"Soul mate." Even the words make me cringe. They scream Hollywood and Hallmark and cheesy movies where the female protagonist gets the guy of her dreams and the final shot shows them kissing in the airport and the audience is left believing in happily-ever-after.
Sorry to disappoint, but there is no such thing as a soul mate. At least that's what I thought until yesterday.
To be clear: Yesterday, I did not meet the man of my dreams. Yesterday, I did not get married. Yesterday was not extraordinary.
Yesterday was an ordinary day. I got up, I showered, I got my children up, I got my children ready for school, I kissed my husband goodbye and I left for work.
But yesterday, I read something that made me rethink this soul mate thing. It's something I had written when I was 22 -- a few months away from my college graduation. It was scribbled on loose-leaf paper in black ink, and I found it in a red binder of stories and poems that I wrote in college and saved for the past 16 years.
I'm working on a memoir about losing and finding love, so digging through old writing and journals is not unusual for me. But, for some reason, I picked up this piece of paper and was altered in an instant. You know how sometimes you read something at exactly the right time? And it feels kismet, not unlike a soul mate, and you wonder if maybe there is something greater at work in the world. I won't call it God, because I'm not very religious, but I will call it Spirit, like someone is looking out for me (perhaps my grandmother who passed away when my dad was 18).
Here's what I read:
D.H. Lawrence says it best -- once someone stops changing or stops letting you change, love, life, is lost. Once you stop changing, you stop living and you might as well be dead because your soul is. "A soul mate is someone who challenges your soul." So true. So true. A soul mate is someone who lets you change while they accept who you are but more importantly who you will become.
I cannot remember what prompted me to write this. I honestly don't know if Lawrence is the one who said "a soul mate is someone who challenges your soul." I spent an hour Googling the quote with no luck in finding its author. But it doesn't matter who said it; I believe it. I must have believed it then, at 22, too, but I don't think I knew what that meant. And I definitely know I hadn't yet met the person who challenged my soul -- except maybe my best friend, who I believe is a soul mate of mine.
And that's just it: The notion that there is one soul mate for everyone is ludicrous. If you expand the definition, a soul mate doesn't even have to be romantic. My best friend is a soul mate; my son is a soul mate; a man I knew but never even kissed is a soul mate.
But sometimes, the soul mate relationship can be romantic. It even can be life-long.
If you asked me a day ago if my husband was my soul mate, I would have said no. We're too different to be soul mates, I might have said. I would have said he was "the one." But a soul mate? Most definitely not.
Call me unromantic. Call me practical. But I married a man with whom I fell in love but also whom I saw as my life partner -- someone I could share this life with, but also someone I could live my OWN life with. Not a soul mate.
Until yesterday, when I found that sheet of loose leaf. If I define a soul mate as someone who lets me change and who supports me in these changes, then most definitely my husband is my soul mate. In fact, he is the only man -- other than my father -- who has supported me this way, the only man who challenges my soul and who loves me even when it's hard to love me, even when not loving me would be easier.
In the April issue of Glamour, Lena Dunham, the star and creator of the HBO series "Girls," was asked, "What does a supportive relationship look like to you?"Her response:
It's somebody who gives you the space and time you need to do your work. Somebody who say, "You couldn't do anything that would embarrass me. Just be yourself in a way that has integrity, and I'll be proud of you." I think women are conditioned to stand by their man and watch them make it to the top, but most men never believe the person they get into a relationship with is going to rise any higher than she was when they met. It takes a very special, evolved person to be able to deal with change within a relationship.
I love this. Dunham is so right. Before I met my husband, every man I dated wanted to keep me as the woman they met at that particular moment in time. They loved the dreamer in me, but they hated when those dreams actually started coming true. They wanted to shut down the same ambitions they once said they loved about me.
So, now, when I think of soul mates, I think support. If you find someone who allows you to change while he or she accepts who you are and who you will become, hold him or her close. Don't let them go.
This is romance. Not the airport scene. Not the three-minute-long kiss set to music. Not the ending-scene embrace. But everything that comes after (not just the happily ever).
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the author of "The Owls" as D.H. Lawrence. The correct author is Lewis Nordan.