My marriage of 25 years is coming to an amicable end. I’m very depressed, but not about that — it’s because I feel like I’ve spent my whole life looking for a soul mate, unsuccessfully. I’m fearful that at my age, if I haven’t found someone by now, I never will. My friends say I’m not sad because I’m lonely, I’m lonely because I’m sad; that I’ll never be happy with anyone and no one will be happy with me until I find peace and happiness from within. These seem like platitudes to me; I reply that, for me, inner peace can only come from sharing my life with a soul mate, and I’ll never find happiness by myself. I can’t begin to imagine how other people do it. Am I fooling myself in thinking this is the answer, or do I know myself better than they do?
— Am I the Chicken, or the Egg?
You know yourself better than they do. That’s easy.
But they know better than you do, apparently, that you’ve embraced self-torture as your guiding principle in life.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration — bear with me — to substitute “Bigfoot” for “soul mate.” Because what is a soul mate except an imagined thing? One perfect member of a species defined by its flaws. There are relationships that are better than others, absolutely, and people who are better for us than others, but there are no ideals. Not in a person, not in a match.
And a match isn’t even ideal based on endurance; the value of a connection is in moments, which then accrue over time. Or don’t. You can have a deeply fulfilling connection that results in a true lifelong partnership, or that ends prematurely in death, or that succumbs eventually to the pressures of time and change — which wouldn’t mean it wasn’t ever fulfilling, it just wasn’t permanently so.
Did your ex-marriage feel like a warm embrace to you for some of those years? Its end does not negate whatever fulfillment you derived at the time.
And the version of you that emerges from a dissolved relationship, meanwhile, can go on to make other fulfilling connections — permanent or not — that maybe better reflect who you have become under the influence of time and experience.
The expectation of finding one ideal, lifelong match for you “out there” is just a tease of a rumor of a myth, one refuted daily by reality. “I’ve spent my whole life looking for Bigfoot, unsuccessfully.” “Inner peace can only come from sharing my life with Bigfoot.”
Please, resist the pull of romanticism. Give yourself goals a person can achieve: “I will dedicate myself to nurturing my connections with the people I love, and to forming new ones with good people I meet.” Don’t search for. Create. Because that’s up to you.
And, please also take seriously that you’re feeling “very depressed.” It’s a significant health condition, not a personal failing, so call your primary care physician today to start the process of screening and possible treatment. Also recognize that your present loneliness could be a symptom of depression, as opposed to proof of a fruitless search.
The answer is still love; just allow more creativity in the questions you ask of your life.
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