The terrible thing about growing old watching Bollywood romance and reading dozens of love stories is that you have a larger than life expectation out of romance. You grew up watching Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in ‘Dil Toh Pagal Hai’ where Rahul and Maya eventually find the soulmates they had envisioned throughout their youth. Aishwarya Rai in ‘Taal’ found love in Akshay Khanna and their love stood the test of time, class conflicts and rivalry; it conquered it all because they were soulmates. Veer found his Zaara and Raj finally got his Simran. Oliver Barrett and Jennifer Cavilleri found each other in the ‘Love Story’ and taught you that love means never having to say that you’re sorry. All of them contributed to the content of the mental ‘soulmate’ booklet that you consulted way too often.
Having spent your childhood soaked in romantic movies and novels, you were aware of your hopelessly romantic expectations out of love. You wanted to feel chills down your spine at each sight of him, have breathtakingly romantic dates along the beach by the moonlight and write poetry till the ink cannot bleed more love. Your first ‘love’ or whatever you call it when you’re fifteen did obscurely met some of these criteria – there was poetry, breathtaking romance, 12-hour-long phone calls, there was ‘I love you’ written boldly and deeply on bits of paper every time you felt a surge of passion, there were decisions about the future, names of the kids and there was madness. It was followed by jealousy, heartbreak, betrayal, and devastation. ‘How do you destroy 16-year-olds? What do they even understand about love?’, you may ask. I think you break down their beautiful idea of love, tell them that they were delusional, and love doesn’t exist in the form they imagined it.
You pick up the broken pieces of your heart and put them together. You tell yourself that you cannot let one heartbreak take away your entire belief out of love. You reassure yourself that your soulmate exists, and you will find him in time. You grow up and so does your understanding of love and attraction – you understand that sometimes the chills down the spine are overrated, that sometimes your guy wouldn’t know wordplay well enough to stitch together a beautiful poetry for you, but he can still love you the same. You start familiarizing yourself with apparently a more mature idea of love and manage to find someone who fits into this idea. ‘He is probably the one’, you tell yourself and the years that follow reassure you of the same. There is again the spiral of love, laughter, cute-fights, not-so-cute fights, decisions about the future, names of the kids, I-think-we-are-not-the-same-people-we-were-three-years-ago, I-think-we-want-different-things-out-of-life and I-don’t-think-we-can-work-out-anymore. Gradually, the differences take over the love and you don’t feel like soul mates anymore. You sigh and tell yourself that you’re still young and maybe the right person and has not walked in just yet.
You grow older and hit that age when it somehow seems alright for you to be unapologetically reckless and have more drinks than you can handle, go to more parties than your schedule allows and fall for more quintessential wrong guys than you need for your mandatory ‘wrong guy lessons’. For some strange reason, they felt like your soulmate, albeit for a very short time. You wipe off tears, bandage your bruised ego and tell your naïve self to become pragmatic and not mistake a life lesson for a soulmate ever again. You tell yourself that it’s alright to fall for the wrong guys sometimes because they make you strong and give you more content for the ‘Things I will teach my daughter’ booklet.
Enlightened and emancipated with the life lessons that the wrong guys brought along, you continue your pursuit of the ‘soulmate’. Your thoughts have been widened to understand that sometimes you need not attach tags to love. Your supposed wiser self now stumbled upon the more liberated souls, unconsciously looking for a piece of the jigsaw that was supposed to fit just right. There were some who seemed just right – the thick-rimmed spectacled guy who read Kafka and the singer who made you the central theme for all his lyrics thereon. They seemed right – maybe this is what a soulmate would feel like – great conversations about the complicated theories of love, life and beyond. You pretend to understand Rumi and maintain the intellectual snobbery of being better than ‘them’, the mere mortals who could not think beyond the norms. It seemed beautiful for most parts when you felt liberated and realized relationships make you a prisoner of love and love is too beautiful to be caged. Months passed, and you realized that maybe you also want to belong to that cage. Your free-thinking partners, however, continued with their absolute rejection of anything closely linked to commitment. You strike off some more points from the soulmate booklet and move on.
‘You’re adding to experiences. Nothing beautiful comes easy. At least now you know what you don’t want!’, you tell yourself. You pull out pages from your soulmate diary which spoke about madness, passion, Kafka, pseudo- intellectual-masturbation and liberated ideas of love. Then, you meet this guy, the all-famous best friend whom you get romantically involved with because apparently, best friends make for the best partners. You think you have finally found the one when you realize that you understand each other perfectly, do not go through the ‘couple’ drama, have no pretense and have the potential to maintain a real relationship. Only when you started getting comfortable with your regular fights and not-so-cute name calling and try to establish it as a critical component of any healthy relationship, he breaks it you, ‘I can’t handle these fights. They drain me of all emotional and mental strength. I think we are great friends, but we cannot work out as a couple.’
It hurts to know that something which you established as a healthy component of the relationship was a deal breaker for someone. Nevertheless, you go ahead with the quest of the soul mate because you were certain that when you find him, he would fit into the spaces of your life so beautifully that all the undulations would smoothen out.
Then, one fine day you come across that guy. He ticks off everything from your updated ‘soulmate’ booklet and also brings in more additions. The smart guy with witty jokes, the cute nerd, warm, affectionate, passionate, ambitious, sensitive and adorable. He texted just the right amount, made phone calls of the right length, wasn’t painfully jealous of any of your guy friends, understood your idiosyncrasies and need for space. He didn’t reek off toxic masculinity and understood that men do cry. He didn’t seem like someone out of a romance novel because he seemed real and his love, believable. He didn’t sweep you off your feet or inspired you to drown in poetry. You didn’t mind it because you thought that maybe the real deal gives you peace and not butterflies. He seemed like the one who would make all the wrong guys worth it. You believed that finally, you had it all figured out and realized that peace and not chaos is the answer to it all. You basked in the perfection of it all, until one day when he tells you, ‘We are too ordinary, dear. There is no magic. It is important for me to be insanely, passionately in love with you and I don’t feel that. You don’t inspire poetry or madness. Lukewarm is no good.’ You took a deep breath, smiled, told him that you understand and maybe you’re not the one for him.
As you tear off all the remaining pages of your soulmate booklet, a billion questions throw themselves at you. What all qualities do you look for in a soul mate? What do people without a soulmate do? Are they supposed to spend the entirety of their life waiting for someone to come and complete them? Also, does your soulmate need to necessarily be your romantic partner? Does it necessarily have to be one person? Does it have to be a person at all?
I thought about it all and wondered that maybe I have pieces of my soulmate lying across different people, places and things. Maybe one part lies in my best friend, another in my mother, another in the guy who made me believe that my darker upper lip is actually quite sexy, another in my best friend who can take a bullet for me or so she says, another in my childhood journal, another in my mentor and another in the cat whom I used to pet as a kid. Maybe all of these parts together are my soulmate. Maybe it’s unfair to expect one person to bear the gigantic expectations of my soulmate booklet.
Yes, it definitely makes so much more sense now!