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August 5, 2019

What to Remember when we’re Faced with Letting Go of a Soulmate.


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The hardest part was when she waved good-bye and got into her new car.

I had been planning on asking her for a hug for the entire hour it took to drive back from the dealership, and it just didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. It was the first time we had been together since we broke up two years ago, and it was difficult for me to think of anything besides the fact that I probably made a terrible mistake.

I mean, things were difficult with us toward the end, and they just didn’t seem to be getting better, but as we sat across from each other at the diner while we waited for her car to be prepped for delivery, it dawned on me that the option to “put the work in” and go to counseling had been possible, but I’d given up and found a new apartment instead.

Now I was being faced with the fact that after two years of dating God-knows-how-many different women, she was still the only person it felt natural to be with.

I had trouble being present with anyone else. During car rides or dinner dates, it was difficult to listen to a word any of my prospective partners were saying with all the noise in my head. I guess she’s okay. Everyone is a little boring sometimes. Who doesn’t have baggage?

It never seemed to stop long enough for me to get to know anyone else. I always took this to mean that I probably just wasn’t ready, but after this particular Saturday, a different theory began to take shape. This woman I was car shopping with wasn’t just the mother of my children, she was someone I first fell in love with as a 23-year-old and courted with love songs and poetry. She was also the only woman I had been serious with since I got sober almost nine years ago.

I hesitate to use such fanciful language, but if I have a soulmate, she’s it.

And there I was that Saturday afternoon driving away from her in such a maelstrom of emotion. I dialed every number I could in search of someone to talk to. As it goes quite often with these things, no one picked up the phone.

The varying degrees of pain I was experiencing made it hard for me to be an objective bystander, as Pema Chödrön has advised in many of her talks, but I went ahead and did it anyway. And in doing so, I leaned into some of the harshest psychic pain I have felt in my life.

Finally, around nightfall when I put my kids to bed, I had the opportunity to talk with a therapist. She listened patiently and then said everything I was hoping I didn’t have to hear:

“It’s truly wonderful that you had the opportunity to spend time alone with your children’s mother. It is heartwarming that you feel like you’re still in love with her and you are burning alive with desire for her. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced that that warrants your pursuit of anything further. Sometimes things just ‘are.’ This isn’t a romantic comedy. This is life and it’s complicated. Sometimes there’s no aspirin for the ache.

We live in a society where many of us are incensed about the idea that there’s no pill we can swallow or move we can make to quell our hurt. That doesn’t make it any less true, though.”

Her words were crushing, but I’ve been around long enough to accept them. There’s every reason in the world for me to believe that my ex is my soulmate, but what that means, in practical terms, isn’t written in stone as far as I know. It is highly likely that I have to let go anyway.

When Pema gave a commencement address at Boulder, Colorado’s Naropa University in 2014, she explained this far more eloquently than I ever could:

“I thought if there is one skill that is not stressed very much but is really needed, it is knowing how to fail well. The fine art of failing. There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding. And whether we buy the hype or not, we all want to succeed, especially if you consider success as ‘it worked out the way I wanted it to.’ You know it feels good in the gut and the heart because it worked out. So failing, by that definition, is that it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.”

These were the only words that gave me comfort as I continued to sit with the pain and the weekend began to come to a close. A younger version of myself would’ve been pounding away at my guitar, trying to write something that would net me what I wanted, as I did for most of my life—the aspirin to lessen the pain, as it were.

Tonight, older and wiser, I’m just going to sit with it.


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