I no longer recognize the person I was when I was 25 years old.
I don’t quite know who I was. I was managing editor of a small daily newspaper. I was good at my job. I was brash. Ambitious. Arrogant. I knew it all. I was going to change the world.
And that precocious and baby-faced man was married, too.
I rarely mention having been married back then, although I wrote about it here a couple of years ago. In fact, I rarely think about it. That’s a part of my life that feels completely foreign to me now. It’s almost as though it never happened.
Even though she and I have been divorced for years now, I still have the highest regard for the woman I married back then. We still have friendly correspondence every now and then. I’m very happy that she married a man who seems perfect for her. They have a fine son and they’re both college journalism professors.
When we married, I thought she was my soulmate. I thought our marriage was for life. So what happened? Was I wrong to think we were soulmates? Or was it something else?
When I grew up, I strongly accepted the notion that a person should marry once and remain married to that person for life. It was taught to me as a cultural ideal as well as a religious command. This was not only what was best for cultural stability, but it was also God’s command. That’s what I was told.
I don’t want to take issue with anybody’s theology. I understand the beauty and appeal of the notion that we have one partner for life, but it simply doesn’t match the reality I’ve seen for the vast majority of humanity.
For me, I’ve had to come to terms with something that’s simple, but which would have disturbed me on that day I married years ago. As I have grown and changed — in ways I never anticipated — the needs I have for a partner have changed radically as well.
The woman I married long ago was a wonderful partner. She is still a wonderful woman. I would still trust her with my life, quite literally. But the time came when I wasn’t what she needed — and she wasn’t what I needed.
Was she my “soulmate”? For that part of my life, yes, she was. By 15 years later, she wasn’t. I needed something else completely different — and so did she.
The details of what led to our divorce don’t matter here. There was no cheating. There weren’t any angry words between us. We were calm and got along perfectly fine until the day she was one for good.
We all love the Hollywood romantic story that there is one soulmate for everyone and that it lasts for a lifetime. I wish that were true for everyone, but it’s true only for a few.
I was a different person by the time I was 35 than I had been at 25. I was radically different from that 10 years later. At every stage along the way, the “soulmate” I needed changed a bit. That used to alarm me — especially since it conflicted so much with my religious training — but I’ve come to terms with it. For me, it’s simple reality.
If you’re married, you probably got married thinking the same thing I did. You thought it was for a lifetime. You thought this person was exactly what you needed. But if you’re like most people — and if you’ve been married for very long — you might see the world in a radically different way.
You might see that you have changed and grown into someone who never would have made the choice of partner you made. You might see that the person you married is completely wrong for you. You might realize you need a partner who’s very different than you imagined when you were 25 or 30 or however old you were when you promised a lifetime with someone.
I was married to a wonderful woman at 25. I really was. She was my soulmate for the time, but we both changed and we’ve both moved on.
I know what I need now. I like to think I’ve finally matured and grown enough that I recognize the sort of soulmate I need fo rest of my life. I hope so, because there’s a tender and romantic piece of my heart that doesn’t want to let go of the notion that there is only one woman in the world for me — and she’s out there waiting for me.
Somewhere, even if I don’t know where.