First, definitions: by soul mates I mean people who are destined to be together - your one perfect match, the person at the other end of your red thread, the person whose name is a magic tattoo on your wrist - written in their handwriting, even! A soul bond, OTOH, to me means something formed between you and another person that connects you somehow metaphysically in a way that affects you mentally, emotionally, and/or physically.
As suggested above, the soul mates trope presents in all sorts of different ways. There's the wristname tropes, the red thread trope, I think in one fandom there's something about having matching beauty marks? (MLP:FiM? Possibly I'm confusing soul marks with cutie marks.) Or just the warm happy glow in your chest that appears when you first meet your match and never fades.
Regardless, the sense of destiny hangs over everything, which right off makes the trope less appealing to me, especially if that destiny specifies that your soul mate is your perfect fit and the person you will be happiest with and if the narrative supports that interpretation. How boring! And in fact in most of the wristname fic I've read in hockey fandom, the conflict centers on people finding their soul mates in the first place, because what conflict could you possibly have with someone who is the most perfect person on earth for you to be with?
Actually, I think there's still a lot of potential there for conflict; see Emma Caulfield's quirky, unsettling movie TiMER, about a world in which you can have a device implanted that tells you the amount of time you have left until you meet your soul mate. What if you meet them when you're still a teenager? What if you won't meet them for forty years - what do you do in the meantime? What if you find someone you'd rather have than some unknown, however soul-mate-y? But fic generally seems less interesting in asking those questions.
(Also, this video, purportedly about Finnish people meeting for the first time, is clearly actually about Finnish people meeting their soul mates for the first time. See the slow opening of the eyes! The nervous smiles, the awkward introductions!)
In addition, the worldbuilding that goes with some of these particular expressions is just wonky. I've been reading a lot of wristname fic recently, so, who is it that decides whose name goes on whose wrist? Are you telling me that's somehow a natural process? Unless you do some work building a world in which wristnames are a natural expression of this, that, and the other magical fact, I pretty much have to conclude there's a deity putting their hand in, and I can't say I care much for that either. And what about the hundreds of millions of people in history who were illiterate - did they just have an X on their wrist? The basic premise drives me batty. And then even once we accept it, the world that results from the premise rarely makes any sense. Why isn't there some database somewhere, in this world of digitization, that keeps track of everyone's wristnames and helps match them up? Is it because there is a massive cultural accretion of taboos and mores that prevent it? What would those be? Fic rarely answers these questions for me.
That said, I've read some wristname fic that does do some neat cultural stuff that I've liked. There's a really excellent WIP on the kinkmeme where wristnames are rare and finding your other half is rarer, and there are hints at some of the expectations and conflicts that arise from those facts, and sherlockelly's Benn/Seguin fic does some exploration of how wristnames might work in general, especially in a world that still has a lot of homophobia.
On the whole, though, soul bonding is much more up my alley, because it's basically forced intimacy cranked to 11, with all the potential conflict that implies. While you might for a soul bond with your soul mate in some universes, in most fics I've read soul bonding can happen between lots of people. Sometimes there's an element of compatibility, but other times it's just a matter of them doing the right (or wrong) things at the right (or wrong) time. Accidental soul bonding is a special favorite of mine, as you might guess. Maybe they don't like each other! Maybe they don't even know each other! Maybe soul bonding right now is just really inconvenient. But like it or not, now this unfortunate pair has no choice but to feel each other's feelings, read each other's thoughts, and/or spend time in each other's space, depending on the rules of the world.
In fact, take away the mindreading and maybe the empathic component, and soul bonding is just regular old biology-based bonding or mating, like a person might find in a/b/o or werewolf fic. I have an a/b/o fic that I've been working on for a while that I figured out pretty fast is actually basically my soul bonding fic, even if souls don't really come into it as such. There's still the forced proximity because of physically needing to be around each other a lot, the affecting each other's moods, and, bonus, the occasional need to have sex with each other.
Again, there are a bunch of ways to expand on this that I haven't seen very much yet, but I have seen fic where hockey players bond voluntarily to improve team chemistry, or where a person is expected to have both platonic bonds and a romantic bond. I've heard tell of poly bonding, although I don't know if I've read it yet. And I would be deeply remiss if I didn't mention Fastening One Heart to Every Falling Thing, by thefourthvine, the story of Geno who can't bond and Sidney who really doesn't want to, and which is single-handedly responsible for me being in hockey fandom.
So: soul bonds. Soul mates. Can work quite differently, depending on context! Which do you prefer? Recs?
Crossposted from Dreamwidth. Comment here or there. ( DW replies)