I never believed in soul mates.
From the day we met at the age of 15 until we broke up for the last time at 21, I was convinced that if there was such a thing, he was it.
After dealing with his cancer, homelessness, drug addiction, infidelity, college applications and truancy, in addition to all the usual angst of teenage life – and staying together – I was sure I’d never meet another person who could be my soul mate. We only have one soul; we only get one soul mate.
I thought of myself as incredibly lucky. I never wanted to replace him.
I still don’t. Do we ever really replace our first true loves?
A year or two later I embarked on another long-term relationship. He thought we were soul mates. I was hard-pressed to disagree. We just seemed to fit together, so I thought, “This is it!” until it wasn’t, and it ended.
Years later, when I met the man I’d end up marrying, I thought, “Well, this is it, too.”
With each new relationship, there was a period of time that I wondered if I was finally meeting up with my soul’s destiny, the missing half Plato speaks of, the thing that keeps us all chasing after that elusive One.
A flawed system
The problem, however, is that this is no way to live. The constant search for our missing half seems to be nothing more than constant disappointment, disillusionment and frustration.
Eventually I came to understand the notion of soul mates as adolescent fantasy: a narrow vision of the world wherein God is some mysterious matchmaker.
It still is a commonly-held belief. God has that one – and only one – person in mind for each us; all we have to do is find each other. That special someone who was made just for you is the reason you keep going on bad dates, keep second-guessing your choices, and keep yourself in a constant state of hopefulness.
It is a commonly-held belief, too, that each bad date is one date closer to The One; it’s just a matter of time.
In the meantime, the idea of The One demeans everyone else who steps into the picture. It’s the same reason why I dislike the term “best friend”: there can only be one best and every other friend can only be second-best. Why create hierarchies?
Another flaw in the concept of soul mates comes from the more devout among us. There is a very plausible idea that our souls, as part of us who were created in God’s image, are perfect and whole unto themselves. They do not need to be mated to any other person in order to feel complete.
A change of heart
Many people disagree with me.
But now, after having experienced what I did, I’m starting to disagree with myself.
In 2008 I met someone to whom I felt deeply connected and with whom I kept in touch intermittently since then. A few months ago he invited me to the Metropolitan Museum, where we’d first met three years before. Our meet-up was serene, comfortable; we each felt a sense of calm and both noticed how much better we were doing.
We also noticed how that deep connection had not subsided; it was as if we’d picked up where we left off. Each of us went home and thought about the past three years, how we’d never forgotten the other, how much we had in common.
While I would still never tell anyone else to look for The One – I myself gave up on it – I just might believe in soul mates, or at least that I found mine.
The evidence is ineffable, which is exactly how my beloved thinks it should be. He feels the concept of soul mates does not include any of the ideas of conventional wisdom: compatibility, shared interests, attraction or intellect. Those things, popularized and commodified by matchmakers, have little to do with our divine selves.
In shifting my beliefs, I find it necessary to re-define the concept of soul mate as I understand it. It is not The One, that missing half who could complete a person. It is not a person, custom-made and sent to us by God. It is not the stuff of endless romantic comedies, songs and fairy tales. In fact, it is no one thing at all. As my beau simply said, “There is no key.”
Today he texted me: “the prospect of seeing you gives another dimension to the day.” I know exactly what he means. I am – or rather, my soul is – truly touched by his companionship.