The Saturday before Halloween, I had a night out with a high school friend and some of her pals. The initial plan was to go to the downtown parade, but we ended up at the cowboy club instead. Halloween at the cowboy club was not my intention. Ladies, just so you know, when you take those angel wings off, you’re just wearing sequined panties and heels on the dance floor. That’s not a costume. And Gentlemen, the half-assed cat ears I threw on with a homemade “Salem Saberhagen” collar do not suddenly morph “meow” into a sexy come-on. Sigh. I will never be a party girl. So, after said exhausting evening, I looked forward to chilling in my T-shirt and leggings with Ava and her mother, on Halloween night; where we gossiped about boys, while horror movies played in the background.
… and now, I’d like to introduce Ava and Trent.
Everyone has those friends who’ve been together since they were teenagers and have only really dated each other. We love them, because they’re so very happy and that’s awesome. We also hate them, because even if we found a wonderful partner tomorrow, we’d never share that level of history. Bitches.
My senior year of high school, I shared one class with Ava, as she was a year younger. When she told me there was a job opening at Walgreen’s, where she worked, I applied and accepted the position; and we worked together for the next year. Ava is that girl that I’m always surprised is still in my life. It’s not that she’s not wonderful. Quite the contrary, Ava is such a genuinely sweet person that she has trouble making friends, because they’re all waiting for the catch. I’ve known her for eight years, though. This kitten just has no claws.
It would be sort of difficult to be a nasty person when your family performed in community theater together. They really are a nauseatingly and adorably functional group. That’s actually part of the reason I’m surprised we’re still close. I’m sort of a bitch. I’m not cruel to my friends or anything. In fact, my loyalty is damned near impossible to match. I just have an abrasive sense of humor and women are rarely receptive to it. For instance, one day in high school, Ava had a rare catty moment, when a girl she didn’t like was mentioned in conversation. She went on and on about how fake and grating this person was, including doing an impersonation. It was dead-on, too, because the girl in question truly was irritatingly false. Only when she finished her rant, did I bother to catch my breath from laughing, to inform Ava that the girl’s boyfriend was sitting right next to her. She was mortified. It was fantastic.
Regardless of our differences in personality and background, we just mesh. I get along great with Trent, as well, having known him in middle school during his chubby, talkative phase. Today, he’s the one who will assist me in prank texting Ava’s mom that they’re expecting twins. He’s a good guy and, most importantly, he’s good to Ava and she’s good to him. I was at their wedding. I celebrated Ava’s last birthday with them. They’re good people and they are as genuinely happy as Ava’s adorable parents. That having been said, it was shocking to hear Ava’s take on soulmates. She doesn’t believe in them.
You see, all around the world, single men and women are looking for “the one.” I suppose this is pretty strictly the developed First World, as everyone else is looking for a meal or less cholera, but you get my point.
Though Ava is an endlessly practical person, I sort of expected her religious background and her experience with Trent and her parent’s relationship to put her firmly on the side of “we were destined”, when it came to the soulmates discussion. I, however, was entirely wrong and her insight was fascinating. Hopped up on candy and sleep deprivation, Ava and I discussed exactly why we don’t believe in soulmates and what the implications for their make-believe status means for relationships.
I really can’t speak for Ava’s lack of conviction in the soulmates smokescreen. I can only assume that she doesn’t believe, because she’s a friggin’ Chemist. Her entire career is rooted in science and practicality. Ain’t no room for unicorns and pixie dust. I am just not a romantic. At all. My lack of belief, is almost always worded the same way:
“Everyone believes in soulmates, until they’re crying in the judge’s office.”
Please. Let me speak at your wedding.
This conversation really got me thinking, though. What does it mean for us, to live in a world without soulmates?
We are not the only influence in this person’s life.
Throughout our lives, we’re growing and developing. Just as I am not the 16-year-old Belle who wore overalls every day of high school, neither will I always be the 26-year-old Belle who watches three episodes of Bewitched and dramatically texts Jane about how she’s going to die alone. Even after I remarry, making (ideally) a lifelong commitment, who I am as a person will shift over time. I, literally, will no longer be the woman my husband married after 25 years. The same will be true for him… and that’s okay. People should grow. We should move forward. Life is fluid.
Scientists say that personality is 50% hereditary and I agree with that. I am just as willful, at 26, as I was at 6 and 16. My opinions, my passions, my belief systems, however, have been shaped by the people and world around me. Yes, I have a mind of my own, but we are all a product of our environment. My marriage to a man, who once tried to blackmail me into getting on food stamps for him, developed many of my political stances on social services. The excruciating experience of losing my baby without any pain medication, at nearly my second trimester, helped form my opinions on socialized healthcare, as I was on state aid at the time. Watching Gail sleep at her dying infant’s side and gazing at a tiny pink casket days later, cemented my faith in Christ. Working with the public has shaped my thoughts on how we treat our elderly in this country. A thousand experiences and dozens of people are creating Belle and the addition of a romantic relationship will not change that.
Sure, when I do find someone, I’ll have an additional voice and more love and care urging me in one direction or another, but I’ll still have Jane, Gail, my Gramma, my dad, my faith, my work experiences, and the media I consume shaping who I am. Similarly, he’ll still have his brothers, his uncles, his mother, and his career moving him on his path. It will take constant effort to make sure those paths regularly intersect, to avoid veering in completely different directions… because we won’t be soulmates. We’ll be two people who found someone, fell in love, and decided to make it work. As a religious gal, I believe there is the magic of Christ in any spiritual union, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need cultivating. That doesn’t mean it can’t become withered and trampled if two people let it.
So, we have to work harder, emotionally;
You come home from work and trip over his boots in the entryway and snap at him to clean up after himself. You head into the kitchen and see that he did not take the trash out, as he said he would, and now the trucks have already run and you’ll have to wait another week. You sarcastically thank him for his contribution. He sees the shopping bags you carried in and comments on how strange it is that you couldn’t afford his fishing license, but apparently had the disposable income for new shoes. The two of you argue over who will fix dinner and spend the night taking care of your own chores or melting into your own media and don’t bother to connect at all, before turning in for the night.
Everyone has bad days. They do. If you’re not destined to be together, however; if there’s no fairytale pull over you, enough of those bad days and your relationship begins to degrade and morph into something less beautiful. You can’t make catty remarks about his belly, nor can he ask if you’re too old to be wearing that, without consequences. His confidence takes a hit. Yours takes a hit. Neither of you feels safe and protected from criticism after years of wearing each other down.
Then, one day, you find another of the millions of people with whom you’re also compatible. Only, this person doesn’t think your sudden passion for Going Green is stupid. He doesn’t think there’s an age limit on hot pink. Unlike his wife, you don’t think his receding hairline should be covered. You both even like Indie movies and Thai food. Though you still love your husband, this man makes you feel better about yourself than your spouse has in years. Pretty soon, your heart is being pulled in two different directions, because you let your bond wilt… and he wasn’t your soulmate. He was just someone to whom you chose to make a commitment. He’s just the man who held your hand, while you brought your babies into the world. He’s just another person with whom you could’ve developed effective communication skills while you built and cherished a life together. Only you didn’t cherish it, because you thought destiny would take care of that.
… and we also have to work harder, physically.
A few years ago, I was talking to my aunts and cousins, at Christmas. I declared that I felt like a person (not a woman, specifically) owes it to their spouse to remain within a certain weight range in relation to what they were when they married. My cousin was horrified and declared that NO, you should love your spouse unconditionally, no matter what they look like. I didn’t say 70 pounds is a valid reason to stop loving someone. It just might, however, be reason enough not to want to see them naked, any longer. I’m not advocating a return to the days where Fred makes jokes about the size of Ethel’s girdle in public. Despite what anyone tells you, however, physical attraction is an important part of a relationship. I understand that a woman’s bones shift during childbirth. Weight displaces and we all earn our battle scars, otherwise known as stretchmarks. Just as he’ll put weight on in the middle, my breasts will dip with each child. That’s fine. Wear your age proudly. I said proudly, though. He shouldn’t wear those pajama pants in Wal-Mart and neither should you, if it’s not something you did when you initially became attracted to one another. Put on some make-up, buy a flattering blouse, and actually try, every now and then, whether you’re 28 or 48. Hopefully he’ll throw on a button-up and some nice jeans, once in awhile, too.
In regards to weight? I don’t know why this should be the exception to keeping the attraction alive. Maybe it’s because we’re in an obesity epidemic and damn near everyone has put on a good 50 pounds since the wedding day. Fifty pounds on my 5’5′ frame, though, completely changes the way I look. I know. I once weighed 260. Furthermore, when I was so overweight, there were many things I couldn’t do, from sexual positions to taking the stairs. Unlike wearing those pajama pants in public, weight affects both physical attraction and quality of life. I think it’s fair to set some limits. I’m not saying it’s good enough reason to leave your marriage, but it is one of those things that adds up over time. When coupled with a tendency to bitch at her, constantly complain about money, and never wanting to leave the house, that 80 pounds and those pajama bottoms can really kill the spark. The same goes for that 60 pounds and oversized t-shirt.
… because love is conditional.
Seriously, Disney won’t even let me in the park, after typing that. I am not talking about the love I have for my dog, my Gramma, my daddy, or my Gail, here. That’s a different discussion. What I’m talking about is the idea being sold to me by Nicholas Sparks, that there is nothing I can do to make a man who loves me turn away from me, and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong. It works beautifully in a country song, but it’s just not a reasonable expectation.
Me: “What if she sleeps with your bother?”
Jay: “I would never marry someone who would do that.”
Me: “That’s not what I asked. What if she does?”
Jay: “She wouldn’t…. and he wouldn’t.”
Me: “Which proves my point. If you’re not even willing to consider the possibility that someone could tear you apart like that, then clearly, it’d be a deal breaker.”
No seriously. Let me speak at your wedding.
The idea of a one for us, or a soulmate, is actually super appealing. They’re huge in paranormal romance. In fact, many of those characters have nothing in common and often start out hating each other, and no one cares, because they must love each other. It’s a biological law. I, however, am not half Greek princess and fortunate enough to stumble upon a super hot descendant of Heracles, who has been cursed by the Goddess Hera.
There is no magic that says a man is compelled to love me. Just as my love for my ex-husband withered and died with every item he stole from me, every job he fabricated, I understand that I can, absolutely, turn my next significant other away from me with similar acts. This ain’t a fairytale. If we don’t treat each other well, there are other people who will. If we don’t put in a genuine effort to communicate, there are are other people who might. If we don’t try to appeal to each other sexually, there’s an entire friggin’ industry dedicated to filling that gap. Just as we can’t take our friendships for granted and expect them to thrive, we can’t treat our romantic relationships as a given. Whatever magical or Godly aspect there may be in a marital bond, we still have to care for it, because that is life without soulmates.