Within certain online spirituality circles, there is no higher form of love than a “twin flame”. For the uninitiated: This is a little like a soulmate, but so much more intense – the type of love you’d read about in One Direction slash fiction, or any other media rooted entirely in make-believe.
While the concept has existed for decades, the number of Google searches for “twin flames” has exploded over the last few months. Celebrities like Megan Fox and Alicia Keys have talked about it, YouTubers have gushed over what the term means, and on TikTok – where the largest demographic is women aged 18 to 24 – it’s obviously massive.
Twin flames are seemingly everywhere – and if we’ve learnt anything from general human history, it’s that when something from the world of spirituality catches on, there’s always someone around to turn a profit.
While they disagree on specifics, everyone I speak to agrees: Twin flame relationships aren’t easy. There are breathtaking highs and deadening lows, because your twin flame – apparently – is the other half of your soul.
One theory is that there are 144,000 humans capable of finding their true twin flame (others believe the “144,000” number refers to “memory complexes” containing thousands of souls). But 144,000 is significantly fewer than the 7.7 billion people on the planet. So how do those in the community explain this?
Again, there’s no unified front. Many use the number to push the rhetoric that reaching union is rare, and only attainable for the most spiritually developed people. The number 144,000 has its roots in the “Book of Revelation”, and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that exactly this amount of people will ascend to heaven as immortal spirit beings. Understandably, this can be alienating to some who believe in the twin flame concept, and they argue that the Christian origin is misguided and that everyone has a twin flame, because we’re all connected through a physical incarnation of our higher self.
Complicating the issue more is that twin flame relationships aren’t always reciprocal. Some people can’t handle the intensity of a twin flame connection, and these “runners” (often men) drift away, while the “chasers” (usually women) are left wondering why their flame abandoned them. Sometimes, people never properly connect to start with: in 2014, Ryan Gosling was granted a temporary restraining order against a woman who reportedly harassed and stalked the actor because she was convinced he was her twin flame.
In case you hadn’t already arrived at this conclusion: it’s all a bit confusing, and heavily open to interpretation. Enter: internet love gurus, selling the twin flame fantasy for a few hundred pounds a pop.
One of the most prominent twin flame coaches is a couple tag-team from Michigan, who call themselves Jeff and Shaleia Ayan. The pair have released hundreds of online videos over the last five years, discussing spiritual wellness and self-love. In the videos, they gush about “harmonious union” and how twin flames have been “designed for you by God”. They encourage relentless commitment to your twin. What if your twin flame is with another? Don’t worry, it’s a “sham, three-dimensional” marriage. “Your twin flame is already yours. So claim them,” Shaleia tells her viewers.
Followers of Jeff and Shaleia can pay for exclusive content, such as their “dreams coming true e-course” ($699), their “life purpose class” ($2,699) and the “twin flame ascension school” ($3,333).
A previous VICE investigation spoke to ex-students who say they were gaslit, manipulated into volunteering hundreds of hours of free work, discouraged from seeking mental health care, exploited for thousands of dollars and cut off from their families. Following VICE’s investigation, Jeff and Shaleia brought a lawsuit to a court in Michigan against former students, claiming these stories were false and defamatory. They continue their work and new members are joining each day.
I reached out to Jeff and Shaleia, but the CEO of Mind Alignment Process (MAP), a sister company to Twin Flame Universe, replied: “We are not interested in partnering with anyone who is affiliated with VICE due to their failure to respond, apologise and remove previous publications. We simply do not align with the core values of the company.” Meanwhile, the stories keep coming.
One ex-student, who wishes to remain anonymous, claims that when you join the inner circle, you are offered MAP’s healing therapy, which the couple claim results in a “significant decrease in [trauma] flashbacks.” The ex-student claims to have seen Jeff and Shaleia belittle students who disagree with their teachings and nearly kick out another who didn’t write a five-star review of their book.
While a growing number are calling out abuse they suffered as part of the “cult” of the Twin Flame Universe, the twin flame phenomenon is much bigger than them.
Some people are so indoctrinated into the ideas around twin flames that they overlay twin flame characteristics onto everything, to the point of using it to justify staying in an unhealthy relationship and lusting after an unavailable (or married) person.
Some coaches don’t agree with this ideology. One such coach is licensed mental health counsellor DeeAnna Nagel. “Certain groups have slandered the very concept of twin flame,” she says. “As a twin flame, we are learning to experience unconditional love as much as we can in a three-dimensional world and yet these groups force expectations onto people. And that’s extortion.”
From her home in Florida, she told me that talking about twin flames is risky but she wholeheartedly believes that twin flames exist. Meeting hers, she says, was the most “soulful yet excruciating” experience of her 58 years.
Nagel knows it sounds crazy. That’s why she added twin flames to her work, so she could help others. “I consider myself the twin flame paramedic,” she explains. “I’m the one that talks you off the ledge. I’ll screen through behaviours and tell you, ‘No, that’s just obsessive.’ I see twin flames as a catalyst for your soul awakening, but it doesn’t have to be a journey of self-destruction and loneliness.”
These days, Nagel focuses on training other twin flame coaches. VICE reached out to one of her former students, 31-year-old Cindy Vianna from Florida, who says she met her twin flame at a baseball game in 2018. Things moved quickly. Vianna fell hard and fast for this man, Thiago. Within six months, they moved in together and she filed for a divorce with her ex-husband. This was a new unconditional and fulfilling love.
Meanwhile, Vianna felt unfilled in her business career so bought Nagel’s “Intuitive Wellness Coach” course (which is now called the “Essential Soul Care Practitioner” course) costing $2,500. She also took the $325 “Certified Wise Soul Twin Flame Coach” course.
“I feel really fortunate that I have learned from DeeAnna,” Vianna remarked. “It's great to have guidelines, to learn how to hold space for clients who are experiencing many raw emotions.”
Coach training is evidently expensive, but now there’s a cheaper entry point: General twin flame tarot readings are available for free on social media. You can also pay for personalised services on Fiverr, Etsy, TikTok and YouTube. Standard twin flame readings cost around five pounds. This price goes up to around £40 for detailed ones. On Fiverr, a full colour drawing of what your twin flame will look like will set you back £26.60.
Sure, readings may be worth that money to an individual but becoming consumed by the twin flame world has deeply impacted people’s lives. Across platforms, people share sad stories of wasting years clinging to their exes and complain that mentors have forbidden them from sleeping with others while waiting for their twin flame to “awaken”.
Anonymous posters take to Quora to ask why their twin flame has put a restraining order out against them, or whether a judge will accept “they are my twin flame” as an excuse for stalking. Another leaves a teary Facebook comment, explaining that the twin they left their husband of 20 years for doesn’t want anything to do with them.
These stories are extreme but not uncommon. It’s easy to fall down the twin flame rabbit hole and become uncharacteristically obsessive.
Twenty-four-year-old Victoria Gill, who works in fashion and lives in London, first heard about twin flames through the YouTuber Megan Parken. She was intrigued by the idea but started believing it when she found somebody that matched the narrative.
They met at a party. “I was instantly drawn to him. I didn’t leave their side,” she recalls. The next two months flew by in the heady excitement of new romance. Gill moved to America and met someone else but couldn’t get the idea of twin flames out of her head. “I got obsessed. I’d mute, block, then unblock them on Instagram. I’d check their friends’ pages and pore over photos to see if they were there.”
One night, Gill sent them a message out of the blue, saying they are the best person she’s ever met. “In the morning, I thought, ‘This has to stop now.’ It’s scary to think of somebody I was seeing three years ago messaging me like that.”
Gill blames the twin flame ideology for her behaviour: “In previous breakups, I’d mourn the end of it but with twin flames, you don’t. You cling on.” She realised she’d used the idea of twin flames to avoid intimacy with others, while creating a false sense of intimacy with a person that she didn’t actually know that well.
Luckily, Gill didn’t get deeply involved with the twin flame online communities. Many do. In 2015, 47-year-old Candace Ranee Moon from Canada, left her abusive husband after 15 years. While longing for a deep spiritual connection, she came across twin flames. “I was drawn to it because I was vulnerable and they were saying everything I wanted to hear,” she explains. Following the advice of spiritual teachers, she began manifesting her twin flame. “I met this man [and] was convinced he's my twin flame, even though he was treating me terribly.”
Moon fell even deeper as she consumed YouTube videos and joined Facebook groups. She didn’t realise it at the time, she says, but most of the women in the community were trapped in abusive relationships. “The twin flame stuff fits the narrative of narcissistic abuse,” she argues, explaining how they begin with lovebombing before turning cold. “When you're being abused, you desperately want to have a reason for why this is happening and twin flames give you that.”
It took Moon four years to see that these communities were legitimising the abuse she’d experienced. During that time, she lost touch with reality. She spent thousands of dollars on webinars, energy reports and gurus who would perform “healing energy work” on her.
“They keep you hooked,” she explains, “because you’re told you need to ‘do the work’. They teach you that this person is your mirror so anything toxic they are doing is a reflection of you.”
When Moon finally met somebody who treated her well, the twin flame narrative didn’t resonate anymore. So she left it, and all the friends she had made, behind. Now, she works with women who have experienced domestic abuse. A couple of these women have also escaped toxic “twin flame” relationships.
Unfortunately, for every person who becomes disillusioned by the grand promise of unconditional spiritual love, there’s someone ready to take their place, debit card in hand.
Does Moon regret ever learning about twin flames? “No, it has enabled me to have even more empathy for cult survivors because I can say I've been there,” she says. “I was shown what can happen when you look outside of yourself to feel complete."