Little girls always fall in love with Prince Charming from their favorite Disney film. They daydream about their beachfront colonial, two kids, and golden retriever when they’re in their teens, and later, nearing their 20s, search for “the one” at every grimy college bar, every keg party, never giving up hope, never losing sight of that perfect ending they’ve been conditioned to expect for themselves. I was one of those girls, like you probably were. I knew he was out there and that I would someday find him.
Turns out it doesn’t usually work that way, but if you’re reading this, you probably already know that. Girls tend to learn the hard way that fairytales don’t exist and neither do glass slippers and magical kisses that break evil curses.
Life’s a little tougher than that, you learn.
I met a boy in college that made my heart skip a beat. I laughed until my belly hurt in his worn Buick front seat. I even took science courses in college that I had no interest in (or need for, as an English major) just to spend an additional two or three hours by his side. I was smitten.
There was not much I didn’t love about him, this hardworking guy who’d had a night job for as long as he could remember, had never asked his single mother for a dime. This New Yorker who hated New York City but loved his small town where not a single face was unfamiliar, not a deli unvisited, not a cop he didn’t know by name.
But was he my soulmate, then? Probably not.
Fast forward six years, and here we are: making elaborate shopping lists for our son’s first birthday, Shameless paused on the TV screen. My legs are sprawled out over his and we share a black cherry seltzer, the kind we always buy that no one else likes. As usual, I am worried about every detail of the party, and, as usual, he says it’ll be fine. It always is.
Soulmates don’t come pre-made. They’re built, like those frustrating IKEA dressers with confusing instructions and missing parts. When you first meet, you’re two individuals with different stories and paths and obstacles along the way who don’t exactly fit together. How could you? All you know about each other is surface level. You don’t know the rough edges yet, the dirty, the painful. Those things come with time, naturally. Eventually the flaws come out, but so do the strengths. And when you decide you’ll take it all, for better or for worse, that’s when you know it’s working.
I don’t believe in soulmates because it is mostly a state of mind: you have to want it hard enough to make it work. Are there millions of other people we could’ve ended up with and been perfectly happy? Yes, I’m sure of it. But I wouldn’t trade what we have for the world, because what we’ve built over the past six and a half years is hard work. It’s frightening how well he knows me, even when I lose touch with myself. Because even though we often disagree on the small things, we prefer each other’s company over anyone else’s. There are no masks in the way because they’ve fallen off a long time ago.
I fell in love with his smile, that afternoon in the college cafeteria, but just because there was a spark doesn’t mean it was love at first sight, and just because there was a strong attraction doesn’t mean it was going to work and last forever. We worked for it, fought for it, and still do.
Real love, the kind that lasts a lifetime, is always a work in progress.
So are soulmates.