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I didn't always believe in a soulmate. You might say I believed in work instead. Don't all relationships require work? Couldn't I get along with almost anyone if I worked hard enough at it, if I made enough sacrifices and was willing to put enough of myself on the back burner for a while? I did exactly that for years before I met the man I would end up marrying. I could have done it forever, as many people do. It's called making it work, and it's perfectly natural, even admirable, an unwieldy technique that's been practiced -- if not perfected -- over generations of human coupling. Soulmates, it seemed to me, were for dreamier girls with Cinderella complexes who lacked the gritty determination to hammer their relationships into shape. Little did I know, as I labored, that I could stumble into a soulmate myself.
A soulmate is a person with whom you can communicate on the deepest levels -- beneath words, below our careful clothing and imperfect bodies, regardless of time and age and the awkward agreements we reach. The soul is the part of our lowly selves that's divine, the fire and the breath that lights us from the inside. When you meet someone who warms to what's buried beneath your surface, who sees and celebrates the essence of who you are without your having to try and explain it over soggy breakfasts and late-night negotiations, you have run into a soulmate. Of course, not everyone marries him. If you're lucky, you can have a great marriage and find your soulmate on the side: a friend at work, say, or someone you came across in an Internet chat room, or the goofy Irish guy you sat next to on a plane. It doesn't have to be about sex. It certainly doesn't have to end in marriage. The soul doesn't care about all that stuff.
Nor does it take the place of good old hard work. After falling in love with my husband, following the stomach-flipping bliss of those first few months came the tougher stuff: my learning that his occasional silences were best left unquestioned; his coming to understand that when I say I'm hungry, I can't wait another ten minutes. This, too, is part of love, this studying of each other and the slow adaptation of our habits and responses. But beneath those clumsy dances lay something else, something surprising. Sure, we were attracted to each other, but I've had that with waiters and old boyfriends in muscle shirts, too. Yes, we both loved books and writing, but so did my old boss, and I wasn't about to marry her. What startled me was the sense that we'd always known each other but had simply forgotten. Between us was an instinctive kinship that had nothing to do with sex or dating or even love.
Our souls have no need for any of the trappings of life, no interest in each other's taste in restaurants or flossing habits or ability to argue a point. They are only lonely -- whether their owners know it or not -- and seek the company of other like souls.