Rom-coms are formulaic in nature, and one of the tried and true story devices they fall back on is the beloved “I was searching for love, but little did I know, it was right in front of me all along” trope. I guess for a long time, I wished that’s how my own love story would turn out. Little did I know, my wish came true in an even more literal way than I could’ve imagined. I think I found my bashert — and it’s me.
Coming from a toxic and dysfunctional family unit, I grew up with extreme feelings of inadequacy, which manifested as serial people-pleasing and codependency. I had no source of internal validation, relying only on ephemeral outside validation like fishing for compliments, seeking affirmation anytime I made a choice, and just looking for general permission to take up space in the world. But it never lasted long enough or made me content; it just left me craving validation even more.
Over more than a decade, I’ve devoted myself to self-growth and healing. I was precocious and self-aware from a young age, and my personal growth and psyche have been the main focus of much of my life at this point. It’s been anything but a straightforward, easy or linear journey.
However, today I uttered 14 words to my therapist. The words themselves and the way I truly believed them are the quiet culmination of more than a decade of hard work, a reclaiming of something that’s been lost from my life for the past 22 or so years: “I think I deserve joy, and I think I deserve to live without guilt.”
Two nights before, I had made a small but deeply meaningful choice: to move to the middle of my enormous king-sized bed. It was given to me by someone who bought it and didn’t like it, so I got it almost brand-new for free (score!). At the time, I was dating someone long-distance. When he came to visit, I happily and excitedly said to him, “I love how I can completely stretch out my body and there’s still so much space!” To which he responded, “Don’t get used to it.” We were planning to live together in the near-ish future and would therefore be sharing the bed.
The relationship didn’t stick, yet I still stuck to sleeping on “my side” for more than two years. During this time I was still living under the cultural expectation that one of my biggest (if not the biggest) goals should be finding “the one.” So I met up with people from dating apps for cringey first dates and matched with hundreds more; had a hot fling with a herculean Jewish Zaddy; engaged in a pleasant Friends With Benefits situation for a while with a hot Gemini (whom I’m still attracted to but he moved out of state); got to first-base with a Jewish professor who shared my love of tabletop games; and even had a month-long distance boyfriend at the beginning of the pandemic (which fizzled when we finally risked meeting in person). But through it all, I never found that one single soulmate to make a permanent resident of the other side of the bed.
But two nights ago, as I lay in my bed alone, I realized I didn’t mind sleeping alone in that moment. I felt… whole. I felt content to be in my own company, something that seemed impossible as little as two years before this moment. I didn’t have to (consciously or subconsciously) feel the pressure to find someone to fill the empty half of the bed, like a long-unchecked box on a to-do list. I scooted over to lie in the middle of the bed, and it was a sacred moment in my relationship with myself. (It’s a very Jewish mindset to find meaning in the mundane, even in something as nominal as sleeping in the middle of the bed.)
Society tells me that I cannot be whole until I find my other half, but I draw inspiration from Judaism on this that makes me think otherwise.
Many don’t realize that there are actually two conflicting versions of the creation story (a story I believe in poetically, not literally) in the Bible. Perhaps the more common one is that God created Adam as the first man, then extracted one of his ribs to create the first woman, Eve. But earlier in Genesis, we are told, “And God created man in God’s image, in the image of God, God created him; male and female God created them.” According to the Talmud (Gen. Rabbah 8:1), the “them” implies that Adam was created as an androgynous being containing both masculine and feminine aspects; God then splits the masculine and feminine sides of Adam in half to create two equal, whole people. I love this story not only for the feminist ideals and LGBTQ-inclusive lens the Torah literally starts with, but how it also leaves room for the idea that maybe, rather than being an incomplete piece of someone, I am an equal whole on my own.
Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t the concept of completion through partnership in Jewish culture (yentas and matchmaking, anyone?!). Jewish spaces and opportunities for young people can often feel like they exist solely to partner Jews up with other Jews. And the Talmud itself says, “Forty days before the child is born, a heavenly voice rings out ‘This child is destined to be wed to this child and this child to be wed to this child.’”
But what if your soulmate doesn’t have to be another person? “Bashert,” the Yiddish word generally used to refer to a “soulmate,” actually translates better as “destiny.” Perhaps not everyone’s destiny in life is another person, but a journey with themselves and with their legacy in the world. Or perhaps there are soulmates, but they are not limited to romance. My sister-in-law believes that my brother is her romantic soulmate and that I am her platonic soulmate, and that resonates with me on a deeper-than-words level.
Rejecting the idea that my bashert, my destiny and fulfillment, must come from another person doesn’t mean that I won’t ever have a partnership, nor does it mean that if I have a partnership, I have to give up myself as my bashert. It just means that rather than being the big juicy main course of my life that I am eating my way toward, a committed long-term relationship might be an exquisite side course.
Some people will recoil at this insinuation, but by using the term “side course,” I do not mean to imply that a partner would not be valued and deeply treasured. Considering the meal as a whole, the side course can greatly support the main, and the side can lend to the overall enjoyment and satiation of the meal. Think of a traditional Ashkenazi Shabbat dinner (Ashkenazi in this example because that’s what I’m most familiar with, but please fill it in with the foods that you associate with Shabbat): challah, matzah ball soup, chicken, kugel, etc. Would you say that the challah isn’t important as a supporting player in the meal? Though it’s not the main course, I think few would argue that challah is more elevated than just a mere side and is a full experience unto itself.
I’m not sure how far into the rom-com of my life I am, whether we just got past the opening credits, if we are nearing an ironic plot twist, if there’s a soulmate waiting just down the road — or if I’m in those last juicy five minutes in which the protagonist has found herself and everything has worked out for a happy ending. But whether or not I find a special someone is beside the point — because I’ve already found myself.