People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life …
—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
Ahhhh. Well, in that case, I have had so many soul mates I can hardly count them. Is that very lucky, or terribly unlucky? I suppose that I have the privilege of living a life of being smacked down so many times and bouncing back as many times, at least in love. Love is the one place in my life that is like the ocean. Where almost everything else in my life is disgustingly stable—great family, wonderful job, fabulous friends, intelligence, creativity, soul, self-awareness, and hey, sometimes even good looks—love, for me, is rocking, stormy, tempestuous, almost inconceivably deep and ever-changing, always surprising, changing colors in an instant, never to be taken for granted. Like the ocean, love, for me, can kill without warning, or it can buoy me up. Sometimes both simultaneously. Like the sailor says: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” For me, it’s “Never turn your back on love.” I’ve learned to have great respect for this torrent of emotion, but still I insist on wading in deeply, beyond the breakers, and letting the waves do to me what they will.
In Cancun last year with my soul mate, I once tried to follow him into the surf. He’s a sailor and grew up swimming in the ocean off of Florida. He knows how to get beyond the breakers and float on the salty water. It doesn’t scare him. I got out there, but the sense that I was drifting, anchorless, terrified me. The waves rose above my head and I’d panic, trying to regain my footing, which was impossible. I was tense and the water attacked me because I wouldn’t give in to it. Meanwhile, my love floated effortlessly several feet away, like a sea otter. Finally, I paddled back to shore, anxious and afraid. When I got to the beach, I consoled myself by looking for sea shells. On a sea cliff not far from where we’d put our towels and clothes, someone had carved, in two-foot-tall letters, “Te Amo.” I Love You. When my love came back to the beach, I showed it to him. “You didn’t write that?” he asked. “No,” I said. It seemed to be a sign of some kind.
In the breakup of this relationship, and in the preceding years of stormy seas interspersed with waters of a placid, mirror-like calm, I’ve seen myself clinging like a drowning woman to the broken timbers of my ego, my expectations, my assumptions, and my fantasies, while the waves, in the form of my love for this man, tried to strip me from those comforts, tried to hurl me into the depthless water, tried to force me to swim on my own. Again this has happened. He tells me that I need to let go of all that, that even the pain is comfortable to me because I’m used to it. He tells me that he understands my fear of the unknown, but that I don’t have a choice; this ship of ego is going down. To cling to it would be suicide. But the thought of letting go, of letting the waves take me—to either drown me or support me, I don’t know—is utterly, mind-splinteringly horrifying. I know that if I relax into them, they will support me, but their fluidity panics me. And in my panic, I tense up and cling, and my body gets heavy and I start to sink, which panics me even more.
Was I lucky to meet this soul mate, or terribly unlucky? I suppose, from a perspective of awakening, I was very lucky. He did to me exactly what Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in the passage above about soul mates. And he made me go hunting for my Water Wings. Now where did I put those?