Soul Mate 101: Don’t Marry Him

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by Gina Kelly www.etsy.com/shop/ginalkelly

By Susan Kushner Resnick

My soul mate’s hand was warm, so I felt safe letting go for a few minutes.  I had calls to make, people to summon to his bedside. While I sat next to him and spoke to his only living relative, a nurse walked into the room.

“He’s gone,” she said almost in a whisper.

I put down the phone and lifted his big hand again.

Cold.

I kissed his forehead then immediately called my husband.

David had been supporting me for the entirety of the relationship that I’d just lost. He wasn’t threatened by Aron, a ninety-one-year-old Holocaust survivor, although he became appropriately alert when I’d announced our first rendezvous fourteen years earlier.

Aron had approached me in the lobby of a community center as I put my baby in a car seat.

“Vhat’s his name?” he had asked.

I summed him up as harmless. I figured he was approaching strange women and babies because he missed his own grandchildren. But a few more questions revealed how wrong that assumption had been. Aron didn’t have children or grandchildren. All but one of his family members had been killed by Hitler.

“I was in the camps,” he said. “All the camps.”

Auschwitz, Birkenau, Dachau. Places of infamy where he learned to sort the blouses of the dead and to witness a hanging without flinching. Yet his eyes sparkled during that first conversation and he delivered lines like a Borscht-belt comedian. The contrast—so seemingly jolly for a Holocaust survivor—hooked me. I asked him out for a coffee date.

“You buying?” he asked.

And so, for $1.25, a beautiful friendship began.

In the early days of our relationship, we flirted. He’d drive by my house to see if my car was in the driveway. I’d make sure my make-up was right before ringing his doorbell. He would regularly tease David about the potential for romance between us.

“If I was thirty years younger, you’d be in trouble,” he said over and over.

I even imagined romantic scenes starring Aron and me, circa 1946. In these fantasies, I played the strong American lass loving the young Polish survivor back to life. I would soothe him after he woke screaming from the nightmares that plagued him from the end of the war to the end of his real life: dreams of vicious dogs and men shooting at his father. He would be so grateful for my patience and tenderness that he would take me as his bride. And for the rest of our lives, he would never construct slag heaps of laundry in the corners of the bedroom or forget every logistical detail I ever told him, as my actual husband does.

I conjured those fantasies because like most humans, I was conditioned to associate strong attraction with romantic love. I was drawn to Aron, therefore I must have a crush on him, right? And though I always knew that wasn’t the course our relationship would take—he was forty-four years my senior and the picture of elderliness when we met—I had a hard time labeling our bond. I played with all kinds of combinations: grandfather and granddaughter; sister and brother; best friends. None of them fit.

•••

The soul mate, we’ve been taught in our rom-com culture, is the brass ring of romantic love. Find your other half and you can start searching for wedding caterers. A soul mate knows you and “gets” you and will never let you down. Therefore, you should marry him.

Don’t.

At least not if you believe in soul mate as mirror image. There’s an old myth that says humans started as four-limbed double creatures, but the gods worried that we’d take over, so they decided to split us in half. Ever since, we’ve been searching for our other halves so we can feel complete.

How marriage became part of the equation I’ve never understood. It seems as though marrying your twin would be exactly the wrong thing to do.

For four years, I dated my psychological echo. At first it was wonderful: so familiar, so comfortable. He got me. Then it turned disastrous. This nice guy and I, with our tendencies toward depression and inertia, were bringing each other down. Because we were so similar, we made the same mistakes. There was no counterbalance—no one to pull either of us back by the belt loops when we got too close to the edge.

In a pairing of opposites, there’s always someone to see how crazy you’re getting and metaphorically slap you straight. The boyfriend and I didn’t have this. Thankfully, we didn’t marry.

My husband, by contrast, can pull me back from the brink and I can do the same for him. We are not soul mates. We are complete individuals, not two halves of each other. He is science and I am art. He is awake and I am dreaming. He saves and I spend. I’m better at parallel parking, but only he can remember where we left the car. Of course, our differences can sometimes be infuriating, but our pairing has worked for twenty-one years. I like to think that’s because David is my intended: the best husband the universe could have picked for me. A unified soul has nothing to do with it.

Aron also ended up with a romantic opposite. His girlfriend, Nerry, was a highly educated Russian professor of foreign languages who never complained about her serious medical issues and who read poetry recreationally. Aron, by contrast, graduated from fifth grade, complained about every twinge, and watched pro-wrestling for escape. At their cores, he was sand and she was steel.

Both of our relationships worked fine when we met, though I was yearning for something I couldn’t name. David and I balanced each other, made each other laugh, and agreed on the big things. But he didn’t get me unless I explained myself because he didn’t see the world through the same lens. I missed that. Then I found Aron.

•••

He identified our similarities first. He had tumbled into an anxiety-depression hole that led to a hospitalization that brought me to the first of many uncomfortable chairs by many institutional beds. He’d been admitted for chest pains, but the doctors and I knew that cardiac weakness wasn’t causing his distress. PTSD from four years in the Nazi system was making him sick, but he refused to see that or to speak to the staff psychiatrist about treatment. It was my job to convince him to surrender to help. As the sunset turned the industrial rooftops outside his window into art, I told him my story. I’d been anxious for years until a case of postpartum depression forced me to face and treat my brain’s chemical inadequacies. I’d felt fine ever since. Accepting help didn’t have to be shameful.

“Nothing bothers Nerry,” he said.

“Same with David,” I said.

“Good thing we have them because we’re both nervous,” he said.

He looked at me and grinned. We were both nervous. We laughed at the same things. We interpreted the world in the same cynical way, spoke in the same blunt manner, even liked the same foods prepared the same quirky ways. Because he’d been raised in the days of privacy and dignity, our conversations didn’t involve dribbling our vulnerabilities all over each other. But we still knew what the other would say or how the other was feeling most of the time. We didn’t have to work at trust and love, or worry that either would fade. Neither of us could be described as easy-going, but even after he hung up on me during an argument or I scolded him for being so exceedingly stubborn, we didn’t have to apologize or explain ourselves. It was easy. It was not marriage.

We were, I believe, the purest of soul mates. There was no romance or sex. Just the deep comfort of being seen and known and accepted completely.  For a brief period in both of our lives, we got to feel whole.

•••

Then his hand went cold.

What’s it like to lose a soul mate? The saddest part is suspecting that such a relationship will never come again. I plan on having my husband around for many more years, and I will surely develop new life-changing friendships. But I don’t think we get more than one soul mate per life cycle. Who else on this earth will ever know me so well? It hurts to realize that particular luxury is probably over for me.

I used to panic, as Aron got older, about how I’d live in the world without him. But it’s turned out to be surprisingly painless. I take comfort in remembering how lucky I am to have found my other half. But I also don’t feel like he’s completely absent.

I talk to a lot of dead people in my head—my mother, dear friends who died young—but almost never to Aron. This makes sense to me. Where else would the rest of me go after death? Following my soul mate theory, he is I. To reach him, I only need to talk to myself.

•••

SUSAN KUSHNER RESNICKS’s latest book, You Saved Me, Too: What A Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Loving, Fighting and Swearing in Yiddish, was published in October 2012. She teaches creative nonfiction writing at Brown University.

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22 thoughts on “Soul Mate 101: Don’t Marry Him

  1. I’m embarrassed to say that I have never considered the idea of a soul mate outside of a romantic relationship. How refreshing. How sensible. How perfect.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. I look forward to checking out your book.

    Best,
    Jamie

  2. Oh – how I would adore taking a course from you at Brown University – perhaps in my own next life cycle.

    This piece spoke to my own soul; each word could have been my own. And perhaps, Susan, you will find another soul mate. I have had three – two women and one gay man. I didn’t get to keep them until the end though – as an artist, a nervous person – mentally ill – those deep, soulful connections, for me, have always gone up in flames, and settled in sweet ashes of memory.

    And yet.

    Here am I. And perhaps, here they are, too.

  3. I’ve never see n anything written so perfectly about marriage-of both friends and spouses. Thank you for this beautifully rendered essay.

  4. Such a moving and thoughtful piece. I just love the idea of soulmates being outside of marriage – I mean, of course! Why didn’t I realize that? What a beautiful tribute to a soulmate found at long last. Thank you for sharing. Will definitely find your book.

  5. How lucky you were. Also, a great reminder that a soulmate doesn’t have to be perfect. Just perfect for you.

  6. This was just lovely. I will read this book – I’m hooked! I love the idea of “my intended” vs. “my soul mate” – what a nice thought :)

  7. I love this piece because I get it. I couldn’t have explained it anywhere near as well, but I do get it. After my divorce (married 19 years), I had no desire to get married again. What I really wanted was someone like Aron, a soul mate. Someone who would know everything about me, hang out with me, always be there for me. And I, in turn, would do the same for him. Since I was expecting no romance with this person, I’m not sure why I thought it had to be a man. But it did. I am currently romantically involved with someone who fits–pretty darn well–the description of a soul mate. Interesting stuff to think about.

  8. It is so good to come across this. I am happily married with two young children, and I have a best friend who is 30 years older than me and a man,and as we have said, we feel like soulmates. it has felt, at times, confusing and odd to explain this relationship to my other friends…but my husband and my extended family get it. They get me, and see where my husband and I complement one another, but how different we are. I give my best friend credit for keeping my marriage so happy because he fills in the blanks. He teaches me so much and just like you said, I sometimes spend time wondering how I will go on when he leaves this world. It is nice to read that perhaps it will not be as lonely and as crushing as I fear, thanks for yur honesty and writing.

  9. Having divorced my husband of 35 years, I could not imagine another close relationship with a man or woman. Imagine my surprise when at 67 years of age, I met an older man, seventeen years older in fact. He was 84 years of age. I am now 70 and he 87 years of age. We are not soul mates. We share a sense of dark humor, a love of music, and a love of Scrabble. On the other hand, he is science, I am art. He is OCD, my apartment is cluttered. (We could not live together). He is shy, I am extroverted. What a gift in this senior phase of our lives!

  10. sue, I loved this article. I am almost finished with your book “You saved me too.” Love reading it and Am so happy that someone like you two could have such an amazing relationship. You are very fortunate! Hope to see more of u next summer.
    Love, bev

  11. Susan, thank you for a unique perspective, for your story, and for your cherishment of a man who survived Hell. ~ There are so many facets to a human soul, so many overlays of personality throughout our development as persons … Souls are as singular as fingerprints; so, too, will our understanding of “soulmate” be … I also had a soulmate who was a survivor of WWII … He was my spiritual father and professional mentor. Two other soulmates: most beloved friends, both of whom have died. I don’t have such a bond with anyone right now; there are beloved friends and one especially close family member … but that particular depth of bondedness … no. It’s an “all the way through” feeling, for me; somehow, a complete transparency, an intrinsic understanding, almost a “native” feeling, as though we’ve been born from the same tribe in spirit. ~ “I dated my psychological echo,” you wrote of an earlier love in your life … I did, too, and married him. We didn’t last; your understanding of too much in common dovetails with mine. Serious illness took me down, and he ran. Long after the end, it struck me (like it did you) that too much complementarity in character (and reactivity!) can be as destructive as too much opposition — both persons can drown in the same mire. ~ There are a few “old flames” about whom I wonder now … Could we have made it? of one, I think: no. Again, too much in common (I didn’t realize this was possible until long after my husband left me). Two … who knows. I long for a genuine soulmate again. My best-ever friend and I fell in love, as friends do, in an instant, over poetry. We had a fathomless understanding of one another … a depth of kinship that never needed to be spoken or chased. We simply “got” one another from the get-go — my God, what a gift. You may be right about this experience occuring once in a lifetime. My most beloved friend died six years ago, and there’s a hole in my heart with her name on it. She was Life’s supreme gift to me, and I to her. ~ Margaret Siber: So glad for you! I hope against all hope that I might experience a later-life love!

  12. I have been a hospice volunteer for 10 years or so….doing respite for caregivers in Orange CO. CA…I am also an LCSW with lots of experience…enough about me. on Thurs. 8/29 I visited my valiant Gene. He had been my “patient” for a year. He died very early Saturday am….unexpectedly for me. Gene had ALS. He died in his own home. He was 82 and had a lovely family. But we formed such a close collegial relationship during last year because we were able to talk about anything. He wasn’t old enough to be my father because I am 73. He was a former LA Times editor and so smart……my task was to read him the paper because he could no longer hold it. My husband, Don, guffawed when I told him about Gene …because I NEVER read the newspaper! Don said it was “just desserts” but so began the lovliest platonic reciprocal relationship, I have ever had. Gene could feel every limb, but he couldn’t move them. He was in a motorized wheelchair and would give me directions about how to move the chair so he could be comfortable….he went on some Mr. Toad Wild Rides no thanks to me! This valiant man reminded me that the special bond between certain souls is significant and deserves to be honored as such.
    I both miss him and exhilerate that his spirit soars.

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