I hope you don’t mind me sharing this little letter with our friends. I think everybody experiences love differently and I always like hearing about other peoples’ joys and struggles with it. I’m sharing this letter for those who feel that way too, and for those who like to think about love and all of the different ways it impacts us and find its way to us.
I don’t believe in soulmates anymore. Or rather I do more than ever, but I don’t buy that love at first sight kind of crap I used to believe in. I was a sensitive kid and always imagined a grandiose type of romance for my future. My perception of love is a bit more refined these days, though not nearly as refined as it will be when we’re old and grey. I actually think love is far grander than the image of it I had as a kid. I’ll let the poets take it away:
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah
– Leonard Cohen
We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back.
– Wendell Berry
Do you remember when we first met? It was April, and the greens were popping like acrylic, and the sky was blue. We met on a concrete basketball court on a windy day. I got nervous around girls then, and I have always had a habit of singing out loud whenever I feel awkward. Doesn’t everybody? Usually whatever tune is on my mind will come out sounding like I think I’m better than I really am. Well, you had a friend with you, and I thought you both were cute, so I was very uncomfortable, and naturally I started singing,
“Well I thought about the army, Dad said son you’re fuckin’ high…”
You said, “Are you singing Ben Folds? Oh my gosh you just became my best friend.”
Then for the first time I saw those big blue eyes of yours. With all that shyness, you’ll never be able to hide your personality, it’s all there in your eyes. I was immediately impressed.
Literally, that was how we started. I know how it sounds, cornier than bad fiction, but somehow it sparked some kindling in our flammable teenage souls. It led to several months of giddy interest and flirting, mostly by way of telling friends to tell the other how we feel, which then led to several more months doing of whatever it is teenagers call a relationship. I think we liked each other then, but we weren’t soul-mates, not yet. Hell, we didn’t even know each other.
During the first year or so we were dating, I always had that song in my head, a different one by Ben Folds, the one he did with Regina Spektor, you know,
“You don’t know me..”
I knew you didn’t know me, and I didn’t know you, but I liked the way your body felt when we sat next to each other, and the way you always tried to hide what you were really thinking. I’m a sucker for mystery, and for girls with big blue eyes. In the beginning, it was an accident that we were together I think. The thing that stayed us during that time was the easy way we sat in silence, the way your nose twitches when you laugh, and I will always remember the first time you put your head on my shoulder.
It was an indoor soccer game. We watched our wine-drunk friends clown around in the basement of Bump City, a meaningless night except for when you laid your curly blonde hair on my shoulder and I liked the way it felt. We broke up a week later.
If not for the memory of that moment, I don’t think I would have ever agreed to try us out again. Since getting back together roughly six years ago, I have seriously considered breaking your heart twice. One was a night just before we left for college. I entered the evening with full intention of ending things. We talked and talked that night, and I never did get around to it. It was mainly out of pity that I didn’t pull the trigger. Some say that pity is a weak emotion, undesirable, but it’s because of pity, and an honest desire for your happiness, that I have ever gotten to experience the utter joy of being in love with you.
There were trying times in college. Both of us drank too much. I was selfish. My dreams of what I might become were based more on how others would see me than how I could be happy. I was blinded from what would become of us if I sought personal glory in exchange for a life in pursuit of simple pleasures. Thus I was always comparing our relationship to the ideal version I had in my head of what two lovers ought to be, and wondering whether our relationship would interfere with my egotistical dreams. I must have required monumental patience to have trusted that I would someday become the man you somehow saw in me.
There were good times too. Can you count on two hands the number of times we had Harry Potter marathons? I don’t think so. Remember when my room flooded at Delta Sig and I became your second roommate? I’ve never watched so much Friends in my life. In spring, just as the first hints of summer blew in from the south, we rode a tandem bike together. Later, we rode our single bikes to Keats and back. We spent almost an entire day in that quiet little town, walking and reveling in the silence. We used to smoke pot and watch old Nickelodeon movies. Jimmy Neutron was the best. You taught me how to properly cook eggs. Beerio-Kart. You got me a job as a dishwasher and now I can almost cook as well as you can. You shared your notes with me in the class we had together that I never went to. You taught me how to care for somebody when they’re sick, and how to put other peoples’ needs in front of my own. You showed me a kind of love that is patient but urgent, respectful yet demanding, and I can remember clearly each moment that has brought us closer to becoming soul-mates.
There was a time when I didn’t think I could carry on in our relationship. I was frustrated because I was trying to balance my own pursuits with the demands of a relationship, and we had reached a deep, flat valley in the landscape of love. The journey was becoming tedious. I remember there were five or six days that we didn’t see each other, and I began thinking as if we didn’t have a future. In my mind I was making preparations for our break-up. By the time I saw you next, I had so built up our separation in my head that I was no longer distracted by the false image my mind had painted of you with anxious thoughts and selfish desires.
I saw you with crystal clarity that night, you were wearing pajama pants and that baggy shirt you like to wear to bed. You had made popcorn and left out some dinner for me which you had made earlier that night. Cabbage soup. It was fantastic. I saw you, for the first time in a while, as you, exactly as you are. I was awestruck. As you slept that night, your back in my chest, a realization sunk into my subconscious that you were my future. The clarity of that thought and the certainty that accompanied it was profound. It had me grounded like a stone to that place by your side. A deep pleasure was permeating from you and I was experiencing it from head to toe. I felt at home. I know now, looking back, that I was experiencing my first hint of real love.
Sometimes I am afraid that people in love are so focused on what they think love ought to be that they forget to experience it as it is. As a result, we cast false projections on our lovers in an attempt to compensate for the difference between our dreams and reality. I think this is sad for two reasons: one is that nobody ought to be expected to change in order to fulfill somebody else’s false expectations of them. The other is that whatever thoughts your imagination can conjure of love or of the world, reality, once you are reconciled to it, is almost certainly more interesting.
The story that is sold to us of love as children almost always ends in marriage. It’s the one about Prince Charming and Cinderella, or one of the other stories like that which contains exactly the same amount of bullshit. I no longer believe in that type of soul-mate. The effect of those stories is that our notion of love as children is focused on courtship, when in reality love doesn’t even begin to happen until tears have been shed and genuine work has put into it. The other effect is that women are treated as if their main value is their appearance. We belittle the traditional work of a woman by replacing it with machines, chemicals, microwave dinners and frozen vegetables. I want you to marry me because of the wholesome life I believe we can build together, not because of how pretty you look in a fancy dress.
We will make the simple pleasures worth our while. A meal made with our hands over a fire built by our hands will not only feed our bodies, the work we put into it will feed our joy. Your work is worth more to me than the work any machine will ever do.
I’m not saying lose your corporate job at which you are a badass so we can move back to the 1700’s. I’m just saying that the work of yours that I get to experience is more valuable to me than any work you will every do for a corporation, regardless of your salary. I’m also saying that I will never treat you like a princess. I would never subject you to that type of mistreatment. Your health is more important than your looks. Your passion is more important than your comfort. Your integrity is more important than your amusement. Your happiness is more important than mine. You are no princess, you’re just Emily, and you’re far better than any princess that I have every heard of in any story, because you’re real.
I think we are always discovering that we are more together than we know, and each time it happens I am humbled. I’ll think we are speaking two different languages then you will say something that I had been thinking but never told anybody and it will blow my mind. For that reason I do think there is some unknown force binding us together and that we will never know the limits of our love unless we push the boundaries and push each other to never settle for an inane or bland life.
I know that we are not soul-mates yet. We haven’t put in the necessary work to become soul-mates. Asking you to marry me was only another step towards our becoming soul-mates. Marriage will be the spiritual union that allows for us to begin doing the work and building the conditions that will eventually bind our souls. I am as sure as a stone falls that we were meant to be together, but the love we feel will only ever be as strong as the work we give to each other. My work for you will be the nurturing of the very ground you walk on, the nourishment of the food you eat, and the constant cultivation of the wonder and bewilderment I feel when I look into your eyes.
To the life we’ll build