My husband is not my soul mate. I knew this from the moment I first saw him, thirty years ago. I was lounging in the student union at the University of Wisconsin, smoking a hot-pink Sherman cigarette, probably wearing something black, definitely scoping out guys while pretending to study. This skinny dude with a tangle of shoulder-length hair walked in and waved to my friend. I glanced up. Not my type. But as he approached our table and gave me a shy smile, his blue eyes seemed to catch all of the light in the dark, smoky room. “Hey,” he said, “I’m Eric.”
“Hey.” I aimed a smoke ring toward the ceiling, a little terrified of a needling premonition that I would marry this guy with his hands shoved into the pockets of his baggy Levis. Really? He’s the one?
Throughout high school, I had longed not just for a boyfriend but for a soul mate. Someone who would want me: size fourteen bellbottoms, blazing acne and all. Someone who would get me, see that I walked down the halls and stared straight ahead, not because I was stuck-up but because I was scared. What if the depression that I fought so hard to disguise as cool disinterest was visible in my eyes? I desperately wanted my mythical boyfriend to have X-ray vision and see into my soul — and love me anyway. It was, of course, too much to ask of any mere mortal. I can count the first dates I had before college on three fingers, the second dates on my fist. I used that fist regularly to beat myself up; I was unworthy of love.
By college, my hormones settled down and I discovered Lean Cuisine. I discovered that prozac and pot could induce something like happiness for hours at a time. I discovered that lust could pass for love for a few weeks or even months. I also found my identity: I became a writer. My gig as a music critic for the student newspaper came with free concert tickets, which boosted my dating cred. (Now, I was the one asking guys out!) Just as important, I learned to enjoy being alone, getting lost in reading or writing short stories for hours. I no longer needed a man to feel complete. And yet, I instinctually knew I was safe with the skinny guy whose eyes caught all of the light in the room and reflected it softly back onto me.
I used to love recounting the details of how my husband and I met. How I looked up to the ceiling in disbelief. How I knew he was “the one,” but wasn’t attracted to him in that gotta-have way that I had always imagined would ignite the dark places within me like a fireworks display. I must have told that story dozens of times. I thought it was funny. Our friends always laughed.
One night after a dinner party, Eric said quietly over a sinkful of soapy dishes, “I hate that story. Please don’t tell it again.” That was seven years ago, twenty-two years into our marriage.
“How could you let me tell it, over and over?” I asked.
He looked at me, eyes flat. “How could you not know it was humiliating?”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I thought I was making fun of myself.”
Eric and I have been married for nearly thirty years, and I still cling to that story like a safety valve — and I am the one who is, not ashamed, but sad. I don’t tell this story aloud anymore. The last thing I want to do is hurt this man who has loved me through many unlovable moments. But I do tell it to myself, again and again, as we grow older. After all, if someone can complete you — if they are truly your soul mate — then they can also take a crucial piece of your heart when they leave.
And, this nagging question remains: Could my husband be my soul mate? Could I summon the courage to ask him?