely abuse him as his friends and co-workers? We don’t see the violence affecting him or his relationships with the girls; it’s almost as if it’s just some kind of harmless quirk that can be laughed off.
I can’t buy this. Abuse and violence poisons relationships, and a show that aspires to be a drama must capture this.

Abuse aside, I find it unbelievable that Aki can be so oblivious to emotions. He isn’t some random otaku; he is explicitly portrayed as a fan of dating games and romance novels. Instead of learning from them, however, he plays out the dense protagonist stereotype to a T, and continues to do it even though associating with the girls leads to emotional and physical violence. That makes him completely predictable and utterly boring—the only difference between him and other similar otaku MCs is his over-the-top reactions. It takes Aki most of two seasons before he finally wises up.

Despite his lack of emotional maturity, the girls still flock to him anyway. Because, well, harem. He doesn’t display any sign of romantic interest in the girls, nor does he display any attractive qualities. Only in Season 2 do we finally see Aki coming to grips with his immaturity…and even so, there will still be a harem if Season 3 ever comes around.

A Foundation of Sand

This isn’t to say that Saekao is unsalvageable. If anything, it’s remarkable how well the anime played out in spite of its shaky foundations. It remains true to the tenets of storytelling, marked by steady character development and its insights into the doujin industry. However, it asks the audience to accept as given the girls’ feelings towards Aki instead of diving in depth into them, and this as a creator I cannot do.

Giving every girl a romantic interest in the MC, and thus a personal stake in events, is an extremely tricky situation. If I were the creator, I would have gone on a different tack, even changing sexes if necessary.

The artist would be motivated by a desire to heal the rift between her and the MC once and for all, and take the opportunity to create work more meaningful than mere pornography. The writer joins the circle because she feels obligated to the MC for her success, and from a professional perspective, she wonders if she can do more than just light novels. The musician may not be an otaku like the MC, but she thinks it’s a chance to reconnect with her long-distant cousin and for her band to hit the big time.

By taking away romance and combining professional ambitions and personal motivations, Saekano becomes more than a high school harem. It becomes the story of young creators seeking to be greater than they are while grappling with puberty and emotions, with Aki providing the spark and the platform for their future. In this light, even if Aki picks any of the girls, the story can still proceed apace. In fact, other than the titular boring girlfriend, they don’t even need to be girls.

And, done right, you won’t need a boring harem.

Film Analysis: Fifty Shades of Grey Franchise

The Fifty Shades of Grey movies surpasses the original prose trilogy while capturing its original spirit. Unlike the novel, I could endure the film until the end — mostly by picking apart everything wrong about them. With the release of Fifty Shades Darker, I’m confident that I cannot be further entertained by the franchise.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

In Fifty Shades of Grey, literature senior Anastasia Steele interviews billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and is utterly attracted to him. Grey instantly falls for her, and begins to pursue her. Classic female fantasy. If Grey were a homeless bum or just an everyman, this would be a psychological thriller, but since Grey is a billionaire it’s billed as a romance.

It’s easy to understand why she is attracted to him. Christian Grey is wealthy, powerful and not ugly. But what does he see in her?

It’s obvious that neither E L James nor the scriptwriter have any inkling about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Billionaires do not live in the same world as regular people. The one percent hang out at exclusive clubs and societies that cater to the ultra-wealthy. They attend galas, pageants and social events to network with their fellow one-percenters and strike up marriage alliances. They are the guests of honour everywhere they go.

In these appearances, they smile and strut and schmooze and scheme. They know they are the movers and shakers of society, and they know that there will always be people waiting to pounce on the slightest sign of weakness. Thus, they have to learn impeccable manners and social skills, and see and be seen only by the luminaries of the world. The companions they bring to these events reflect their wealth, status and taste; they choose their mates very selectively and demand a hundred percent at all times.

An eligible bachelor like Grey will have no end of women throwing themselves at his feet. He will be invited to events where supermodels, actresses, athletes and fellow billionaires will be in attendance. During meetings with clients and investors, there will be no shortage of opportunities to meet glamorous hostesses or hire gorgeous escorts. More ordinary women (like Ana!) would do everything in their power to gain the privilege of a single night with him. Wealth and power are the most potent female aphrodisiacs in the world, and men like Grey would be spoiled for choice.

So why Ana?

Anastasia Steele is slim and pretty, but she is not supermodel material. She doesn’t demonstrate any sign of superior intelligence — her one shot at this, when interviewing Christian, was entirely unmemorable. The movies offer no opportunities for her to demonstrate qualities like resilience, independence and determination to him. As she makes abundantly clear, she does not share Christian’s sexual tastes.

Men like Christian Grey can afford to be picky. People do not become billionaires by the age of 27 by thinking like regular people. A man like that knows that he has to be highly selective to hire the right employees, and be ruthless in firing those who fail to meet his standards. Christian isn’t a complete naif either; he’s implied to have plenty of sexual experience in his past. Ana clearly doesn’t completely suit him — so why should he care about her?

The answer is simple: the series is not about Christian Grey. It is about the enduring female fantasy of being swept off her feet by a powerful man who finds her irresistible.

Romance? What Romance?

Romance stories are driven by interactions between the main characters. But when characters are flat, the story falls flat.

Take a look at Vox Day’s socio-sexual hierarchy and Heartiste’s Dating Market Value Test for Men. Grey is described as ‘dominant’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘intimidating’. By all accounts he should be an alpha or a sigma. But he acts like a low beta (Heartiste) or delta (Vox Day).

A high-value man seduces women by careful displays of wealth and attention, attracting them to him. Grey lavishes time and money on Ana, but receives no financial gain in return. A high-value man sets the pace of the relationship — he may negotiate boundaries with his mate, but the relationship is on his terms. Grey does everything Ana asks of him without the slightest complaint or protest. A high-value man employs wit, charm, game and deep penetration to win women over. Grey’s dialogue is either utterly bland or breathless proclamations of how much he adores Ana. A high-value man will run background checks on potential mates to guard himself, and hide that fact from people. Grey casually surrenders that knowledge to Ana without even drawing a concession. A high-value man seeks to maximise profit and cedes ground in negotiations only reluctantly. Grey displays none of the drive that makes men billionaires. A high-value man maintains frame. Grey surrenders it.

Christian Grey doesn’t act like a dominant high-status male. He doesn’t even act like a billionaire. Men like that do not have the luxury of dropping or delaying appointments on a whim just to chase a girl, not if they want to land the multi-million dollar deals that made them rich in the first place. They know that women are everywhere, but a sales opportunity may be once in a lifetime. They will remain focused on their mission of making money, especially if they are single, and only turn their attention to their women after they are done.

And if the woman keeps complaining about it? She’s fired and replaced without a second thought.

Christian Grey acts like every woman’s fantasy. He is rich and powerful, but eats out of Ana’s hand. He has the ability to devote time, money and attention on her, and will change his essential nature for her. He won’t ever chase other, higher-status women with more compatible sexual fantasies because he is utterly obsessed with her.

And in the real world, men who act like Christian Grey become hollowed-out shells of their former selves, losing everything that made them great.

Characters? What characters?

Every person in the film franchise revolves around Anastasia Steele. Their thoughts, feelings and actions revolve entirely around her. When she is not in the frame, they cease to exist. Case in point: Fifty Shades Darker.

The trailer promises that people from Christian’s past shows up. They do, but not in any significant way.

Mrs Robinson, the woman who originally seduced Christian, makes hostile remarks at Ana and…nothing more. As Christian’s business partner, she has leverage over him. She can whisper into his ear, spread rumours about Ana and use her resources to make life difficult for Ana. Instead, the movie resolves the conflict simply by having Ana throw water on her and walk away.

In the real world, women as powerful as Mrs Robinson don’t act directly. They will plot their revenge, hire thugs and lawyers, and ruin their target without any trace of suspicion falling on her. It may feel good to throw water on her, but people like Mrs Robinson won’t rest until she or her target is destroyed. And Christian ought to know that too. The movie shows no attempt to resolve the conflict, wasting an opportunity for drama.

Leila Williams, Christian’s former submissive, also shows up. She appears for a few scenes, utters a couple of lines, and fades away. There is no sense of personality or motivation to her. The one moment she makes an impact is when she breaks into Ana’s home. And even then, Ana’s reaction isn’t one of fear for her safety (what if someone else breaks in?) or relief (thank God Christian and his bodyguard dealt with this madwoman) but jealousy. Leila is simply a device to make Ana jealous, compelling Christian to further emasculate himself through signalling his loyalty. Once Leila has served her purpose, she disappears.

Jack Hyde was Ana’s boss, working as Commissioning Editor at Seattle Independent Publishing. When he first shows up, he serves to make Christian jealous. His existence signals to the audience that Ana is attractive to other men. When the three meet at a bar, Christian introduces himself to Jack by saying, “I’m the boyfriend.” This is a signal of anger, jealousy and insecurity; it is a definition of identity based on someone else instead of who he is. It is what an ordinary man would do, not a true high-status man.

In the real world, a true dominant would smile broadly, focus his gaze on Jack, extend his hand and say, “Hi. I’m Christian. Nice meeting you.” At the same time, he would wrap his arm around Ana’s waist and pull her into him. This is a demonstration of confidence, superiority, ownership and frame — without openly giving Jack a reason to get mad at him.

Later, Jack threatens to expose Ana’s relationship with Christian unless she provides sexual favours and tries to assault her. She fights her way out (the only time we see courage from her), then runs outside into Christian’s arms. Christian moves to have him fired. Jack naturally seethes at this treatment and plots Christian’s downfall, paving the way for the next story. Here, he simply exists to provide an element of danger and set up the next story.

In the real world, a man like Christian wouldn’t settle for having him fired. He would call the police and use his influence to have Jack locked away for sexual assault. Any regular person would do that, but once Jack is off-screen, he is immediately forgiven of all sins. This makes no sense whatsoever — unless you want a reason for the next story.

Kink? What kink?

All I will say about the sex scenes is that you can find much harder porn on the Internet for free.

Bondage, domination, sadism and masochism is the forbidden fruit that draws in customers. It is taboo, yet dramatic and glamorous. But its on-screen portrayal is tame. The movies walk the fine line between showing just enough BDSM to tantalise the audience while staying clear of the hardcore aspect that will alienate the vanilla audience — and errs on the side of the latter.

It’s All About Ana

Despite being named after Christian Grey, Fifty Shades is all about Ana. She effortlessly attracts and changes a wealthy man, but has no need to mold herself to him. She is the focus of his attentions, but since she can tell him off and he respects her limits, he isn’t really a stalker. There is just enough kink to lure in the audience, but it’s always on her terms and he never pushes her. She doesn’t have to do anything to earn Christian’s affections, but he makes grandiose displays for her. She enjoys the attention and wealth of a billionaire, and has no need to hold up her end of the relationship.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect female fantasy. It allows a female audience to insert themselves into Ana’s shoes and pretend that they, too, can haul in a billionaire without having to lift a finger. No matter how cringe-worthy you may find the franchise, it is the textbook for understanding the solipsism, fantasy and hypergamy of the modern female.

Credits:

Fifty Shades Darker No More Secrets Poster: Universal
Christian Grey: Fanpop
Fifty Shades of Grey still: Aceshowbiz
Leila Williams: The Daily Mail
Meh: Media Makeameme
Fifty Shades Darker No More Rules Poster: Universal

How to Recognise A Soulmate

The modern world has no room for soulmates. The First World has repudiated the strictures of the Church and traditional morality, ushering in an era of free love, rising divorce rates and increasing unhappiness. Corporations have turned Valentine’s Day into an excuse for ostentatious consumption, and with it, an opportunity for immense profit. Skeptics claim love is little more than brain chemistry. Pickup artists laugh at the idea of ‘the One’. Writers in the manosphere advise readers to keep their game tight and prowl for women, marking success by notches on the bedpost. The idea of a soulmate is anathema to them.

They are wrong.

Finding My Soulmate

12 years ago, when I was in secondary school, I was part of the National Cadet Corps. One afternoon we were scheduled for a meeting in a classroom after school. I was the first to arrive; only the cadets from that class were present. I sat at an empty desk, opened my notebook and continued crafting notes on my novel.

A girl sat opposite me. Dark-skinned, short curly hair, an androgynous face. The kind of girl most people wouldn’t look twice at. I kept writing.

“You have nice handwriting,” she said.

Her voice was an electric violet entwined with crystalline greens shot through with yellow, so bright I had to look up at her. She smiled at me.

A strange sensation crept over me. It was the feeling of familiarity, as though I had known her for a hundred lives or more. She was a plain girl, but her eyes were wide and soft and deep, and her smile bursting with joy and warmth. I thought of a photograph dating to the fifties, yellowed with age, of a woman in a pencil skirt and plain blouse, wearing the same smile she did now.

Her classmate wandered over. He was the leader of our company, the one who had called for the meeting.

“Hey Jas,” he said.

A voice in mind, quiet and calm and confident, said, No. Her name is Jasmine.

“This is Benjamin,” he continued.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Jasmine.”

I nodded.

It wasn’t the most romantic of encounters. We never thought that that meeting set the stage for the rest of our lives. But here we are today.

Recognising Your Soulmate

By now a spiritual reader would have recognised the signs and broke out into huge grins. If you’re that person, chances are, you’re going to know what I’m going to talk about. For the rest of you, read on.

To find your soulmate, you must first discard all illusions. Pop culture depicts soulmate relationships as smooth-sailing and effortless. Romance writers like to make everything work out somehow. Fairy tales end their stories with ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The game gurus of the manosphere have learned to be wise about women. They understand that women are as human as everyone else, prone to frailties, eccentricities and personal failings. They know that the majority of women out there are not suited for long-term relationships with them. They know that women positively respond to specific behaviours and negatively to others, and pass on advice to other men to make them become more attractive. They know the perils of being in long-term relationships with dangerous women, and correctly advise their readers to drop unsuitable mates the second they see the warning signs. They have experienced the suffering that comes from being attached to the idea of any particular woman being ‘the One’ — especially if that woman does not reciprocate their affections — so they teach men to develop the mindset of detachment and abundance.

But those that sneer at the concept of soulmates are mistaken.

The idea of a soulmate is misunderstood by society. Meeting your soulmate does not guarantee a relationship, much less a successful one. A relationship with your soulmate is not guaranteed to be smooth and pleasant. A soulmate may not be with you forever. Meeting your soulmate may be a capstone in your life, but it is not the end. It is, if anything, the beginning of a long and rocky road.

To understand the notion of a soulmate you must understand the soul. It is your essence, the sum of all you are. It is your personality, your worldviews, your beliefs, your habits, your hang-ups, everything that makes up who you are. Your soul is a diamond. And the only thing that can wear down a diamond is another diamond.

When diamonds are unearthed from the ground, they are dull and irregular and plain. Once inside a gem workshop, lapidaries carefully slice away their flaws, wear away rough corners, and meticulously grind facets at precisely-calculated angles. Diamond is so hard that the workmen must use diamond tools to shape diamond. After long hours of labour, the product is a sparkling, opulent gem with a rainbow at its heart.

So it is with your soulmate. A soulmate is a person who reflects your soul in its entirety, both its beauty and its ugliness. When you are with her, it is like diamonds grinding each other down. Your interactions with her bring out both the noblest and basest aspects of your self. She motivates you to exercise your strengths, and she exposes your flaws. And you, too, do the same to her.

Your soulmate inspires you to transform yourself into a glittering diamond of a human being.

Polishing the Diamond

Life with your soulmate becomes a journey of personal transformation and transcendence. But it is neither easy nor automatic. Like the lapidary carefully polishing a diamond, you bothhave to put in the work.

As you might have guessed from the anecdote, as a teen I was surly and antisocial. I was razor-focused on the Great Work of creation. Most people who did not contribute to that simply ceased to be relevant to my life. I had minimal social skills, and I saw no need to be friendly to people.

Jasmine showed me how I had gone wrong. And even today I am still learning from her.

For all this, humans are free. Free to cling to their old ways and free to change. Free to defend a fragile ego and free to exercise compassion. Free to stay and free to walk away.

When you are with your soulmate, you will grind away at each other. Your friction and conflicts will expose your deep-seated insecurities, fears and delusions to the light of day. You can choose to stay the course and work things out. Or you can choose to leave.

Neither choice is always right all the time. As she works on you, you too are working on her. You will see her at her worst. Her ideas, suggestions and actions may not be in your best interests all the time. Blindly going along with everything turns you from a diamond into a doormat, and insisting that she listen to you always is to demand the same from her.

Do not count on angelic proclamations, crackles of metaphysical electricity or flashes of mental imagery to signal a meeting with your soulmate. It is nice if it happens but do not assume it always will. Instead, like the lapidary who examines a diamond with a clear microscope and penetrating light, you must examine your relationship and hold it against measurable benchmarks.

Does your mate celebrate your successes or does she belittle them? Does she encourage you to grow your strengths or bury them? Does she motivate you to be healthier and fitter and wiser, or does she sneer at your attempts at self-improvement? Does she cultivate virtue alongside you or does she ignore you? Does she help you overcome your weaknesses or does she humiliate you for them? Does she encourage you to nurture and grow your wealth or does she leech off you? When caught in a dispute, does she seek to resolve matters with you or does she seek to impose blame? When facing a challenge together, does she partner with you or attempt to impose her will? Most of all: are you happy with her?

You must be brutally honest about yourself. The more she builds you up, the greater you can be sure that she is a keeper. if she tears you down, you must point out such behaviour to her and encourage her to change: if she ceases and changes for the better, she may yet have potential. If she refuses, you must leave. A relationship built on denigration and destruction will not last.

Predators and parasites seek only to grind you into dust. Soulmates offer you the challenge of becoming a diamond.

The Great Dance of Life

Jasmine and I have our issues. Plenty of them. We’re not saints, not by a long shot. But for over a decade, we have helped each other overcome great challenges, resolved some of our deep-rooted problems, faced down our fears and built each other up. We’ve had our ups and downs, our arguments and differences, but we stuck it out and invested the blood and sweat and tears needed to make things work. We still do. We aren’t where we want to be, but we are getting there every day, step by step.

A soulmate is someone you want to share the great dance of life with. Someone who sees you for the diamond that you are and helps you manifest your true potential, and someone whose inherent greatness you feel compelled to bring out. Like polishing a diamond, this dance is long and hard and rocky, but if you’ve found the right person, the challenge is worth it.

To all lovers out there, may you help each other become glittering diamonds in the world. And to all the singles out there, may you find your soulmate someday.