I went to the live Radiolab show at UCLA’s Royce Hall, which by the way was an incredible evening, and heard a beautiful story that I cannot stop thinking about. I will paraphrase it for you as best I can, but really I won’t be able to do it justice and I hope you read more about it here or anywhere. But here it goes.
At Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes told his version of the creation story. He said that in the beginning, the gods had created these humans that were essentially double beings – a round middle with two heads, four arms, and four legs, all spaced evenly about (imagine two humans coming out of a globe) and they lived on earth and sort of cartwheeled about. These beings were made of either two females, two males, or one female and one male, but essentially no one lived alone. Eventually, these beings became victims of their own hubris of course, and climbed the mountains to attack the gods so that they could rule the world themselves. After this failed attempt at insurgency, the gods were so angry, Zeus sent down a lightening bolt to divide the beings in half.
At first these halves wandered about, dying of starvation and essentially unable to connect. But Zeus took pity on them, turned their heads around, and drew their skin tight creating the navel, and turned their sexual organs around so that they could procreate by mating with each other. So now these humans roamed the earth as half of what they were meant to be and the memory of that is what drives the desire for humans to connect with one another. So by extrapolation to modern times, the reason certain relationships or certain loves make us feel “whole” or “complete” is because we were created to be with our other half the whole time. The natural order of things essentially is for us to make that deep lasting connection with someone and without out, we’re just walking around the world incomplete.
My heart melted when I listened to this story (and not just because Zoe Keating was playing the most touching cello piece I’ve ever heard). Part of why this story reaches me so much is that it solves the impracticality of the typical Disney “soul-mate” fairytale. Aristophanes is not saying we all exist to be united with one other person and only then, are we complete. See the connection can be made with truly deep friendships or with different lovers at different times. It’s not that we were all created to be with only one person forever. It’s that we were created to be with someone at all times. I believe him. I’ve felt that connection with people, felt it deep in my bones with friends and lovers.
Some friends come into your life and you just feel like the bond of your friendship is on a higher level – a level where you know that no matter you will always be connected to them. I have girlfriends where I just feel this extra ineffable connection with them that supersedes our shared experiences and creates this connection that nothing can ever take away.
Some lovers come into your life in the same way. And maybe you are lucky enough to experience that other-worldly connection with one person forever. But the point isn’t about it being with one person forever – the point is that it happens at all. I have known love like that. The kind of love where it felt like something was binding between us that will exist out there somewhere somehow in the universe forever. But listening to Aristophanes’ story reminded me, I will feel it again. Aristophanes is saying you can believe in a soul-mate and not have to believe that you are in this hopeless search for the one person who was meant to be. Your soul-mate is the person at that moment, that you have achieved that highest level of connection with. I have to admit, I live for those moments. Sometimes it will suddenly hit me, I miss being in love. I miss how crazy it makes you. I miss how I would get so flooded with love that I felt like I was high on the most illegal drug. But I know that one thing I’m good at, is connecting with people. It’s what drives me to pursue creative fields – I can listen to people and empathize and feel their pain and happiness and experiences and through that, I can connect with them. And according to Aristophanes, that’s all it takes to your find soul-mate. And it also explains my drive to find it – to feel it again. And in my case, it also makes it seem ok, that I may never grow out of believing in it.