You’re looking through some old photographs from a school trip to Paris which you took in your teens, when you recognise someone familiar sightseeing in the background of your group shot. It seems impossible, but once you look closer, the face becomes clear – it’s your current boyfriend (albeit with a decidedly 2010s haircut). Only, you just started dating him six months ago, after you went on a blind date in London. It turns out that you were both on holiday there in the same week but never met.
If you’ve ever experienced something like this, it’s what TikTok creators are referring to as Invisible String Theory. The hashtag currently has 32.6M views on the social network, with numerous content creators describing the phenomenon of meeting “the one” and later realising they had crossed paths many times before, without realising it at the time. In other words, the idea that “your person” is hidden in plain sight, until the universe decides it’s the optimum time. And it doesn’t just relate to romantic partnerships. One poster describes being born one day apart in the same hospital as their current best friend, but not meeting again until they were 11. Now they live together.
One poster describes being born one day apart in the same hospital as their current best friend, but not meeting again until they were 11. Now they live together.
Another example of the phenomenon is Chloë, 30, and her now-husband Marcus, 37. They went on holiday to Las Vegas at the same time, attended the same magic show and were on the same strip when the clocks turned to midnight, even taking pictures of themselves on different sides of the same fountain, without ever bumping into one another. Prior to that, Marcus lived down the same road as Chloë’s best friend, her brother’s studied karate at the place where he was a teacher and they attended many of the same political protests over the years. But they didn’t meet until two years ago on Bumble, before getting married last month.
“What it emphasised more than anything is how much we have in common,” says Chloë. “That probably made me feel more confident in the relationship, as I knew our interests have such an overlap. And it’s also obviously spooky!” But the times she and Marcus just missed one another in the past wouldn’t have been a suitable moment for them to get together for various reasons. “When my brothers were doing karate, I was 15 and Marcus was 22, so that would obviously have not been OK. And in Vegas we were both in relationships with other people. When we did meet, we were both in the right place in our lives and had done the work required to be in a good state of mind to be in a successful relationship. So, whether that’s fate or a happy coincidence, I’m very into it.”
Where does Invisible String Theory come from?
The trend itself is connected to the Taylor Swift song “Invisible String”, which was released in 2020 as part of her album Folklore and explores the threads of fate that can connect two soulmates. The refrain “you’ve been hiding in plain sight, then appear” from the track acts as the background music to many of these posts. However, the idea of destined love pre-dates the song and is enduring in its appeal.
In fact, similar ideas go back centuries. In East Asia, the legend of The Red Thread of Fate (a Chinese folklore legend, exact origin unknown) claims two people destined to be true loves have an invisible red cord binding them together, so that even if they are separated by time, distance, or obstacles they will find their way back to one another. While, Aristophanes’ speech in Plato’s The Symposium (dated c. 385–370 BC) says humans originally began as two-headed, four-armed and legged beings, who were then split in two on the command of Zeus, leaving them destined to roam the earth, seeking out their other half. More recently, numerous films, books and TV programmes such as Past Lives, Normal People, One Day, Sliding Doors and When Harry Met Sally, explore the themes of missed connections and destined meetings. There are links to the laws of physics too. String theory, known as “the theory of everything,” which emerged from the work of numerous physicists, suggests that the building blocks of the universe are not particles but incredibly tiny strings.
So, is there any truth to this theory in the realm of love and romance? According to Annabelle Knight, sex and relationships expert at Lovehoney, such coincidences normally have a fairly logical explanation, as if you have similar interests and values, you’re more likely to feel it’s a good match when you do meet. You’ll also be more primed to seek out similar experiences, whether that’s heading to a concert for your favourite band or hitting the supermarket at 7am because you’re both early birds. “A lot of people talking about Invisible String Theory mention they have lived in the same town as their partner for their whole lives but only just connected romantically after crossing paths several times – this is probably due to geography rather than some immense force of fate,” she says.
Believing in destiny is nice. But is it helpful?
Likewise, investing too much in such theories may not have the best outcomes for your relationship. Some evidence points to the fact that ‘destiny beliefs’ which are characterised by thoughts that relationships are either “meant to be” or not, result in less satisfaction, compromising less, more breakups and less happy, healthy relationships.
According to Knight, ideas like this could also have negative consequences if there’s a danger that it could either harm a potential relationship, or to keep you in a harmful one. “If you meet someone that is perfect for you, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking that they’re not technically fated for you, then you may turn your back on someone who is otherwise the perfect match. Similarly, if you find yourself in a relationship with someone you believe is the one for you — but they are displaying red flags —- then you might stay for longer than is advisable.” Be careful to always be aware of your current relationship and whether they are right for you; your emotional wellbeing should always come first, she cautions.
“If you meet someone that is perfect for you, but in the back of your mind you’re thinking that they’re not technically fated for you, then you may turn your back on someone who is otherwise the perfect match.”
Nevertheless, other experts think ideas like Invisible String Theory could help us feel closer to the important people in our lives. Jade Thomas, psychotherapist and founder of Luxe Psychology Practice explains a recent study found that married couples who reminisced tended to be more satisfied with their relationship and feel warmer and closer to their partner than those who didn’t. While Eloise Skinner, an author and psychotherapist with a specialism in existential therapy, believes that for some, finding patterns, trends and consistencies within their own lives actually enables them to exercise a degree of creative autonomy over their experiences. According to Skinner, looking for theories or broader destiny explanations for events or decisions can enable an individual to create a personal narrative around the things that happen to them, which can be helpful for discovering a sense of meaning or purpose.
However, she also offers a caveat: “Possibly the question to ask yourself is: how much agency am I giving this theory, explanation or belief? Am I allowing it to become part of my own story, acknowledging the power of my own choices and decisions as I do so? Or am I simply letting it lead me in a direction I haven’t intentionally chosen myself?” For the former, it might be that fate, kismet, and related ideas can help us shape our personal sense of meaning and purpose. For the latter, it could be causing us to lose sight of what we really want.