“By loves religion, I must confess, the more I love, the less I confess.” Robert Herrick
“A whistling woman & a crowing hen will surely come to no good end.” Alice Walker
“Opinions are like orgasms—mine matter most; I don’t care if you have one.” Sylvia Plath
Did you get what you wanted? I did. What did you want? To love—to call myself beloved.” R. Carver
When I was 16, atheistic moi had an argument with a surprisingly spiritual boyfriend, which led to an abrupt breakup. He used the L word, followed by forever! Was it just a ploy to get into my drawers or something else? He was serious. For him, love was a forever emotion. For me, it was the great unknown, the outermost reaches of my inner space.
You see, I was already a connoisseur or rather a data collector of the vagaries of love. I’d read about its alleged aspects: intimacy, passion, and commitment; and its types: unconditional love, agape/selfless, romantic/chemical euphoria stew (oxytocin, dopamine…), phila/ brotherly, storge/self love (Ares/Aphrodite’s child)… I’d read the Dorothy Parker Omnibus (by the time you swear you’re his, shivering and sighing, and he vows his passion is infinite, undying; lady make a note of this, one of you is lying) and I’d read dozens of great literary romances. I’d watched 100s of sappy movies. I was both sucker and cynic at 16.
That last date with Mr. Forever got worse. He said I was his type of person, and hinted we were destined to be soulmates. Whoa, if I had one wee bit of religious conviction, I would have made the sign of the cross right there. I didn’t even know if I had a type. I liked all sorts of men. I asked but what if I/you die a year from now? Are we joined at the groin forever—into the hereafter? “Yes,” he said. What if I/you cheat, are a murderer, can’t have children, become abusive? “We’ll figure it out,” he replied.
So you mean that out of the billions of people that live on this planet, you and I serendipically stumbled upon each other? “Yep.” When I mentioned the term may have originated with Aristophanes & Plato’s silly theory that we once had four arms and legs and two faces until Zeus split us in half, and as a result, we spend our lives looking for our missing parts—he nodded in agreement. A decade later, I’d grin wryly when I realized the soulmate story was from the Symposium, a ritualized, falling down, passing out drunk event at which the subject of love was discussed (with disgust) and dissected.
A problem with the ‘one special person for me’ theory is it assumes our personalities are fixed puzzle pieces that only someone with the exact outies to our innies can match. It implies people that don’t find their soulmates aren’t as happy as people that do. Or in my sister’s case, those who think they do/did find the one. It presumes a soul is an intelligent, primordial life essence, linked to our heart and throat chakras, eyes, shadow, and breath (as in Queen’s song you take my breath away). It does allow for the possibility our soulmate isn’t the person we have a romantic relationship with. It’s the person that gets us—really gets us. In theory, you could have two or more soulmates.
While waiting for our table at a posh restaurant, my sisters and I sip cocktails and chat. Talk soon turns to romantic love, to how their spouses mean ‘everything to them;’ they couldn’t imagine life without their husbands…My eyebrows must have arched at that point. Then in unison, they blurted ‘it’s a love thing, they’re our soulmates; you wouldn’t understand.’ I sprayed a mouthful of martini, narrowly missing their faces. One of my sisters was married to a loathsome, dishonest faux-mate (she would divorce a few years later). But that evening, they were smug in their certainty they’d married their soulmates, while I, try as I might (X5), had not.
The sister that’s still married, IMO, values form over substance, adheres to established routines and rituals (anniversaries, date night, birthdays), and according to her written records, believes in angels and flights of fantasy. Rather than a loving bond, there’s a sense of ownership and sacrifice—codependency. She didn’t agree with me and writer Michael Ventura that ‘marriage is the most dangerous form of love.’ The song Soul Finger goes out to her.
The matter of soulmates is full of mothy, swiss cheese holes. It extends from an unknown location in the body to the far reaches of spirituality and the absolute elsewhere of eternity. It’s the unstated question in songs like Melissa Manchester’s You and Me Against the World and the Righteous Bro’s Soul & Inspiration. It’s also the feeling Eddie Murphy expresses in Dream Girls when, while doing the splits, he sings ‘1 2 3 hit me…Jimmy wants a rib, Jimmy wants a steak, Jimmy wants a piece of chocolate cake, above all else, Jimmy wants a break, cause Jimmy’s got soul, got soul. Can’t do rock, can’t do roll, what Jimmy can do is show you my soul.’
Despite reliable evidence about its efficacy and accuracy, searches continue—for our soulmate, our doppelganger, our kindred kind. Today, we have additional tools, online databases and people that specialize in matching us up, providing layers of detail about a potential mate’s financial or criminal record… We scan FB and other social media sources, take out want ads, and hound our friends for hookup options. It seems a little ironic dating sites ask for a figurative pound of flesh and the most intimate details of our lives up front before they provide you with a name and a heavily edited bio.
I once gave sneaky little tests to potential lovers. I might ask for a small favor and gage the reaction. Or I might read them a bit from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or the part in The Little Prince where he meets the fox, and later in the story, when the fox says he’ll remember the boy whenever he sees wheat fields waving in the wind. Or I’d recite a page from Gibran’s The Prophet about love being ‘a moving sea, how hearts are entrusted into each other’s keeping but shouldn’t grow in one another’s shadow.’ If they shrugged or had no come back, I waved goodbye.
What of those others who are full of soul, but soulmateless? What of those that love and die and stumble into eternity only to discover the inlaws hate the spouse they never met and there’s another person in the elsewhere that claims to be his/her soulmate? What of people like Sex & the City’s Samantha that admit, ‘I love you but I love me more?’ Is it any wonder the candy I link to Valentine’s Day isn’t chocolates, but red hot cinnamon/ cayenne hearts? Is it any wonder they call us homo-sappiness?
All this fuss over an un-xray’able, death defying element no one (so far) has proved even exists. Some claim it weighs 21 grams, the alleged difference in weight between a living and a dead person. What feeds a soul or causes it to roam? Just how does it survive physical death? I’ve asked similar questions about the L word and turned to sages like McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and Tom Robbins Still Life with Woodpecker. In Still Life, his character asks ‘how do you make love stay?’ The answer is a combo of ‘trick it, offer it half of your favorite cheesecake, wake it up in the middle of the night…’ As for soul tricks, you could read Dr. Faustus or if soul searching, 1984, Pirsig’s Lila, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Jung’s The Red Book, Estes Women Who Run With the Wolves...
We know aspects of love and soulmates are both chemical and alchemical, embracing both molecules and magic. We crave the release of oxytocine, vasopressin, and phenylethylamine, a chemical that speeds up nerve cell info flow. As a relationship matures, we rely on endorphins; these feel good chemicals relieve stress. Think of them as mental comfort food. When love fizzles, we hum a few bars of the ahead of its time song by Huey Lewis I Need a New Drug. Too often, too late we realize who we lusted for, who we imagined we saw when the white light of emotion blinded us isn’t who we have to live with.
In the late 80s, I met a man at a bar. He wasn’t my type; I wasn’t his. Amid a sea of grouped together couples and friends, we were the only loners. We talked and quickly discovered we’d read many of the same books; even shared a fondness for the same passages in these books. We talked until we noticed the bar was empty—closing time. He said it looked like we were sole survivors. I blurted you’re not gonna tell me we might be soulmates? He grinned, “You’re not looking for one, and you’re not a fan of Jerry McGuire speeches. Why’d you ask?
Over the next few months, I asked a 100 more questions. We weren’t soulmates, though we were compatible in nearly every way. It was maddening to find someone perfectly attuned to you, while knowing full well this was a faux-mate, a short termed faux-relationship. This man just needed someone to listen (the lst duty of love is to listen. P. Tillich). He’d left his wife and child in New England. She was divorcing him because his job came with too many risks. Afraid of losing him, she let go first. I never quite understood what he did.
He owned a small construction company and hinted it was a cover for another job, one involving the Government. I like to think I helped him decide to return to her and the child, give it one last try. That would make me complicit in what happened as a result. It’s a word that implies guilt or collusion in something slightly illegal. Or as R W Emerson put it ‘however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed with the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.’ There were no goodbyes, just a few quips that should have made me laugh.
It was getting close to that time of year when I saw him again. Love was in the air, mixed with germs and viruses, pollution, and other unknown particulates. Cupid was on the prowl, the little twerp who lost his pants and his aim, reminding me love’s a losing game. So I was holding my breath, not Waiting to Exhale, bundled up on a park bench, half reading, half daydreaming when he strolled by.
He walked on by, then backed up. ‘Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again,’ he deadpanned.
I jumped up. The look on his face confused me. Was it anger, droll humor, or the look you get when fate bitch slaps you? His vicelike grip as he hugged me had me leaning towards anger. But that was so unlike my faux-mate, who’d been philosophical, never mercurial. “Still not a believer. If I were, I’d quote Barkin (who’d just starred in murder mystery Sea of Love). ‘I believe in animal attraction, in wham/bam love at first sight.’ I know you used to like raisins, but how would you feel about a date?” It was the best I could do after seeing him again. “Where’ve you been?”
It took several drinks at another bar to pry out details regarding his past few years. He went home. They reconciled, lived happily ever for over a year—until their car was sideswiped by a couple of underage joyriders (who were never apprehended). His wife and child died; he survived though he now walked with a limp. Merde. I wondered what he’d say next. Would he blame me, then wrap his hairy fingers round my neck?
He gave me a bear hug thank you, said I’d given him a year with the people he loved he would never have otherwise had. I thanked him too. He’d encouraged me to finish my master’s degree, reconnect with a few special esoteric types, and begin outlining several of the books I’d described to him. He asked, ‘did you find it?’
“You mean abiding love, or the place where the soul resides? No, but I made a new breakup mixtape, and though I lacked presidential power, I officially pardoned most of my ex’s. They linger now in box coffins, a bit like the shrunken bodies in the attic in The Hunger. Sometimes, when I lift the lid, they yell who’s sorry now and quid pro quo kid. Though I have a shovel, I can’t bring myself to bury them. There’s still a tiny thrill, though love’s congealed… You did find it.”
He nodded. “Hurts bigger than all the oceans combined.” His voice trailed off.
I pressed my face against his chest. “Though lovers be lost, love shall not. That’s a fine pair of gills you’re growing. You’re working for the Company again, aren’t you?”
“Don’t go all Beauty and the Beast on me. You still watch that show?” A new song played in the background Still Crazy After All These Years. “That’s my cue, gotta go. Wait five minutes before you leave, and watch your six. So long Red Wolf.”
“Au Revoir Valentine.”