¡hola papi!

‘Will I Ever Meet My Soul Mate?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

Do you believe there is such a thing as the “one and only” on this planet for everyone? Do you believe in true love?

Someone’s Soul Mate

Hey there, Soul Mate!

I think that’s two questions, but I’m in no place to judge. Nor can I pretend that I have anything better to do. So I’ll answer both!

I’d love to laugh off the idea of a “soul mate” as something only Pinterest wedding boards believe in. But the truth is, for me, the word “soul mate” summons a distinct face, a specific person, and a vivid memory.

It was about seven years ago that I met Thomas in Austin, Texas. Life was a gay indie movie with a middling Rotten Tomatoes score back then. I started chatting with him on Grindr. You know, the standard: exchanging Bible verses, pictures of our ankles, family recipes, etc.

We agreed to meet up and, Soul Mate, within seconds of seeing this guy face-to-face, something unfolded deep inside my cobra-pit heart.

I guess I’d describe it as a click. It wasn’t that we were terribly similar people, or that we agreed on everything. It was just that when I was around him, I felt like I’d found the next word in the sentence, the perfect one that hangs out on the tip of the tongue, like living in an aha!

I felt like I could talk to him for hours and not get bored. Little things, like going to the grocery store or taking a nap together were suddenly adventures that I saved to my memory bank to revisit again and again. I can honestly say with absolute certainty that I loved Thomas. A lot.

But then, Soul Mate, things get sad. I hope you’ll indulge me just a bit more schmaltz. The summer ended, and I had to move back to Oklahoma, about a six-hour drive away.

That’s the specific memory I mentioned earlier, the one that crops up now and again: I’m standing in the entryway of the house and hugging him for a really long time, half of my brain saying, “We can make this work,” and the other half, the smarter one, saying, “Just enjoy this moment and say goodbye.”

Sometimes I wish, given the magnitude of his impact on me, that things had ended dramatically. Or passionately. Or something. But to be honest with you, Soul Mate, it just fizzled out. We would talk on the phone. Our first call was that same day I left, while I was driving home. The second was a few days later. The third, a month later. And so on, and so forth, until there were hardly any calls at all.

To this day, I’m not sure if I inspired the feelings in him that he inspired in me. Does he revisit those little things, those memories that I’ve kept stashed in my head? I can’t be sure, but my guess is no. All I know is that after losing him, I felt that the one person I’d ever had something special with was gone, and I’d never find another one.

Do you have a Thomas, Soul Mate? Plenty of my friends do — these are people they bring up when they get tipsy, or when it’s late at night and they feel sad and lonely, and I’m the only owl they know will be awake.

“Papi,” they’ll say, “have I ever told you about James?” Or Malcolm, or Sara, or Carlos, or whoever. Thomas takes many forms.

The point is that many people have that person. The one that got away. The one we were “supposed” to end up with. They’re someone whose time in our lives impacted us so deeply that they left a dent in their exact shape. We might think that no matter who we meet or where we go, they’re the only person who will ever fit there.

But enough deliberation. To answer your first question: Do I believe in soul mates? No. Absolutely not. I just don’t think that’s how things work. We can tell ourselves that someone is our soul mate. We can treat them like it and act like it. But that is, in the end, a story we’d have to choose to tell and not a truth the universe holds.

That might sound glum, but in fact I think it’s pretty exciting. To explain, allow me to answer your second question: Yes, I do believe in true love.

My belief is that most of us will cross paths with people who affect us deeply. Life is sort of like a giant sheet of graph paper, and we are dots traveling in a line. There will be points where we meet, and that specific intersection is sacred and important and unrepeatable. It’s not always a romantic interest. More often, it’s a best friend, or it’s a mentor, a sibling, or a parent. You get the picture.

We are temporary creatures, Soul Mate. Even when we love someone a whole lot, we eventually have to lose them, and they will have to lose us. Loss is a fact of this life. But as long as we continue to travel, to move, and to live, we will continue to meet people who bring out the best in us, people we want the world for, people who make us stop and think, How was this person sharing this planet with me all this time?

I think that’s what true love is, Soul Mate. It’s true as it needs to be, anyway. And I think when it presents itself to us, if we are open to it, we can have it for a while.

I was right, in a way. I never met another Thomas. And you know? I never will. I often see him in bits and pieces: his eyes here, his smile there, his weird laugh, his nasty nail-biting habit, always in other people. But none of them are him, of course.

And the thing is, Soul Mate, that’s completely fine. Because I know that I’m lucky for having experienced what I did with him, and I’m lucky to still have a lot left to experience with other people. I have more true loves to hold, both platonic and romantic.

Who knows what the future will bring? I certainly don’t. If we had the answers, there would be no reason for this column to exist, and this is how I pay for the fancy fruit in the grocery store.

But the mysteries make life exciting, Soul Mate. And that’s certainly a much better reality than one where there’s only one person on this whole planet that we’re supposed to meet.

Don’t you think?

Con Mucho Amor,

Originally published on December 16, 2020.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.

‘Will I Ever Meet My Soul Mate?’