2014-04-17 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Are soul mates found or made?

I recently sat in an audience and listened to Jane Pauley talk about her new book, “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life.” She spoke about the struggles people face in finding their passion and joked that only a few have made their marriage their passion.

“Unless you married your soul mate?” she said, addressing the audience.

Everyone in the theater gave a knowing chuckle.

“I didn’t think so,” Ms. Pauley said. “Most people don’t.”

From my seat in the back row, I looked around, dismayed. Most people don’t marry their soul mate? Was she kidding?

I know I like to play the tough girl in these columns, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t believe that each of us is destined to be with a specific person who was cosmically engineered to bring us happiness and that our life’s purpose is to meet and marry that person. Old fashioned, I know, but it’s the truth.

Then I read an article in The New York Times, an opinion piece by Pamela Druckerman titled, “What You Learn in Your 40s.”

“So far in my adult life, I’ve never managed to grasp a decade’s main point until long after it was over,” wrote the soon-to-be-44 Mrs. Druckerman. “This time around, I’d like to save time by figuring out the decade while I’m still in it.”

She went on to say, confidently, that there are no soul mates.

“In fact,” she wrote, “‘soul mate’ isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.”

Reading the article, I had the sudden image of a garden plot (my family is from central Florida and our agrarian roots run deep), and I thought of all the tending it takes to grow a row of tomatoes or a bushel of cucumbers. For the first time in my adult life, I considered that relationships might be less heave n-sent and more cultivated. Is it possible that you can fall in love with someone over the course of time, that romance doesn’t have to spring from the earth fully formed?

When it comes to love, many of us like to believe there’s a divine plan, a sort of romantic predestination. We want to think we’ll recognize that special someone instantly and feel an attraction down to the marrow of our bones. But I worry if holding out for this perfect love, this coup de foudre, as the French call it, doesn’t mean that we’re passing on more practical, and perhaps more satisfying, possibilities.

I’m thinking of the men I’ve met in the last few weeks. On first blush, they seemed like they might make good friends — but certainly not soul mates. They were kind and polite, smart and funny, but I felt no romantic thunderclaps. I mentally crossed them off my list less than five minutes into our first date.

But then I thought back to what Ms. Pauley had said, and all those smiling, knowing women in the audience. They seemed satisfied in the way of those who have been long married, and I wondered if maybe I haven’t been holding out for a false idea. ¦

— Artis Henderson is the author of  “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster.

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