I’ve been writing long enough to realize that if something is making me feel uncomfortable and if it is difficult for me to write about it—then I’m most likely tapping into an authentic place. If it makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, then there’s going to be something in it that will resonate with others.
This is one of those things.
I have a woman in my life that I met in my 30s. When we started dating, our relationship was seen by many people—especially by her parents—as super controversial because I was 16 years older than her. Today she’s 32 and I’m 48, so it’s not quite as off-putting; but when she was 21, it was scandalous.
I am pretty sure that we both liked how odd it was and how it made other people feel uncomfortable.
She was a fine artist, and I was in a band, and we were living in a college town. It was disastrous but also wonderful, and it ended as these things usually do—in a ball of flames a year and a half later.
Our communication carries on to this day. Every four or five months we’ll text each other all day long and make these elaborate plans for dinner or just getting together for a little fling; we’ll remind each other that we are soul mates; we’ll profess eternal love for one another, and then it will peter out into nothingness.
I am always left thinking the same thing every single time: if that’s my soul mate, my soul mate is a jerk.
Life comes with experiences like this. As a matter of fact, it helps me to remember that there are four ways to categorize all of life’s experiences in order of good to bad.
Level One. A level one experience is something that feels good, something that is good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good. An example of this might be, say, to play a benefit concert to raise money for The Southern Poverty Law Center or giving a TED Talk.
Level Two. A level two experience is something that doesn’t feel good but is good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good. An example of this might be mentoring an underprivileged child who is completely off the wall and drives you crazy.
Level Three. This is something that feels good but isn’t good for you, isn’t good for others, and does not serve the greater good. This is where I am with my “soul mate” when we speak for the first time after a four-month hiatus. It is also what we do when we eat crappy food or drink too much. It’s anything that feels great in the moment, but we go on to regret soon after.
Level Four. Finally, this is something that doesn’t feel good, isn’t good for you, isn’t good for others, and does not serve the greater good. This is where things always end up with my “soul mate” after a day or two.
What makes these distinctions so useful is that when I am able to see what this “soul mate” phenomena really is—a level three experience that degrades to a level four experience—I can stop romanticizing it.
I mean, there’s nothing mysterious about the temptation to fool myself when it comes to an old affair that was once fun and sexy and good. This is normal. These categories can help to remove all the bull that comes with the memories.
And as long as we are discussing the four universal levels of experience, I will leave you with some wisdom that came to me recently. The secret to a happy life is, quite simply, avoiding level three and four experiences and turning level twos into level ones.
In other words, if we can learn to love the things that are good for us and others that we initially don’t like to do, we can exist in a much happier place. This is obviously not an easy task, but I contend that this is why people say life isn’t easy. Life can, however, be beautiful if we push against gravity a little bit every day.