I have an old friend, Jonathan, who one day announced that he was ready for true love. He'd been through several girlfriends and a brief marriage, but now, he was looking for someone to fill — as he put it — a "tenure-track position."
My friend is very smart but decidedly alternative. At age 60, he lives in a group house, practices two hours of yoga a day and makes a scant living. I don't know too many women my age who would jump to answer his personal ad.
Yet, a year ago, he met a very spiritual, pretty woman in her mid-50s, also a bit unconventional, and the sparks flew between them. "The more we get to know each other," he's said, "the more we feel like soulmates."
Is this an example of bashert?
I love that Yiddish word, and have been intrigued by it since I first heard it in my mid-20s. As a noun, I've understood it to mean your "fated one." It presumes that you're destined for someone — your job is to somehow bump into him or her — and then, when you do, settle down. And then, presumably, one small piece of the universe has been set right.
Along with Jonathan, I have a cousin in her 50s who also has found romantic happiness in the last year. I certainly don't believe any statute of limitations exists for finding a partner: My grandmother, for example, met Abe Hersch on a Florida beach when she was 85, and they lived happily together until she died at 91.
Still, I'm curious about middle-age attachment, which, if it sticks, could last almost as long (or longer) than a previous marriage. How is it different finding your bashert at 54 rather than 26?
For one thing, the view is different. At 26, you're presumably excited to be crossing the relationship stream; at 54, you're on the other shore, somewhat wet and bedraggled.
In between, there may have been a less-than-satisfying marriage or years of singlehood, or perhaps a stream of obnoxious dates, accompanied by loneliness and despair. So what a surprise, at midlife, if we actually come face to face with a kindred spirit who's both interested and available! One thing our years might have taught us is to grab something precious while we can.
Of course, many — with luck — find their bashert the first time around. At that point, there's more time for the intricate steps of the mating dance before the realities of work and child-rearing set in. When searching for a soulmate the second time around, the scene is simply more crowded.
There are often two households, two sets of children and, perhaps, aging parents. It can require complex time management to fit a blossoming romance into competing demands for attention and, yet, like a seedling that grows between the cracks of the sidewalk, it manages to push its way through.
I do think there's a distinction between a companion and a bashert. When my grandmother met Abe Hersch on a walk by the ocean, she found some good and well-needed companionship. But it was my grandfather — her one-time cellmate in a Russian jail, and with whom she lived for almost 50 years — who was truly her bashert.
However, my cousin, who was single for 10 years after her divorce, just got engaged to a lovely man who she says is on her wavelength "religiously, intellectually, politically and emotionally. He brings out the best in me and makes me happy."
If they are fortunate to have another 20 years together, that will be ample time to assess if they were indeed meant for one another.
It's reassuring that passion is not just for the young. I suppose that it's some kind of testament to the human heart that we will plunge again into those relationship waters, no matter how rusty our swimming skills. What we do with what we find there is still the long-term work of listening, caring, tempering and connecting — in other words, the work of love at any age.
Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I.