Image of garage similar to that of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley
What Not to Say

Soulmates and Other Things I Don’t Believe In

I don’t believe in soulmates. So when I was pouring my heart out to my therapist the other day and she said to me, “It’s so hard for you because Shawn was your soulmate,” I had to stop and say, “no, I don’t believe in soulmates. We just really loved each other.”

I didn’t mean to be rude. She was being empathetic. When people hear me talk about Shawn, they can feel the love in my voice. They can hear about our almost-always-happy marriage. They think, “well, they must have been soulmates.”

But I don’t believe in soulmates. Neither did Shawn. In fact, one time we tried to explain this to his parents (who thought we were terribly unromantic for saying this) and Shawn said, “think about it this way: Marjorie and I wake up every day and we choose each other. What could be more romantic than that?”

And also, what could be more depressing than thinking that my soulmate was gone from this earth and I was left to live out my life, forever adrift? I hurt terribly because Shawn is gone. But what if I thought I’d never, ever again find someone to love? Well, that would probably make the future really hard to bear. I may not find anyone new, but….at least there is some sort of chance that my love life may not be over. And whether or not I find a new love, at least there is some sort of chance that I’ll live a fulfilling life without Shawn.

You know what else I hate hearing? That “everything will work out when you least expect it.” What does that even mean? It’s like some sort of secular version of “God has a plan” (which people have actually said to me about Shawn’s death, if you can believe that!) So, is the idea behind “everything will work out when you least expect it” that I should just sit back, relax, and let life come to me?

Or, worse, that if I’m actively trying to change my life, I’m doing something wrong?

That just doesn’t make any sense. So, under this theory, I’d need to just wallow for some undefined period of time in the bad shit I’ve been dealt? That sounds great. It also sounds like advice someone would give who’s never walked in my shoes.

Listen, maybe it’s true. Maybe there are soulmates. Maybe I shouldn’t be striving so hard. Maybe I need to stop trying to find a new career and a new man and instead sit back and be grateful for the life I had for many years.

But let me tell you who would hate it if I did this: Shawn.

I can imagine a conversation in my head with him. (In fact, I do this a lot. Maybe it’s some sort of weird widow thing because I know other widows who do this.) I think it’d go something like this:

Me: “Maybe it’s better if I just hunker down, focus on the kids and be happy with the life I have right now. Maybe I don’t need the new writing gig. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about fixing the crumbling garage. Maybe I should stop flirting with men when I’m out at bars.”

Shawn: “Are you insane, Marjorie? You’re smart and you’re hot. You didn’t die – I DID! Go out there and LIVE. And dammit, I spent too many years trying to keep that garage in shape for you to let it fall down.”

It always makes me cry to think about these conversations in my head because I can hear Shawn loud and clear. In those moments, he’s alive for me, cheering me on.

“I just know things will turn out for you someday,” said someone kind to me at a school event the other day, “but maybe you need to stop looking for it. When you least expect it…..” I stopped listening at that point.

All of the people who say things like this to me are trying to be compassionate. They are trying to be encouraging. But what does this say about my agency over my own life? What does this say about my own ability to try something new, to strive for a better life, to hope for a future that has career fulfillment and maybe even romantic love?

God doesn’t have a plan, or at least she isn’t that involved in my daily life. God – or the universe, depending on your religious point of view – gave me a brain and an ability to MAKE CHOICES.

And dammit, I’m going to make those choices. I’m done with waiting.

Maybe I’ll start with the garage.


  • Melissa

    I love this. Amen to all of it. The “soulmate” thing, the “God’s plan” thing, and the having conversations with your husband in your head thing. I do that too. Sometimes it’s when I’m doing something that he used to handle and I find myself saying to him “I know this isn’t exactly how you would have done it, but I’m doing it this way now.” And I know he’s okay with it because he told me he wanted me to have a happy life and being in charge of your own life is part of it.

    • Marjorie

      YES – exactly. Our loved ones wanted us to have happy lives and we are doing that….or at least trying to. I love knowing that other people have conversations in their heads with their late spouses.

  • Steph

    Everything Melissa said! Marjorie, the chats in my head I have with Bryce I used to think were some unconsciously-created psychological band-aid, but they feel real and often I come to conclusions on topics like senior subject choices for the kids or even a work situation. It is so hard to be suddenly and unwillingly alone, in a sea of established marriages around me. I find it very hard no one ever mentions me dating again. It’s a long weekend starting here in Australia and while I’m grateful for the rest from teaching, I’ve no plans. I’m exhausted in anticipation of trying to ‘keep busy’ and also conversely, too much time alone to be sad. I want to meet someone but totally agree, God hasn’t simply lined someone up for me and I’m scared I’ll feel this lost forever-this duality existence of getting on with all the have-to’s while feeling I’ve lost both Bryce, and any prospect of filling that Void. Haven’t been brave enough though to go to a bar-respect! Marjorie, u go, girlfriend!

    • Marjorie

      Haha! Well, it’s a process. I’m nowhere near to meeting someone new that’s likely to stick around for any length of time, but I like the idea that at least I’m meeting people. I’m trying to just take it one step at a time. Right now that step means talking to new people, trying to enjoy myself, and trying new things…..or at least sometimes trying new things!

  • Henry

    The problem with “soulmate” is its someday-my-prince-will-come connotation. Love is an active verb, not just a noun that happens to us. Shawn was so on target by saying you wake up each morning and choose each other. Love (someone once said) is the most beautiful work of art. Even though any work of art is unique, it is always possible to create another. My wife of 50 years told me that, if something happened to her, I should feel free to marry again. My problem – which you and Steph seem to share – is that I can’t imagine how things might unfold, or what choices to make, or (at this point) even what I want to happen. So you start working on your garage, and I’ll try to learn how to garden.

    • Melissa

      Henry, like you, my husband and I were married for almost 50 years. (Just a week shy of 42.) I find it almost impossible to imagine finding love again at this age, but….my husband’s youngest brother became a widower after being married for 52 years. They had enjoyed a wonderful marriage and were devoted to each other. After a few years he met a lovely woman on an Alaskan cruise and now they’re happily married. He will be 79 in September. Cruises are out for me (my idea of one of Dante’s circles of hell) so I guess I’ll be content for now with tending my garden too.

  • Marie

    Every word of this resonates. I was 40 when my husband of almost 20 years suddenly passed. With a young adult daughter and one still in high school, I have tried to pull us and the broken bits of our hearts together as we tread this life without my husband. The immense responsibility of making sure my girls are okay when I’m at 30% capacity is incredibly hard and I have to force myself to stop and acknowledge my own grief. I know I will want to start dating again but it’s daunting. We just passed 6 months since “that day.” Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been feeling. It’s a lonely journey.

    • Marjorie

      Yes, those early days are so so so tough. But you are surviving, and that’s something. Actually, it’s more than something – it’s amazing.

  • Deborah LB

    Omg! I thought it was just me, I talk to my late husband in my head all the time! But I did believe in life soulmate until my husband was taken from me, now I think what is a soulmate without your soulmate, if he was my soulmate he will still be here! I don’t even know what I believe in anymore, to me everything is irrelevant and meaningless in this life right now! I’m happy I found your blog!
    I’m planning a 4 day retreat in Vermont in July, thinking of doing it for widows and widowers alike, just to come, relax , talk, cook and just live!

    • Marjorie

      Haha – no, I think almost every widow talks to their late husband in their heads! It’s a funny thing – once I started telling people about it, so many widows said, “hey, I do that too!”

  • Becky

    Shawn: “Are you insane, Marjorie? You’re smart and you’re hot. You didn’t die – I DID! Go out there and LIVE. And dammit, I spent too many years trying to keep that garage in shape for you to let it fall down.” YES! I can hear it exactly as he would say it, every word, the intonation, and the love in his eyes while looking at you. If there are voices in any of our heads, Shawn’s is a great one for all of us to have (especially you, of course). Love you. Miss him.

    • Marjorie

      I love that one of his dearest and oldest friends thinks this too! Thanks so much for telling me this. I love that you think he’d say it just like that too. He had a way about him that was unforgettable. 🙂

  • Brandi Franco

    I absolutely have those conversations in my head too. They are sweet and painful. I think only we (widows) know what our spouses would want for us. It’s hard to hear other people’s thoughts on this when you know you knew them the best and vise versa. So glad I came across your blog, as I am widowed at 33 with two daughters. I appreciate your honesty! 🙂

    • Marjorie

      Yes, I think almost all widows have these conversations. I mean, we knew our late spouses so well, so re-creating conversations isn’t so impossible. Thanks so much for reading!