Hypothetical Scenario: Love and Death

Say you were offered the chance to be introduced to the great love of your life, your absolute perfect soul mate. The two of you will be perfect together– compatible personalities, the same taste in movies and books, sex so good you’ll temporarily lose the power of speech– but you’ll only be together for five years. At the end of five years, your partner will die, absolutely and inevitably– you’ll be told the time, place, and manner of their death, and nothing you do can stop it.

This person is perfect for you, but there is absolutely no way you will ever meet by chance. The only chance you have of meeting is to be introduced by the person who will also tell you the time, place, and manner of your soul mate’s death. Or, you can go on with your life as it is now, and just make the best you can of what you have.

Do you take the offer?

(This is relevant for a class I’ll be guest-lecturing in on Friday, and I’m curious to see how this hypothetical works as a discussion-starter. Of course, the students in the class will have some more context for the question, but it’s more fun for the blog to do it this way…)

Comments

  1. #1 philosopherP
    February 27, 2008

    I like the conversation starter —

    as for an answer — My own personal history of loss of very close family members would lead me to say that I couldn’t make this deal. 5 years isn’t enough and knowing that the person would die at the end would color the whole 5 years for me.

    Perhaps the stippulation should be that the relationship will end at 5 years — not that the person will die, but rather that you cannot contact them for any reason.

  2. #2 derek
    February 27, 2008

    One thing that would change the calculation is whether the soul mate would die in 5 years without intervention or not. Am I choosing whether I would want to know my soul mate, while also knowing it can only last 5 years, or am I choosing whether I would want to know my soul mate, even if so doing would kill him or her in 5 years? Very different questions

  3. #3 SpotWeld
    February 27, 2008

    It sounds like my life will certainly be enriched if I meet them. Will thiers? (Compared if they live long having never met me? Are they going to die in 5 years anyway?)

    Also, should I choose not to to be introduced to them, am I precluding the chance to ever meet them?

    And a final question for you: if given the choice which superpower would you chose, Flight or Invisibility.

  4. #4 Kail
    February 27, 2008

    I’m with derek: whether their death is my fault is a huge factor.

    Assuming their death isn’t my fault, then it comes down to whether I’m currently single. Shallow, huh.

  5. #5 cyperus_papyrus
    February 27, 2008

    So, how do I know I can trust whoever is making the offer? Hypotheticals like this bother me because I don’t buy the premise at all, so it’s easy to say no.

  6. #6 Amber
    February 27, 2008

    To want to meet the person, to be okay with the pain of loss, you have to believe that true love exists and that true love is better than anything. If love is the greatest thing you would be doing you and your mate a diservice to pass the opportunity whether or not the soul mate will die. Love makes the pain, the loss, the death worth it. I want to say that I would choose to meet the soulmate but I know that if approached with this is life I would say no, I am happy and have never known a happiness that is greater than the happiness I have now, so I can’t believe that there is a greater happiness. Therefore, I choose my happiness now for fear of pain later.

  7. #7 Bob Hawkins
    February 27, 2008

    If my choice doesn’t affect the length of my soulmate’s life, then I take the offer. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

    But if it would shorten my soulmate’s life, or if you refuse to tell me if it will, then I reject the offer. I can live with the inevitable a lot better than with the guilt.

  8. #8 Julie Stahlhut
    February 27, 2008

    I’d find the whole proposition absurd, since I don’t believe that there are such things as perfect soulmates. In fact, I think that the expectation of perfect soulmate-hood is one of the quickest ways (short of deliberate abuse) to kill a marriage or other love relationship.

  9. #9 Anna
    February 27, 2008

    Nice movie scenario…

    How about inverting the question, i.e. if it is YOU who will die after 5 years?

    Honestly, I find it difficult to answer in both cases. The question is actually about “is the joy from having a perfect soulmate for a short period of time more essential than the pain from losing him/her in the end, multiplied by the fact that you know exactly how much time you still have left?”

    It looks like a hopeless situation (inasmuch as there is an absolute certainty about the outcome). I have to add though, that I believe that this world has more to offer than it might seem… so the hopelessness of the situation is by itself a hypothetical assumption. In which case, it is wiser to take the offer than not to take it (unless, as it was mentioned, the fact of you two being together will be the reason for an untimely death, which makes more cruel equation to solve).

  10. #10 Chad Orzel
    February 27, 2008

    Am I choosing whether I would want to know my soul mate, while also knowing it can only last 5 years, or am I choosing whether I would want to know my soul mate, even if so doing would kill him or her in 5 years?

    My mental image was that the death had nothing to do with you directly. That person will die at the same time, in the same manner whether you choose to meet them or not.

    How about inverting the question, i.e. if it is YOU who will die after 5 years?

    For the parallel I’m trying to make, it’s important that the person making the choice survive. I’ll explain tomorrow.

    I suppose you could go with the Amber Spyglass ending instead, in which you’ll just be permanently separated from your soul mate. It’s not as punchy, though.

  11. #11 Larry Lennhoff
    February 27, 2008

    To go slightly off tangent, I’ll state I would turn this down because I’m already married. I wouldn’t abandon my wife for my perfect soul mate, regardless of whether the SM died in 5 years or 50.

  12. #12 Mark P
    February 27, 2008

    It’s an interesting question. For me (given that the choice does not impact the life of the other person) it would come down to my situation at the time.

    I wonder if it would shed light on the subject if you consider other situations. What about getting virtually unlimited money for five years and then losing all your possessions at the end of that time? What about having a child for five years? Or try stepping back and approaching the question from a less profoundly emotional level. As a dog lover, would you accept a wonderful dog for five years, knowing that the dog would die at the end of that time? As a dog lover, that answer would be obvious to me. In fact, almost that very situation has happened to me on at least one occasion. And I wouldn’t undo it for anything. Of course losing your perfect mate is a different situation, but does the answer all come down to how much it would hurt personally at the end of the five years? In the case of the dog, I know that he benefitted from the relationship and he would have died anyway. Does the perfect mate benefit enough that you can accept your own pain?

  13. #13 HP
    February 27, 2008

    Yeah, sure. What the hell.

    In my non-hypothetical life, I’ve had multiple experiences where it turned out that my “soulmate” proved to be flighty and shallow, and gone in much less than five years, generally.

    So, yeah, I’d take the tragedy of death over the humiliation of another rejection any day.

  14. #14 Adam Lipkin
    February 27, 2008

    In light of the clarification that choosing her wouldn’t cause her death, I see this as a pretty easy decision. Five years of true bliss, even with the tragedy at the end, is better than the majority of the alternatives (many of which involve no happiness, little happiness, or a happy relationship that could, without any foreknowledge, get cut off by death just as easily). It’s not really an either/or choice in the sense of picking between two flawed things. Here, it’s simply picking five years with a perfect mate, or none.

  15. #15 speedwell
    February 27, 2008

    I’d take the deal for sure. Simply put, five years with my soulmate is better than zero years with them.

    And nobody is guaranteeing my survival for five years, either. I would me more concerned about my soulmate’s feelings if he were to lose me.

  16. #16 Abbie
    February 27, 2008

    I’d say yes without hesitation.

    I’ll take what I can get- it’d be a good five years at least.

  17. #17 Mike Kozlowski
    February 27, 2008

    You ask for more wishes. I thought everyone knew that one.

  18. #18 Ron
    February 27, 2008

    Of course…

    Followed by five years of amazingly deaf-defying stunts, heroics, and crimes! Nod to Douglas Adams, who had great fun with the possibilities a character can get away with if they know with absolute certainty the time, place, and manner of their death.

  19. #19 Dave
    February 27, 2008

    I’d pass. The choice isn’t between my perfect match for five years and nothing, it’s just not that person. I think people who would accept are underestimating the impact of knowing every instant exactly when and how it will end.

    Think about what that would be like. Would you tell them? Would you ask if they wanted to know? Think about how helpless you’d feel every instant….

    And that doesn’t even address some of the unknowns. What if they’re going to die of ALS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob or some other degenerative disease? Not that I would shirk from helping a loved one in that situation, but if all I get is five years, I want them all optimized.

  20. #20 Natalie
    February 27, 2008

    Absolutely not. I’m especially good at dwelling on impending tragedy, and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy those five years to the fullest knowing exactly when they’d be over.

    I don’t think the difference between my perfect soulmate and someone I could find on my own would be nearly dramatic enough to make up for the pain of losing my partner.

    Now, if the question were perfect-but-doomed soulmate versus guaranteed loneliness, that would be more difficult.

  21. #21 PunditusMaximus
    February 27, 2008

    Heh, I’m currently married. Sounds messy, unless all I’m doing is finding out when my spouse is going to die.

  22. #22 Chris
    February 27, 2008

    There has been a large body of research that says humans base their conception of happiness on comparisons.

    So take two hypothetical yous: One starts at 30k, and gets a pay bump to 50k, and they’re estatic. The other starts at 70k, and gets a pay cut to 50k, and they’re unhappy. So even though they’re making the exact same amount, you have two versions of you that have very different temperaments.

    So, given that we know this, I’d rather never meet this perfect, but fleeting, match. No one else will ever compare favorably, and so I’d be unhappier than if I had never met her.

  23. #23 KSmith
    February 27, 2008

    I would take the 5 years. I’ve been married to my soulmate for nearly 15 years, and known him for nearly 30. I’d take 5 years with him, no matter what, over 5 years without him.
    That’s not to say our life is perfect, just to say that neither one of us want to be with anyone else. I can’t imagine being married to anyone else. I’m 40, by the way, and had other relationships before we married so I’m not naive. I just wouldn’t choose anyone else.

  24. #24 McDuff
    February 27, 2008

    Yes, without hesitation. Mainly because I believe in neither “soul mates” or any sense of permanence. We all know that we’re going to die sooner or later anyway. Knowing that you’re definitely going to die in five years is the same thing as being told that you cannot die for five years – absolutely unprecedented freedom. So I have an opportunity to be wonderfully, marvellously part of a five year peak experience with a wonderful human being, and then after that to carry on that legacy and take everything I learned and every way I managed to grow in that time into the future with me.

    Why would I possibly turn that down?

  25. #25 CaptainBooshi
    February 27, 2008

    Since you’ve stated that their death will happen with or without me, there is no doubt in my mind that I would choose yes. Mainly because I believe that 5 years of happiness like that would be worth the pain that would follow, as other people have stated, but for a couple of other reasons as well. One is that this scenario bypasses the biggest problem I have making relationships right now (which I realize is just pure laziness on my part, but I’m trying to be honest here), but also because if you refuse, you are explicitly deciding to make this person’s life worse for the 5 years before they die, as well.

    Also, for those who don’t believe in soul mates, and insist on being semantic in unrealistic hypotheticals, just substitute in “the person who would be the best possible match for you on the planet right now,” and it’s the same effect.

  26. #26 John Novak
    February 27, 2008

    There is so much to object to in the phrasing of the question, and you know me well enough, probably, to know the broad outlines of my objections: Don’t believe in predestined love, don’t believe in predestined death, the fact that she’s my best match does not imply I’m her best match, etc, etc, yadda yadda. Even beyond that, hypothetical love interest, here, gets a vote, too.

    Be that as it may, the set-up implies symmetry– that she’d be as happy in her final five years as I would. I assume my life is long, and will have the hope of fifty or more years of happiness with my second best match. My cumulative happiness through the rest of my life is potentially very high. Hers, in this fairly silly set-up, is bounded and maximized by my decision. If I would come to love this woman as much as the scenario claims, I should want her to be as happy as possible and therefore– excusing the narcissism inherent in the analysis– I should want her to be with me for those last five years.

    (And aside from that, philosophically, I say fuck it. I will not live my life in fear of happiness because it might one day lessen.)

  27. #27 asad
    February 27, 2008

    Didn’t Tennyson already answer this question?

  28. #28 natural cynic
    February 27, 2008

    The first thing that could effect the choice is the current state of the chooser. If one is in a committed relationship where things are going well, the choice would probably be no because of the problems caused by the breakup of the current relationship.

    Another factor that has not been mentioned is the age of the chooser. The same person might make a different choice based on the expectations in their life. A single person aged 25 might not make the choice to have the relationship based on how they think they would feel 10, 20 or more years in the future and the fact that there is a reasonable chance that they will find someone compatible in the near future. A differnt choice to go for the relationship might be made is one is single and not in a relationship at the age of 55 or older. This person has less of a future and less of a chance of finding someone compatible in their remaining years, so the knowledge of the impending loss will be somewhat mitigated by the lesser prospects of a fulfilling relationship developing.

  29. #29 Miss Cellania
    February 27, 2008

    At first I said no, because that would be giving a death sentence to that person -not ethical. Then I saw your comment that they will die anyway. But still, the answer is no, because I’ve already had one spouse die, and the precognition would deflate whatever joy we’d otherwise have.

    In the real world, if I were to fall in love with someone who had, say, cancer, I’d probably go for it.

    If you changed the scenario to irrevocable divorce, I’d say yes.

  30. #30 peter
    February 28, 2008

    my initial question, is does the other person also know that they are going to die? or is this supposed to be a secret that you keep?

  31. #31 Who Cares
    February 28, 2008

    So the actual question is how much pain are you willing to suffer at a point in the future to experience happiness now.
    The problem I see with the scenario is that I’m not alone in it.On my own I’d said keep both, I don’t need the pain that will follow.

    But with another party involved the answer will be yes so that they will have a happy 5 years of their life.

  32. #32 Humanist
    February 28, 2008

    This is really funny people are asking tons of questions, have stipulations, worried about the pain(partner’s or your’s), thinking too much…while I read the description and thought to myself YES absolutely without a doubt. No matter how short the duration is I would make every moment count to be with the soul mate and let teh fate decide the rest. I take the offer without a stitch of doubt in my mind.

  33. #33 Amanda
    February 28, 2008

    I would definitely not agree to this. After such a fantastic 5 years, the rest of my life would seem so miserable. I don’t think I would be able to say “At least I met my perfect mate”. I would just turn into a bitter person and be mean and cynical.

    I believe that it is better to work on imperfection and have a life time to get there. Who knows? The imperfect mate could in the end turn out to be the perfect life companion.

  34. #34 DS
    February 28, 2008

    yes

  35. #35 marianne
    February 28, 2008

    I would take it. It would probably be the hardest thing I would ever have to do, but I would hate myself if I didn’t take it. I know that I would miss them terribly when they died, but if I chose not to meet them, I would end up missing what I think they would be like.

    If I was given the choice, I’d want to make the most of my life and go for what could be the best five years I’ll ever have. Furthermore, everything in the world is temporary, even great loves.

  36. #36 KJ
    February 28, 2008

    I would take it. No question. I’d have 5 fabulous years and memories of a lifetime. During that time, I would assume we would build a support team of family, friends, so that when my partner is gone, I’ll still have people about me to remember my partner with.

    Yes, sign me up! (Well, as I am already married, I won’t sign up. But I like the question.)

  37. #37 Rachel
    February 28, 2008

    I would defintly take it. You can pack a whole lot of love and a lifetime of memories in 5 years. And if this person is truly who you are meant to be with, you could be happier knowing that you spent those five years together than after spending a hundred years with someone else. Having grown up with grandparents who were married for sixty years, I always wished for that kind of love and I would take it, if it was for five minutes, five days, five years or five hundred. Better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all.

  38. #38 It's good to be the King
    February 28, 2008

    I don’t think I could take the offer, and I think anyone who accepts would regret it.

    Think about it. When you meet someone, you have visions of growing old and spending your life togther. the possibilities are endless. Sure, either one of you could die at any moment, but that is not something you plan on.

    But, when you have knowlege of your partners death, your entire mindset is changed. just think about what your thoughts might be during that period; the closer you get to the termination date, the more depressed and desperate you would become. It would not be a time of joy and bliss as some would expect.

  39. #39 JaneM
    February 28, 2008

    Absolutely. And knowing that my soul-mate would die at the end of 5 years would encourage me to help make it the best 5 years of his life which, in turn, would make it the best 5 years of my life. Yes, I would probably suffer soul crushing grief when he dies but I would always have the memory of the best.

  40. #40 Mark P
    February 28, 2008

    I have seen a couple of references to the real problem here. It’s like the story that every person in heaven and hell must spend one day every year (or some long period) in the other place so he will know what he has or what he’s missing. As a result, everyone in heaven spends all eternity dreading the one day and everyone in hell spends it looking forward to that one day. So the problem is that the entire five years will be poisoned by knowledge of the impending death. How will you feel at a half a year, knowing you now have only four and a half left? At two and a half you’re halfway to the end?. What about at four and a half years, knowing you and your soulmate have only six months left? I think the paradox is that if you choose, you won’t actually have five years of bliss because of the foreknowledge.

  41. #41 Bob
    February 28, 2008

    Sure. Why not? Could die before the 5 years are up.

  42. #42 Anonymous
    February 28, 2008

    I’d do it, in a heartbeat. I’d consider it a privilege, and do what I could to make those five years as good an experience for both parties as I possibly could. And then I’d arrange a decent funeral, do what I could to give everybody involved a proper sense of closure.

    But then, I’m also one who met my current partner on a message board by and for the suicidally depressed. (We got better, for at least some values of “better”. We’re going on a decade together, now — but we still, both of us, have a somewhat unusually permissive attitude towards self-harm and suicide.)

  43. #43 Justin
    February 28, 2008

    I’ve had plenty of experience with people dying (friends, mostly) and while I know the pain of loss- I also know that I would take this deal everytime. Love is always a risk. I came to this realization when my wife and I got a puppy. It had been years since I’d had a dog, so I’d grown a bit, and it hit me how great a risk it is- loving something or someone. My wife and I said we were really starting to grow attached to the dog as part of our family, and that yes, if something were to happen to him (which, tragedy aside, we are bound to outlive him) we would be devastated. But we both agreed that having him and loving him is better than not experiencing him in our lives. We also came to the same conclusion about each other- which, despite their cuddliness, holds a bit more gravity than a pet. You always stand to lose by loving someone- and the more you love, the more you are invested, the more you will lose if that thing/person is taken away from you. I hate to compare it to investment banking (which might not be the true opposite of love, but I sure feels like it) but the larger the risk, the higher the return. If you choose not to risk then yes, you will be safer, but you will not get as much out of it.
    I’ve come to fear safety.

  44. #44 Ron
    February 28, 2008

    I would do it. To have lived in an ideal relationship would be the ultimate. Why not get a glimpse of heaven on Earth, even if that heaven is for but a brief time? You’d always have the memories and the experience of absolute perfection. The heartache and grief at the end would be immense, but I feel the trade-off is worth it.

  45. #45 Elizabeth
    February 28, 2008

    I have been dating a man for about a year and a half. He lost his wife to cancer about a year before we met; she was only 24 when she died, he was 23. They had only been married for 3 years when she passed away. I asked him a gently as I could if he would do it again, knowing the outcome would be the same. He said, “without hesitation.” I know they both felt that they had found the perfect match and I know how much he hurts having lost that. But he says the pain he feels is worth what he had.

  46. #46 kerensa
    February 28, 2008

    Would the soul mate die in 5 years even if we never met? Does the soul mate also know about the inevitable death in 5 years as well? Only if the answers are Yes, and No, respectively would I agree to it. I can see why someone who does not believe in the idea of a soul mate would not agree to this though, as it’s a major value assumption.

  47. #47 caynazzo
    February 28, 2008

    This type of absurd hypothetical construct–where the future is already determined–forces the reader to engage in magical thinking and willful suspension her disbelief. A purely emotional/anecdotal response seems fitting as it almost seems unnatural to inject rationality into your answer.
    But that’s just me.

  48. #48 Pearl
    February 28, 2008

    Wowzers. I would have to say no. After thinking on it for a few minutes, I would have to say heck no. Five years is not a very long stretch of time, and to know that it would end that way seems like it would taint the relationship. Forget that whole “’tis better to have loved and lost” thing; the time that I would spend grieving is a lot longer than the time I would have spent with this perfect love. This may be one of those times when ignorance truely is bliss.

  49. #49 Yes
    February 28, 2008

    I say yes. To have experienced a love like this will enrich your life beyond measure. No one lives forever. I’ve lost people very close to me and can tell you honestly that I’m better for having had them in my life. So I say “Yes to love. An absolute Yes.”

  50. #50 Kinglink
    February 28, 2008

    I’d say absolutely. If your afraid your going to have limited time together, how can you ever truly love another person. We all die. Instead this deal sounds even better because you never have to worry about “what if she dies tomorrow?” Because you know exactly how much time you have together.

    I’d much rather have a life with a soul mate than a life without.

  51. #51 Kinglink
    February 28, 2008

    I’d say absolutely. If your afraid your going to have limited time together, how can you ever truly love another person. We all die. Instead this deal sounds even better because you never have to worry about “what if she dies tomorrow?” Because you know exactly how much time you have together.

    I’d much rather have a life with a soul mate than a life without.

    Anyone questioning this or choosing no is either a commitmentphobe, or already in a serious commitment.

  52. #52 Mal
    February 28, 2008

    Without hesitation my answer would be yes. I came to this decision instantly after reading the question. And yes the downsides came to mind while reading it. Then again I have always been a romantic, so that probably has a huge sway on my answer. I would have to admit that knowing when they will die will have a large effect on my overall experience. But at the same time, for me, being able to spend 5 years with my soul mate greatly outweighs the sadness that comes with knowing when it will end.

  53. #53 Doug
    February 28, 2008

    Maybe the question is more about how it might change you. Would knowing when they would die change the way you were around them, or how you treated them to such an extent that the tension diminished their luster of perfection?

  54. #54 MurkyLurky
    February 28, 2008

    I would definitely do it. A short, but great five years of happiness is better than a long life of mediocrity. Those five years would keep me going for as long as I am around afterward.

  55. #55 Lindsay
    February 28, 2008

    Having only been married a few months to someone who fits the description, I say absolutely, yes.

  56. #56 Mandy
    February 28, 2008

    No way-heartache is too much too bare and 5 years is too short. There are many other people out there that can fill that void-maybe not as perfectly, but substantially enough to live the rest of your life with and be fulfilled.

  57. #57 Paul
    February 28, 2008

    I don’t know if this point has been made yet in previous comments (and frankly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to find out for certain). I would say yes. There are far too many people who spend their entire lives without spending so much as a second with a perfect someone. I imagine that for such people, five years would seem like an eternity.

  58. #58 GrupGirl
    February 28, 2008

    I would do it. Not only would it be a relief to finally find the person you’ve been holding out for, you would be giving this person the best five years of their life before they passed on.

  59. #59 Lullaby
    February 28, 2008

    I would not do it either. I agree with # 56, 48, 1, etc….I have lost way too much in my life already. I’d rather have someone I was comfortable and compatible with, and take my chances on how long it would last.

  60. #60 Chris
    February 28, 2008

    I would absolutely take the chance, I am perpetually unsure of decisions I make. By taking this chance, I know that for sure the person I have found is “the one”. I would much rather have 5 years with that perfect person then no time at all. Not to mention that it’s 5 years of mind blowing sex, that right there would probably be enough to sway me!

  61. #61 Chris
    February 28, 2008

    I would absolutely take the chance, I am perpetually unsure of decisions I make. By taking this chance, I know that for sure the person I have found is “the one”. I would much rather have 5 years with that perfect person then no time at all. Not to mention that it’s 5 years of mind blowing sex, that right there would probably be enough to sway me!

  62. #62 Gabie
    February 28, 2008

    Having found such a person, I would say yes. As terrible as the pain would be, to have experienced that kind of love and happiness would be worth it.

  63. #63 DaH
    February 28, 2008

    Absolutely.
    After reading previous posts, it occurred to me that the age of responders would provide insight into where a person comes down on this question. The value of a “perfect mate” is better understood as one experiences the “near misses.” Couple with this the fact that one’s own living helps clarify those things one really wants and needs from a mate.
    At twenty, the definition of “perfect mate” is less complex than at 50 because one’s own self-definition grows over time. A “perfect mate” is very rare, it took me 30 years to find mine. Five years is plenty of time to have your life changed.

  64. #64 Wendi
    February 28, 2008

    Yes – in the immortal words of Shelby in Steel Magnolias, I’d rather have fifteen minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.

    As a 36 year old breast cancer survivor who underwent drastic surgery and chemical poisoning with four months of chemo I say live like you mean it…even if it’s just for five years.

    Another silly movie quote: Auntie Mame “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

  65. #65 Brian
    February 28, 2008

    Anyone who’s actually met this sort of person (like myself) wouldnt be able to function as a person after watching them die young. the answer is no, because the results of losing a person that integral to how you live your life is madness and likely suicide. No effing way. Id rather sleep with random people and never marry than lose a person like the one im with like that.

  66. #66 Annie
    February 28, 2008

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    This one’s easy for me. the sole difference from “real life” if you will, is the notion that one knows the length of the relationship and the date of death. To find one’s soul mate is a rare thing, and the length of time – chronos – has no relative bearing on its preciousness and arc. That relationship exists in kairos – time out of time, and therefore, the question is irrelevant to the nature of the relationship.

    As a nurse, I’ve been asked by grieving parents for a stillborn baby or for a baby who dies shortly after birth, why? Well, as there is no answer for that, I can offer that the preciousness of the infant and its specialness exists separate and apart from the length of time it physically lived. Its very presence offered the parents its extreme and unique eternal, timeless value.

  67. #67 Scott Spiegelberg
    February 28, 2008

    I’ve been wrestling with a generic form of this question as my 10-year marriage has ended. I’ve known true love, and yet the ending is incredibly painful. In the end I accept that one must risk pain to experience joy. In your stark example it comes down to risk assessment, how much am I willing to risk. Since I have two children, my decision affects not only me and the soulmate (as Novak wisely points out), but also affects the young ones. Could I give them a step-mother when I know she will die in five years? They would still (probably) have their mother, but losing even a step-mother is traumatic. I know that any future relationship I have will have to work out with my children and my ex-wife as well as myself, so I’d say no to this 100% risk.

  68. #68 Joanna
    February 28, 2008

    I do not think I would take the offer. I think you can find complete happiness with someone who is not a perfect match. It’s all up to you to make the most of a situation. Having the imminent death hanging over me for five years would make for five very stressful years.

  69. #69 Abby L.
    February 28, 2008

    Nope. As other posters have said, the knowledge that we would only have five years together would prevent me from fully enjoying the time I did spend with my hypothetical soul mate. Also, if I were to take the offer, after the the hypothetical soul mate died, the would be no chance of meeting anyone as “perfect.”

  70. #70 Danielle
    February 28, 2008

    If offered this proposition before I was already married I would take it, absolutely.

  71. #71 sealouse
    February 28, 2008

    I would do it because the way it looks now I probably won’t even kiss someone from the opposite sex before I die.

  72. #72 Michelle
    February 28, 2008

    If I were single, I would do it. I’ve sat in a hospital room watching my father die, sat in a hospital room after my husband had a heart attack, and I’ve lost a dog with whom I had an unusually deep bond (laugh if you want) to cancer. In each of those cases, I looked back at the days and years preceding the event and wonder what I would have done differently, if I’d known I’d still be sitting in this chair, on this day, no matter what. What would my dad or husband have done differently?

    To me, knowledge is power here. You have a deadline (no pun intended) to do all those things you say you’ll get around to, but somehow never do, thinking that there’s always time for it later. And you get to do it with someone who, being your soul mate, loves and values those same experiences as much as you do. It goes without saying that my SM would want to know about his impending death because *I* would rather know so I could maximize the time left to me.

    To those who object to the hypothetical construction, I think you’re missing the point. The point, I believe, is to examine your own personality. On this topic people seem to fall into categories of those who fear pain more than they long for happiness; those who value a “middle of the road” stability over extreme good and/or bad; and people who embrace the extremes. I’m being simplistic here and probably missing a few categories. But to attack the construct deflects the attention from the interviewee to the interviewer and means you don’t have to look at yourself so you can answer the question. Nice try :). Most people here have taken a hard look at themselves and given honest answers which I enjoyed reading.

    The thing I fear most is regret and the thing I regret most is fear.

  73. #73 Peter
    February 28, 2008

    First, I was in such love at one time. Although circumstances prevented consumation, I felt it would forever affect me. And it has.I have never before nor never will feel such a wonderful, life-affirming, beautiful sense of being as I once did. Remember “’tis better to have loved…”

    Plus, could turn out like Bladerunner. The date may never come of her death.

  74. #74 Cohen
    February 28, 2008

    Take the offer. Be together five years, have the best time ever, but at year 4 insure the person for millions. That way when they die at least you will be rich enough to afford second perfect.

  75. #75 Jim Thomerson
    February 28, 2008

    Situation somewhat like that in the movie, “Terminator 3″.

  76. #76 Phy
    February 28, 2008

    If choosing to know such a person resulted in their dying a specified death, and choosing never to know them resulted in their not dying in that manner, I would have to choose the latter. I don’t see how such a decision would not be tantamount to murder. You mention The Amber Spyglass, but this was in part the plot of The Butterfly Effect, which was otherwise pretty silly.

    But the way you constructed it, yes. Buy the ticket take the ride.

  77. #77 John K
    February 28, 2008

    Annie in #66 had it right. The time you are able to spend with that person you love is immaterial.

    The fact that at some point you loved them at all so deeply that it is without bound and barrier, that it transcends the limits of consciousness and is forever existent in you, is what matters.

    I know love so strong now not just in soulmates that I am miserable because I focus my entire life on them and let my own slip away. But I know were I ignorant of this love I have for these people, I would be that much more miserable, as I was growing up without them. I’m a pretty romantically-inclined guy (ideas and beliefs, not chocolate and flowers, fyi), and I despise cliches when they’ve been used so much just in this one blog, but “tis better to have loved and lost…..” and I will always stand by that belief.

    I have lost. I’m still here. I’m better for it. I hope they are, as well. To lose the people I’m so attached to right now, I think there’s a great chance I would attempt suicide. But because of who they are and what they’ve taught me, I would never go through with it because it would be an insult to them and everything they are to me.

    Yes, if there is such a thing as someone I believe is perfect for me (this is taken to mean the person I would be happiest with at the time, for perfection is impossible and I will assume that the good teacher is also of this persuasion), I would take them for a day, a year, 5, a decade, as long as I could possibly hold on to them. This is not to say that I won’t defy every law of man, nature, and God to keep them here in the capacity of life they currently enjoy, but when the time comes that they would be unhappy (such as life support, the living undead, or maybe bringing them back to life), I would let them go because mine is not the only life that matters to me. In fact, it matters the least, as my track record will show in the last year or so having let me slip away for the benefit of those I hold dear.

    Surely there is more I could say, but I don’t want to go on for hours, and you have a deadline.

  78. #78 Sparky the clown
    February 28, 2008

    maybe.

  79. #79 John Berens
    February 28, 2008

    Take one day, any day, of that five years. Commit it to memory – touch it with the permanence of living in the here and now – and forget that tomorrow exists. Live that way today – because truth be known, we are not promised tomorrow. Short answer: I’d spend one day with that perfect soul and be happy to have had it.

  80. #80 Kris
    February 28, 2008

    Mark P wrote: “I think the paradox is that if you choose, you won’t actually have five years of bliss because of the foreknowledge.”

    The other side of the coin: if you decline the offer, you will likely spend the next five years (and possibly the rest of your life) pondering “What if?” — What if I’d accepted the offer? Would I be happier? What great experiences have I missed by turning it down? The problem with any choice is that we tend to question whether or not we made the right decision. We also usually regret missed opportunities.

    Also, the assumption that the five years will not be blissful because of that foreknowledge is based on a single individual’s determination that he/she would not be able to live blissfully while in possession of that foreknowledge. That determination can’t be applied to everyone. Many people would be capable of embracing the joy of the present moment even with the foreknowledge of the person’s death. Consider the many people who are diagnosed with a terminal illness yet still manage to enjoy their last weeks/months/years to the fullest, or how many of their loved ones find happiness and joy with the person during that time.

  81. #81 Kelsey
    February 28, 2008

    I’m in a wonderful relationship and wouldn’t give it up even for a “perfect” soulmate. Even if I were single, though, I would still say no. As others have said, it would be impossible to enjoy the time you have together knowing the exact moment when it will end, and it would be impossible to find happiness with anyone else afterward because no one would ever measure up.

  82. #82 jeff kenton
    February 28, 2008

    Hell yes, I’d take it.

    There are so many uncertainties in life. This situation is different than “finding that perfect someone” and having disease or accident take them from you because you know when it will end.

    You can jam every last wonderful idea you have into those moments because you KNOW when they will end.

    But most of all, having the chance to know true love is worth it. In this life, you gotta take chances, because if you don’t you’ll get no rewards. And in the scheme of things, five years is a LONG time. Way more generous than I would propose in such a thought experiment. (Why not two years?)

    GREAT!

  83. #83 Brittany
    February 28, 2008

    I’ve actually thought a lot about this before. My dad died when I was four and from everything I’ve ever been able to find out, he and my mom were perfect for each other and almost always really happy.

    My mom says she has psychic dreams, of which I’ve always been a little skeptical. She said, though, that a year to the day before my dad died, she had a dream of the police officer coming to our house to tell her my dad had died.

    I’ve asked her if she would do anything different if she had known from the beginning when and how he was going to die. She said she would not have changed a thing, not even to protect my brother and me from losing our father. Even when she felt in her heart she only had a year left, she was happy with the time she had left and spent it to its fullest.

    It hurts, yes. It’s a chance you have to take with any love, whether it’s family, friendship, or romantic, that you might outlive them. Love isn’t related to time and it doesn’t matter if you know how much there is. It shouldn’t be something to fear.

  84. #84 robin
    February 28, 2008

    NFW.

    My life is OK now. Sure maybe it will be way better for a while, but I’m more averse to the loss than my desire for the gain.

  85. #85 Hope Woodward
    February 28, 2008

    When I made this decision I was 44 years old, and my sweetheart was 18 years older. I knew he had Hepatitis C and although he was well the outlook was poor. A friend recognized my fear and advised me not to throw away a beautiful experience over that fear. My love, Dick, and I discussed this and I reminded him there are no guarantees; I might die before him. We decided we would marry and be together in love, and each promised we would be ok if the other died. Before we married I asked a psychic how long we had, and she told me eight years. I never told Dick. We had eight years together, and the last year I took care of him and we held hands and talked constantly. Together we practiced unconditional love. We decided at the end that all there really is, is Acceptance and Love. It’s nearly four years later now, and I am filled with gratitude and still feel this love.

  86. #86 Hope Woodward
    February 28, 2008

    When I made this decision I was 44 years old, and my sweetheart was 18 years older. I knew he had Hepatitis C and although he was well the outlook was poor. A friend recognized my fear and advised me not to throw away a beautiful experience over that fear. My love, Dick, and I discussed this and I reminded him there are no guarantees; I might die before him. We decided we would marry and be together in love, and each promised we would be ok if the other died. Before we married I asked a psychic how long we had, and she told me eight years. I never told Dick. We had eight years together, and the last year I took care of him and we held hands and talked constantly. Together we practiced unconditional love. We decided at the end that all there really is, is Acceptance and Love. It’s nearly four years later now, and I am filled with gratitude and still feel this love.

  87. #87 Beth
    February 28, 2008

    Yes. You die and all you can take with you is what you lived. Live this. You’d never regret it, and you could say five years of your life were happy and well spent. Then you get life insurance.

  88. #88 Keith
    February 28, 2008

    No. Being given a soul mate would take away one of lifes great romantic pondarences. Does a soul mate really exist? If found would it be bliss or boring? Without the search the the conclusion could be bias.

  89. #89 Juergen
    February 29, 2008

    All you people out there saying a quick yes – Have you thought about how you would feel AFTER the five years?
    Guilt feelings for the rest of your life (assuming you would not end it yourself).

    Is this yes not very selfish?

  90. #90 missbossy
    February 29, 2008

    Ummm… I think you’re supposed to assume that your soul mate is out there and desined to die in 5 years one way or another. Not that they pay this cost for your chance to indulge in 5 years of bliss. You are not responsible for his/her death. You just get to enjoy them before they kick the bucket. You suffer loss but the downside wouldn’t include guilt.

  91. #91 Doug
    February 29, 2008

    #86 Hope Woodward said

    Before we married I asked a psychic how long we had, and she told me eight years.

    I see you knew you had eight years ahead of time. Very interesting.

    (Be sure this psychic takes Randi’s million dollar challenge before it goes away.)

  92. #92 Samantha Vimes
    February 29, 2008

    I don’t believe that any soulmate you could find me would be any better than the relationship I’m in.

  93. #93 Leigh Butler
    February 29, 2008

    Here’s my question: are me and my hypothetical soulmate also independently wealthy for this 5 year stretch?

    It may seem like an incredibly shallow question, but shit, if I’m going in knowing I only have 5 years to be with this person, there’s no way I’m going to waste 75-80% percent of that time going to work.

    I’d want to spend every available moment with this person. We’d travel the world and do all the crazy things you say you’re going to do but never get around to doing. All that takes money, Jack.

    (Though I suppose you could just build up a massive amount of debt, and then do what someone upthread said and take out a ginormous life insurance policy on your soulmate in year 4. However, this plan makes me feel… dirty. Especially if your soulmate has no idea that they are going to die…)

    Anyway. If someone offered me this right now, at the place I am and the state I’m in (financially, emotionally, etc.)… I think I’d have to say no.

    Yeah, they say “better to have loved and lost, blah blah blah”, but they also say ignorance is bliss. And they’re right.

  94. #94 Ronnie
    February 29, 2008

    Why wouldn’t I take it? Everyone dies and no one is guaranteed even 5 years with their loved ones anyway.

  95. #95 caynazzo
    February 29, 2008

    “Hope” of the kind that “springs eternal in the human breast” is an enduring human quality and this hypothetical essentially denies it’s existence, therefore denying an essential aspect of what it means to be human. In this very profound way the question posed isn’t an honest one.

    Not to mention the romantic ideal and assumption that one’s soulmate is of a sexual nature.

  96. #96 lurker
    February 29, 2008

    Absolutely.

    I’ve been glad for every relationship i’ve had for one reason or another, and given the chance i’d do it all again.

    Would anyone out there who answered “no” to the question do anything else which is only temporary in duration? Ever go on a vacation? Why bother if you know you’ll have to go back to your stupid job in a week?

    If your most joyous partner dies, then you’ve got beautiful memories for a lifetime.

    5 years of bliss vs 0. yeah. tough call.

  97. #97 shyestviolet
    March 2, 2008

    soul-mate, hands down. completely and totally worth it, without a doubt. except that I wouldn’t want to know the date of his/her death. that would force it a bit, I would think.

  98. #98 Doctor Love
    February 16, 2009

    All of you people who say yes are absolute morons. If you say no, then you will never know them, and it does not matter if they die, but if you decide, what the hell, and go for it, you become attached to this hypothetical person. Then, it will matter if they die, and you will only become depressed. You will be worse off after the experience having known your perfect mach and losing them than you would having not known them at all. If you live those five years with that person, you will have great expectations for every other significant person in your life- higher standards, if you will, and nobody will be able to live up to them. I suppose, in the end, not having known just how bad things would get after the relationship ends, it comes down to curiosity. Are you curious to know the person who is best suited for you if it means you will have to walk away from them, or watch them die five years later?

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