It’s hard looking for your soulmate. We grow up reading books, seeing movies, and watching TV shows where love is idealized. There are grand gestures and extraordinary sacrifices. We’re led to believe that incredible love will unfold and reveal itself to us like a flower in springtime, and that we really don’t have to do anything ourselves except be in the right place at the right time. Love is something that will happen to us.
And that — in my mind — just isn’t true. You can’t sit back and expect to just be presented one day with exactly what you’ve been wanting. It’s work, and the reason the work is so damn hard and frustrating, is because soulmates don’t exist. Not in the way we’re led to believe they do. It’s a fallacy that our society enables in so many ways.
I love listening to Dan Savage talk about “the one.” Okay, okay, I love listening to him talk about most anything, but his rants on perfect soulmates are so spot on that I want to let my head fall back and yell, “yesssssss,” whenever I hear one. It’s like having someone much more articulate and smart explain the thoughts you’ve had for years. So validating! If you’re interested, the video clip in this article isn’t my very favorite explanation from him, but it’s the first one I came across while Googling just now: Dan Savage on The Price of Admission
When I think of successful relationships, one of the first that comes to my mind is my grandparents. It isn’t because they’re necessarily the happiest couple I know, but because they’ve been married for seventy-two years. Seventy. Two. YEARS. They were eighteen and twenty, and they made a choice and have lived with it every day for more than twice the span of my life. It’s utterly amazing and completely horrifying at the same time. The thought of actually having to live the rest of my life with the person I would have wanted to spend the rest of my life with when I was eighteen is laughable. It would not have worked.
It makes me wonder how they (and other people) did it. How did they follow through on a choice made so early? Would they have stuck it out if divorce had been more acceptable? If they hadn’t been religious? If they got married today? I’m aware that some people who married so young wound up miserable, but some people are just as happy together as they were the first day they met. I tend to view my own grandparents’ relationship with a healthy dose of realism.
I think that today, they are both incredibly happy to have one another, and looking back, they would say that overall, they were happier together than they would’ve been with a lot of other people. But I also imagine that there were days when my grandma wanted to whack the shit out of my grandpa with a kitchen spatula. And there were probably days that my grandpa pulled into the driveway after work and sat there wishing he could quietly reverse back out and drive someplace else — anywhere else. I think that sometimes those days stretched into weeks or even months, and they looked back on December 2, 1943 and wished they’d been doing anything but saying “I do” to one another.
Maybe I envision it this way because I’m a huge pessimist. Or maybe because that’s the truth. All I know is that they’re human, and life is messy and hard. Maybe they were better equipped to make a choice to last a lifetime as people who spent the first eighteen years of their lives in the 20s-30s — times that perhaps better prepared a person and gave more perspective on life than my eighteen years in the 90s-00s. My grandpa watched his family’s car get taken by their neighbors when his father couldn’t pay a debt during the Great Depression. The worst thing I ever had to witness was my mom’s epic meltdown in the movie theater when Mufasa died. (I was on her lap as she sobbed into my hair. People were staring. Eventually the manager came. It was not a good day.)
When I imagine finding the person that I’d commit to for life, I always wonder how I’ll know for sure. Should I look for overall compatibility or passion…or do I have to find someone with whom I have both? How long should I know them before I can be absolutely sure it will work? What kinds of things can be overlooked and which should be total deal-breakers? And it’s confusing because everyone has different answers and opinions.
“If you’re lucky, you’ll find that .83, and it’s your job to round that motherfucker up to one.” – Dan Savage on finding “The One”
I think that what my grandparents’ marriage has taught me is that there isn’t a magic formula. When a relationship could last 72 years (i.e. the rest of your life), you can’t prepare and predict. Nobody can be dedicated to or passionate about or compatible with someone else every single day for 72 years. (I can barely stay committed to a thirty-day workout plan, and I’m not confident saying I’ve been compatible with myself every day this year.) The key is to understand that perfection isn’t a goal that will ever be reached, and to find someone else who understands that, and to acknowledge together that every day isn’t going to be happy, but that at the end of your ride together, if you’ve had more good days than bad…you chose well.
During a particularly difficult relationship, I wrote to my grandmother for advice. In some families this might be super normal, but my family is quite reserved and hush hush about private matters. Certainly nobody would ever accuse any of us of being emotionally dramatic in either direction. Still, I felt emboldened one day while writing to her:
I’m having a hard time deciding whether to put in the extra effort to try and repair things to how they were, or to just abandon the relationship and accept that it has run its course. It’s hard for me to give up on people and relationships that I’ve come to value, but I know not everyone comes into your life and stays forever — and that’s okay. How do you know when to give up vs. when to try harder?
Her advice wasn’t incredibly direct (remember, we’re not feelers at all), but I’ve still found myself recalling her words since:
I wish I could tell you what to do about that friend. I can only say — be careful — be sure. Marriage can be a long time and there is a lot of give and take if such a union is to be successful. If someone would have told me it would be 72 years, I might have said “no I won’t” instead of “I do,” as taking a chance on that many years together would’ve seemed like quite a gamble. But they have been mostly good (Thank God), with a tear shed here or there on both sides. It isn’t all roses, B. Don’t expect it to be, or you will be quite disappointed. Be happy!! Remember to always be thankful for the good. Life is to be enjoyed.
So…if you’re having trouble finding “the one,” don’t fret too much. You probably just have to alter your way of thinking a little bit. Be realistic, be willing to round up, and most importantly: listen to that Dan Savage clip.
With love, B!