When I was young, fed by my mother on a steady diet of Jane Austen and rom-coms, I used to lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling at my glow in the dark stars and wonder who my soulmate would be. I was worried. What if my soulmate lived on the other side of the planet? What if my husband-to-be lived in India in a random village where I would never meet him and I would end up marrying someone who wasn’t my soulmate but who was just suitable? The thought silently terrified me.
As an open-minded person with opportunity, I learned to follow my gut on things. Applying to Georgetown on a whim, attending was a no-brainer. Studying abroad in China made sense because I studied the language. Ending up in LA after graduation was a gut decision. All of these decisions were done because something inside of me told me to do it.
Later I second-guessed them, especially when it inevitably got hard. As a Midwesterner at Georgetown, I barely knew anyone. I think there were some five Iowans in my graduating class of 1800 or so. After the excitement of being in China faded, I wondered if I had chosen the right country, let alone the right language. I wondered, “Why didn’t I choose a more vacation-y study abroad?” I was working harder than I ever had in my life while my other friends were on the beaches of South America or touring castles in Europe.
Yet, moving to LA was by far the hardest. I was starting over – without family or friends or the comfort of a campus. Not to mention taking on bills and car repairs and buying furniture – all those trappings of adulthood – and without a guide. Every So Cal native I encountered was so shocked that I had moved so far from my family and friends. I cried more than once, wondering why I had chosen this unfamiliar city, why my gut had led me here. Social media allowed me to keep in touch with old friends I had made around the world, but it only showed me the moments where they had their life together, and very rarely the moments where they fell apart.
In philosophy or theology, fate or “predetermined events” is an inevitable topic of discussion. When I was young, it looked like a lot of life was fated to happen. Otherwise how could random events have occurred in such a way to create me? It was an egocentric thought, but I am sure it is a thought that has crossed many minds.
My mother told me the story of how she sent my father flowers on Valentine’s Day to where he was living in Brazil for the past two years. Three months later he came home and they were married by the end of the year. To me, that was fate. Of course their lives unfolded that way, otherwise neither me nor my three brothers would exist, or at least exist in the way we do.
However, now that I am seeing more friends get engaged and married, it is starting to seem a lot more random. In engagement stories, friends will mention the first note he passed or the first time they knew they loved each other like it was fated to happen. Random events become romanticized in the years following.
But I know about the time he didn’t call her for months, I know about the note he sent another woman wondering if she was meant for him instead, I know about the times he broke up with her when it was getting serious. (I mostly hear these stories from female friends, okay?) At any of these points, events could have taken a different turn, and we would be calling that version “fate.”
I realized that I don’t have to worry about missing out on my “soulmate” in India because the concept of a soulmate does not exist. There are people who are more compatible with you than others, but it is impossible that there is only one person of highest compatibility in the world who you have to meet or you are missing out on a heavenly life of love and romance.
Why do I feel this way? Because so much of it is timing. I could be compatible with a guy but if we don’t want the same things at the same time then it won’t work. Maybe as time passes, we would become perfectly compatible, but the risk of at least one of us moving on or changing too much as a person is high. It’s what my parents risked.
I asked my very happily-married coworker if she ever wonders how life could have turned out differently, if things had worked out with other men she dated and loved. She said yes. I think it’s only natural.
Take my pets as an example of timing – I bought them five years apart on the day that I was told I could find a kitten and found one. My cats have very distinct personalities and I love them, but it is crazy to think that if I had looked one week later, I very likely would have ended up with a different cat. 20 years of companionship determined entirely by timing.
Now of course, finding a mate does not exactly follow that. Obviously, you don’t just choose the first suitable person who crosses your path and you might actually base your decision on personality – unlike my kitten decisions. But timing has so much to do with love, so much so that I believe in it more than I would ever believe in fate or soulmates.
I might actually go so far as to say that the concept of fate is damaging. It introduces this idea that bad things are meant to happen when really it only means it happened. Fate allows for silver linings to be found where they shouldn’t be – in loved ones’ deaths, in senseless killing and massacres. If bad things were meant to happen, why is there so much divorce? I don’t think we are all meant to have Eat, Pray, Love journeys – not all of us grow from the bad things that happen. Some of the bad things are truly damaging.
So here I am in LA, waiting for these random events to turn into something where I can go, “Oh hey look, that was MEANT to happen.” Because I know I am going to that. We all do that.
In my childhood bedroom, the glow in the dark stars still stick to the ceiling, not in a random, actually-like-stars-in-the-galaxy pattern, but in organized lines. Because of course I couldn’t help myself. We all want reason in the chaos.