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 sink full of soapy dishes, “I hate that story. Please don’t tell it again.” That was seven years ago, 22 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 30 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?