They say that the heart is the seat of love, but what do they know? These days, it’s my gut and my brain that take turns churning. I thought that I understood, that there was no more to learn, but I was wrong.
The summer when I was eleven, I fell into a deep melancholy. My parents and I lived alone in the woods, and though I had many animal friends, friends of the human variety were much harder to come by. Kids just didn’t like me much. I was segregated from the pack, naturally and also against my will. The loneliness was profound, and it grew by the year. Eventually, I made some friends and began to find my way into a world of my own making, where I didn’t have to feel so alone. But if I pay attention, sometimes I can still feel it, pulsating, a raw wound, bundles of exposed nerves, screaming into the wind. I just don’t pay attention.
As I grew older, I found comfort in the idea that I might find a soulmate some day. A person who wouldn’t need to be sold on my positives (the ones I couldn’t even sell myself on, most days). A person for whom I wouldn’t need to shuck and jive. A person who would accept me, because he already knew me, before and outside of time. A person whom I could love deeply, without fear. Plato’s description of soulmates soothed that ragged part of me, and gave me hope. I found a weird comfort in the thought that each human was once part of a greater whole, rent asunder by the gods and forced to walk on alone, seeking our other halves, that physical embodiment of hope. I longed for that other half.
Eventually, as I watched my friends pair off and move away, as I started my life over again and again, each time losing a little hope that I could ever excel the way I’d once imagined, the thought of a soulmate began to fill me with bitterness. I came to the conclusion that it was just one more lie that I’d have to learn to rise above. The term has become twisted and abused, overused until its potency has diminished in our cultural lexicon. Nowadays, every set of young lovers thinks they’re each others’ soulmates. It’s simply not true. Plenty of people have wonderful, lifelong relationships without finding a soulmate.
Soulmates are rare. They’re not available at every five and dime, and they’re also not a requirement for a happy life. Not even for me. I am no more special than any other lost soul. This is important to accept, now more than ever. Though I still longed to find the person who could help me complete the circle, I also loathed myself for ever believing that I could truly belong to someone else out there. What made my life any more special or valid than anyone else’s? What gave me the right to feel entitled to anything more than I already had?
But then I met you, and I knew that you were my other half. Just like that. No question, just calm certainty. They also say: “When you know, you know.” That one they got right.
Plato made this all seem so easy. You go looking for your other half, and once you find them, you are no longer lost or lonely. You were broken apart, but now you fit together and make a whole. All should be right with the world, yes?
But Plato didn’t explain what to do when you find your other half, and the wait time was too long. He didn’t give any instructions on how to mend your other half if they got broken again while they were waiting for you to show up. He didn’t mention how it would feel to know with every fiber of your being that you’ve found the one, but not be able to do a thing about it. There was no passage on how it feels to choke on your heart every time you realize your only choices are to give up and leave, or to stay and wait for change that might never come. He made it sound like the hard part was being broken apart in the first place.
I have to think that Plato never found a soulmate, and this is why he never gave us a proper warning. Or, maybe that’s just it. By the time you’ve gotten to soulmate territory, you’re so experienced in loneliness and heartache that you don’t NEED a warning. You know as soon as your eyes meet that this will be difficult, but ultimately worth it, even if your paths are meant to diverge once more in the future.
For me, the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz pick up where Plato’s story ends. Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I am capable of understanding and selfless love precisely because of my pain. Hafiz said: “And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.” The pain allowed light in, and now my light will help you. Maybe my light will be the thing that gets through.
So I’ll wait awhile more. If this entire journey has served to turn me into your Sun, I’ll bear the pain, and shine on. Because I want you to go with me, but more importantly, I want you to be free to go without me if you choose. Free of the pain that floods you, and the indecision that binds you, and the memories that drag you down. I will never tell you what to do, or insist you follow my lead. It’s become more and more evident that my lesson is to let go, and yours is to decide your own path. If I’m lucky, when I finally find the strength to turn away, I’ll hear your steps right behind me. And if not, at least I’ll still have the comfort of seeing that you’ve made your own choice. Soulmates aren’t happily-ever-after. They’re happily-ever-life-after-this-one. I’m sure I’ll see you around.