Dearest Rachel –
Last night, after a few hours of gaming with Kevin, I found myself in conversation with another individual on the dating app. She’d sent me a smile, and while I generally tend to limit my connections to those residing here in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, I couldn’t quite figure out where she was coming from in this case – literally. The name of the town is irrelevant – let’s just refer to it as ‘Anytown,’ as pundits occasionally do – but rather than identify which state she called home, she simply listed ‘United States’ after the name of the town on her profile. All of which ended up with the absurd specification at the end of it stating that she was “looking for Men, 48-74,” (unusual range, but okay) “within 500+ miles of ‘Anytown,’ United States.”
Okay, first of all, you’d probably ask me why I refer to that request as ‘absurd.’ Aren’t I being a bit hard on this girl? And you know what? Maybe you’re right. But the idea of a 500-mile range of some random point in this country just doesn’t narrow things down very well, and you’d think someone living in America would know that. A circle of that size, while undeniably large, still needs context in terms of its focal point – one drawn around, say, Florida, wouldn’t overlap with one in Maine or Kansas, let alone the likes of California. It’s one of those things that always amused us when we encountered foreign visitors in our travels who’d decided that, while they were visiting New York on vacation, they’d pop down to Disneyworld as long as they were in-country, only to discover that this isn’t Europe; distances are vast here, and to be an American is to understand that.
I’ll give her credit; she didn’t simply roll over and take my critique lying down. She put me back on the defensive by asking “does distance and age matter so much to you?” It’s a fair question, and I suppose that, by rights, I ought to be saying “no, that isn’t important.”
But it kind of is…
Just as there are points when an age difference is and isn’t socially acceptable (and while that difference expands as we grow older and the percentage of that difference shrinks, it’s still a thing to contend with at any age), so too does distance play a role in who we meet, who we make friends with… and how we fall in love. Were we never to have crossed paths in college, we would have never met and become the couple we were. Indeed, had you actually managed to succeed in your attempt to pledge to a sorority, I most likely wouldn’t have had anything to do with you, even as we were attending the same college. Not that I would necessarily shun you as a sorority girl – or vice versa with me as a non-Greek – but just that we would travel in such different circles that we would virtually never encounter each other, even in an institution that was smaller than my old high school.
Similarly – as long as I’m still talking about college – as the physical distance widens between people, so too does their emotional distance. It’s said that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ and while there may be some truth to that (certainly, our courtship was unquestionably a long-distance relationship), that’s probably more the exception that the rule. How long had we gone without talking with your roommate/best friend/maid of honor Elizabeth, since she went on to law school, joining the military, and ultimately her governmental role in Alaska? Yeah, we’d contemplated taking another cruise (nearly 25 years after our first one) up there to see her, but by and large, we lost touch over that immense distance. By contrast, your bond with Ellen has stayed so strong because she moved up here to the suburbs at almost the same time we got married, allowing the two of you to stay in touch on a virtually uninterrupted basis ever since. In the process, she’s become a good friend to me as well, and so supportive of both Daniel and me as we deal with having lost you.
So as much as I’d like to say it doesn’t matter… it really does. Constant contact makes a difference in bringing – and keeping – people together.
I guess it comes down to whether one believes in the idea of soulmates. Back during the Gilded Age – that time between the Civil War and the turn of the century – there was a certain science of the mind called phrenology. Basically, the assumption was that certain locations of the brain controlled various aspects of one’s personality. The more prominent one of those cranial areas were (as indicated by protrusions of the skull), the more that facet of personality played a part in who you were.
All of this has long since been debunked as pseudoscience, of course. But as with so much junk science, it had a fair amount of jargon and vocabulary to make it sound so much more legitimate; it identified mental faculties such as ‘philoprogenitiveness’ (a love and concern for one’s offspring), ‘ideality’ (the ability to arrive at ideals of beauty and perfection) and ‘alimentiveness’ (an instinct/appetite for certain foods, or food in general).
One of those weird bits of Victorian-era technobabble was a term called “adhesiveness,” which sounds like a quality possessed by Scotch Tape rather than the human psyche. But in fact, it refers to a connection between souls, a propensity for friendship and camaraderie. In short, soulmateship, if I may coin a term.
Except… as far as I’m concerned, the concept is about as false as the subject of studying the bumps on people’s heads to determine their personalities in the first place. Sure, we want to believe that there is that perfect, special someone out there for each and every one of us – and that finding them is all a part of God’s plan for us, regardless of age or distance separating the two of you.
I should think that you were that special someone, too, and be grateful for having found you – and I am, don’t get me wrong. But if you were my soulmate, then… that renders the remainder of my life somewhat pointless. If we were essentially made for each other, and you are no more, then what purpose do I serve on this earth?
No, that can’t be, or else every couple ought to die at the same time as each other (and there are societies that used to enforce such a thing, such as the Hindu tradition of ‘suttee’ – although I don’t recall if that worked both ways, with the widower being compelled to being consumed in his wife’s funeral pyre). And while that does happen in real life – I find the case of the great polymath Buckminster Fuller and his wife of 66 years Anne Hewlett particularly poignant – it doesn’t always happen, as I’m painfully aware.
Does this mean I don’t believe in soulmates? Maybe; I think it’s more a case of believing soulmateship is a cultivated state, like love itself – if there’s a difference between them. And even ties to a certain geographic area, and the communities therein, can affect that. So yes, I think it helps considerably to be physically near each other to bring that state into being between two people, and to nurture it once it begins to sprout and grow.
Even in Anytown.
A quick postscript: I should mention that her ‘Anytown’ turned out to be in Maryland, some 600 miles away. And this morning, when I went to check the conversation, it turned out she had dropped off of the app, taking everything that passed between us with her. So, I offer apologies for the shaggy dog story; life doesn’t always have a narrative where you get to see the beginning, middle and end of it. Sometimes, it just pops up out of nowhere, and vanishes back to where it came from with neither warning nor explanation. But it left me thinking about it all, and I had to let you know.
Thanks so much for indulging me, dear.