kindred souls.

Sometimes I genuinely wonder, what’s it like to fall in love?

I am twenty-two. I don’t believe in romantic ideals and knights in shining armors, but I believe in kindred souls. I think I have found mine, a person whom I think highly of both as a person and as a friend. I have always publicly declared and joked with friends that if only Housemate #1 was a guy, I’d so totally date her. Then this friend came along and he is exactly like her in so many ways, especially a specific trait they have, one that’s central on why I have utmost respect for them: kindness.

I once told a story, about how I tried so hard to match make the two. To Housemate #2 then, I’d told her, “Trust me, they’re so similar!” But for some reason, timing never worked between the two, whether in Philly, California or Malaysia despite my genuine attempts and not-so-incidental hints through name drops and the like. Somehow their stars just never quite cross – not yet? Fate will eventually tell.

I tried telling this story again two Friday nights ago – it was supposed to be funny. As usual, I gushed about him, and her. It was supposed to be funny – they’re two of my closest friends now and being the only link between the two, I told my friend how I kept trying to align their stars but failed.

When I was finally done, she was silent. Contemplative pause; somehow, she didn’t seem amused, what more thought it was hilarious. Then she asked the following, genuinely curious.

“Are you sure you don’t like him? Or is it that you don’t want to – that you’re not allowing yourself to do so?”

I paused, surprised.

Stupidly, the first thing that came across my mind was, it was supposed to be funny.

I told her that I’m aware I speak about him often, but it’s because he is that great of a person – I think so, at least. I consider us as kindred souls, I admitted. I love him but it’s platonic; I’ve thought about it, I confessed but “there were no sparks between us,” and laughed as I said that. The two of us are so similar in so many veins – professionally we’re in the same field – environmental – and we’re both equally excited and devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. Personally, we’re both somewhat socially awkward – outwardly seemingly incredibly geeky, but in truth I think we’re just done trying to play supposed cooler versions of ourselves. Spiritually, while he’s not atheist or even religious, he’s curiously seeking. He’s constantly asking big, abstract questions and I have spoken to him so many times about the Islamic faith, and my Muslim identity – what it means to me et cetera.

We are… almost like yin and yang, much like I am with Housemate #1.

On the other end of the phone, my friend echoed my laughter. Then she nonchalantly dropped another question.

“Would you have felt differently if he’s Muslim?” 

I knew, and she knew it too – I’ve just been caught.

I still stand by my belief about this – I’ve witnessed and learned enough from the two interracial, inter-religious marriages in my family through my brothers to know that I am firm on where I stand about this. I’ve seen, heard and disagreed upon the things that they’d compromised religiously, supposedly in the name of love. I have had my heart broken and cried buckets last December, enough to now know and affirm that I cannot and will not walk the same line. I won’t.

Inter-religious relationships and marriages work for many people and to everyone that it does – good for you. From my point of view however, there is always a loss – one side will have to compromise and sacrifice more; the balance, regardless how hard one tries, will tip sideways. The question, in my opinion, is whether one is able to live with the sacrifices and compromises made – clearly, my brothers decided they could.

To me it is complicated enough trying to uphold my Muslim identity as it is. I think I have pretty much made up my mind that above all else, I am devoted to living my life as a seriously, sincerely practicing Muslim. I have made up my mind on where my devotion lies and I don’t regret this decision, ever, but like with all journeys, it is not always smooth-sailing. I can’t … Imagine having to bring someone else into this, because it is such a defining, consuming, life-changing and soul-surrendering move. It is not in my place, nor do I believe myself to be learned and brave enough, to bring another into this fold in the name of love alone. Converting is one thing, believing is another. Practicing and living by the belief – an entirely different story, period.

This is my struggle right now, truthfully. I don’t regret the decisions I have made in how to live my life and the definitions that encapsulate who I am, but sometimes my lifestyle feels so different from other people, that as much as I want to claim I am normal and do things that everyone else does – my actions don’t back up my words; I am always restricted or obliged by religion to not do so and so. It is why this loneliness seems to persist so damn long and so damn terribly; I skip trips which are religiously compromising like if I have to share rooms with the opposite gender, politely decline invitations to events which serve mostly food and beverages I can’t consume due to religious practices and opt out of events which clash or stretch too long with prayer times, which would have led me to miss prayers. In my mind and heart, these are the best decisions to make and I accept them – I understand that what I give up for in this life, I gain tenfold in the afterlife. What I lose with new-found friends and strangers, I gain tons with God. I understand, truly, I do. I accept.

There is this line I cannot cross. I won’t.

One can argue that others can, they’ve found their own ways to deal or however else – but I am not the others. It doesn’t matter to me, how many people have crossed that line and how they did so. What they have compromised between themselves and God is for them to live with. What I have learned is that I can’t. I can’t live with the same compromises. I refuse to.

When you are constantly alone as a product of trying to uphold these religious principles however, desperately wanting to fit in but seemingly unable to do so because the supposed common lifestyle seems to be in conflict with religious principles and practices, it’s like having to choose which of the two sides to fit in with. Is it with God that I seek solace, or the temporary rush of new-found friends?

When you are twenty-two, the answer is clear. Acting upon the answer is also crystalline, but living through it is quite honestly, an entirely different matter. I want to talk about this to someone, but I don’t know to who. I am at the moment frustrated at myself for always wanting to talk about my inner turmoil, without solving anything. How many times, for instance, must I confess how challenging the adjustment phase has been?

Likewise, what good comes out from talking about this, either with similarly struggling Muslim peers, or understanding and like-minded non-Muslim peers?

Sometimes when I think of him, or of the fact that I am lonely as hell right now – an island of my own doing or consequence of these religiously best decisions I’ve made – why does the balance always seems to tip sideways? Why is it that if I am giving up something for a greater interpersonal good, do I feel like I’m losing out?

It is ungodly to feel this way; I am working hard on my faith, truly I am. I love him, my buddy, but I am not in love with him – this much I can confirm, so this isn’t heartbreak hotel or forbidden love central. There is no drama here. But truthfully, at the moment I am struggling with trying to come to terms with the outcomes I’m now living with, as a result of my decisions – those made purely out of goodwill and from a religious standpoint.

There is always this line that I cannot cross.

I am twenty-two. What I have finally realized and one that’s shaking me off course and has me in an internal clusterfuck, is that between girlfriends and especially those with whom you strike lifelong friendships with, no matter what you are and have always been to each other, there are… specific roles you simply cannot fill. There are gaps and voids that simply can’t be filled through this companionship, as much as you love each other to the moon and back. Wonders and beauty of God, I think, in creating two halves that make a whole between two persons. But this discovery, at this point in time – it is… paralyzing. I am lonely as hell.

During my brief visit back to the small town this summer where he’s based at for his research, I spent most of my time with him. Honestly, it just kind of turned out that way – I can’t drive whereas he can, and unfortunately a mutual friend of ours couldn’t join us as we’d originally planned – and on my last night there, the two of us ended up in the shopping mall, walking aimlessly and deep in conversation, as usual. With him, the conversations are always so effortless and genuine. There are very few people I can be myself with from the get-go, but amazingly from our first meet a year ago, without a second thought I’d shown him my dorky, silly and geeky sides. I am a quotation junkie, if that’s not obvious enough by now and although he isn’t exactly that, he’s always appreciated my finds – reflecting upon them the way that I do. It’s trivial, but it’s also something I’ve actually let very few people in about, because it’s not exactly a conversational topic. The fact that he’s embraced so many sides of me  so naturally – it gives me pause.

Perhaps my favorite thing about him and Housemate #1, why my conversations with them are always so effortless is because they’re great listeners. I am… a serial talker. Given the right crowd and setting, I can talk for hours honestly. Here’s where they’re great – their gestures always show they’re listening intently; a twitch of the eye, a scrunched nose and direct eye-contact from beginning to end. It’s my favorite kind of listeners.

Somehow we ended up in the bowling alley area, after failing to agree upon a café to sit in. The light was dim, weird shadows popping up now and then from the rapid movements of passerby and amateur bowlers. Of all places to be and of all topics to be discussing about – there we were in a terribly lit bowling alley, speaking about religion, specifically upon religious differences. I remember scrunching my eyebrows as I tried to come up with a response to one of his many reflective, always-curious questions. I remember trying to phrase the sentences in my head, before testing them out on my tongue. I wasn’t sure if they’d come out right. I remember… admitting aloud to him, that I’ve always been interested in folks of different races and religions – frankly, I confessed, I admit that I obviously have A Type – but that as long as I am rationally able, I will not walk that line. It’s too hard and I can’t make another person do it for me, I said. I don’t think I could for anyone, what more to want someone else to do it for me – all in the supposed name of love? Those differences, I said – they’re too large to reconcile. I shook my head as I said the last sentence and we were both quiet for a second.

In my mind, I thought – like you and me; the differences are simply too large to reconcile.

The line will always be there, and I can’t cross it. I won’t.

I am twenty-two. I’ve finally come to realize those gaps and voids.

Rumi says that this world is like a mountain; “your echo depends on you.” But my dear Rumi, what if I no longer recognize the sound of my echo? There is always that line I cannot cross; differences I cannot reconcile.

The ache is heartrending, because how can you lose something that’s never been yours to begin with?

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4 thoughts on “kindred souls.

  1. I’m an atheist and I always thought that if I ended up marrying someone who did happen to be religious, I’d just let him do whatever he wanted and raise the kids however he wanted because I don’t care either way. It’s a very childish way of thinking but I don’t plan on getting married so it’s not something I actually have to think maturely about, lol. But I do think you have a point that there’s a sacrifice no matter what. It’s all about how much you’re willing to give up for a person. So for someone who is very much involved in their religion and considers that a central part of their being, it would be very important to be with a like minded person who can join with you and understand all that’s a part of it.

    I actually have a huge amount of respect for people who have utmost faith in God, because it’s something I was never able to do. My mum is Christian (Anglican, to be specific) and she had 5 kids, all of whom somehow became atheists as soon as they hit their teens. But I actually wish that I was able to turn that switch off in my head, you know, and just have the kind of faith that other people have. There is a lot more to life when you have a belief in something; it all means more if you believe it’s all worth something, and without that belief, we’re just aimlessly wandering around living a completely pointless existence. Which, lets face it, is a pretty depressing thought.

    1. Hey Caitlyn, thanks for sharing your thoughts – from a different point of view, but similar perspectives. Honestly sometimes I do wonder if perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong – it isn’t a “loss”, but gain, but I just believe that no matter how I try to reason. Perhaps wisdom comes with age or someday perhaps, experience. I guess I’m jaded, based on my own personal experience and involvement within the family.

      “There is a lot more to life when you have a belief in something; it all means more if you believe it’s all worth something, and without that belief, we’re just aimlessly wandering around living a completely pointless existence.” As someone who is religious, I definitely agree with this. Sometimes I think of each person as seekers – I think it’s an innate desire, seeking for purpose to justify our existence. The difference is perhaps the amount of effort etc put in – some seek harder than others, some others are indifferent and some seek, but eventually settle at a particular juncture or point. I suppose as long as it’s a decision one can live with, then it’s not an internal conflict or dilemma. I hope you’ll eventually find your reason in existing (if it’s something that bugs you as it does me, haha), whatever the answer may shape itself to be for you!

  2. By the time I was 21 I was already married – but I went through this same kind of struggle well before then. My husband was a devout Christian when I met him, and I was.. frankly nothing. The only reason why we even grew together was because we were friends for a whole year before starting to date. And when that happened, we instantly had some serious issues. My compromise was that I was attempt to understand him, and understand what faith was all about it. I succeeded, and I became a believer but had I not, we probably wouldn’t have made it. (I’m grateful that this happened now, and am glad that I was able to isolate the difference between “convert because my love requires it” , and “convert because after years of searching, I understand on my own feet what it means to choose this.”) However that was all hard, and it was probably worse on my then-boyfriend’s side, to knowingly date someone with intention to marry, a person who did not share his faith.

    Why do I share that? Well, onto your point about ‘what good comes from talking abut this?’ I firmly believe that talking, or even typing, is itself a method of stress relief. Perhaps that’s too technical a term – but the very act of gathering your thoughts together and sharing is, to me, a precious gift for those who are able to do that. I know that somewhere deep inside (or even not terribly deep) that whenever we, you and I and everyone, writes something on a public domain we are seeking an audience. Maybe it’s dedicated to the anonymous world of lurkers, or maybe there are a few people you always expect to read it. Or maybe you don’t expect anyone to, but still someone does and knowing that keeps you writing.

    I seriously envy how you use this blog space. With myself I create dozens of monologues a day to help me focus on my life and extract the details that nag at me. I imagine my fingers typing them into words that form on the screen, but I’m never at my computer when I do so. And when I am, the thoughts are usually gone. And so my thoughts are shared with no one. Or at least they aren’t in the detail that I initially created them.

    Another point – “between girlfriends and especially those with whom you strike lifelong friendships with, no matter what you are and have always been to each other, there are… specific roles you simply cannot fill. There are gaps and voids that simply can’t be filled through this companionship, as much as you love each other to the moon and back” –

    Similarly, there is no substitution to be found, when one doesn’t have such a best friend. I’ve had several brilliant friendships with my girl friends, people who understand me through and through, and vice versa. Maybe it’s the effects of time, but unfortunately we’ve become scattered across the country. I have only kept up with one, who visits me once a year when she’s in the state. And that’s it. I’ve made no such best friends where I currently live, and that agony makes me miserable some days. I frequently see people I call friends, but have never been able to recreate an internal bond like with the ones I had when I was younger. It makes me sick, and when I see these new friends now I am almost strangled of emotion, because we can chit-chat for a while, but eventually a silence creeps in, and it’s not a happy cozy silence. It’s an awkward silence.

    Cherish the friends you make – male and female. Hah. An easy enough directive, but I know it’s downright hard to keep it up, especially when time and time again, life takes them away from you. This is another reason why I seek friendships on the internet. Maybe it’s not as good a real friend standing year you in the flesh, but it’s one of the few ways I keep myself sane – knowing that there are people who listen to me and share their lives with me. Precious relationships, as precious as any. And even then, there have been online friends I’ve made and lost, and I mourn for them the same as my scattered best friends. But, at the end of the day, we keep on and make more.

    *counts the paragraphs* Damn but I wrote a ton. I should just create a new blog for myself haha.

    1. Oh Rosie, the things you say… Honestly, I teared up reading your reply, finding myself in tears and nodding along to every sentence and point made. Thank you so, so much for sharing your own story. Being the youngest of seven siblings, I’ve always really appreciated wisdom from those who are older and this is definitely one of those moments.

      “…I was able to isolate the difference between “convert because my love requires it” , and “convert because after years of searching, I understand on my own feet what it means to choose this.” “ This is exactly what I mean when I try to reason and tell people that it’s not ‘good enough’ that one converts – of course this is a huge deal and move in itself, but it is merely the beginning. I applaud the courage it takes, but it doesn’t just stop there. I understand it’s difficult, but I always believe that if lots of deliberations went into making this decision, then surely walking the line to the end is something that’s been considered. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but… sigh, sensitive topic and challenging, either way one looks at it.

      “I know that somewhere deep inside (or even not terribly deep) that whenever we, you and I and everyone, writes something on a public domain we are seeking an audience. Maybe it’s dedicated to the anonymous world of lurkers, or maybe there are a few people you always expect to read it. Or maybe you don’t expect anyone to, but still someone does and knowing that keeps you writing.”

      Everything said above… Wow, you encapsulated all the things I feel about this space – why I’m an open book here which scares the shit out of me frankly if I think properly about it, but in this world of anons, surely I am not the only one? I’ve come to realize that often, I’m not ready to listen to responses or heed advice, but the other wonderful learning curve is that when they do come, I’m often surprised at what’s said.

      “I frequently see people I call friends, but have never been able to recreate an internal bond like with the ones I had when I was younger. It makes me sick, and when I see these new friends now I am almost strangled of emotion, because we can chit-chat for a while, but eventually a silence creeps in, and it’s not a happy cozy silence. It’s an awkward silence.”

      Sigh, I totally feel you. I have so many girlfriends – I’m honestly great with girls, but attract zero boys aha – but when this realization and lesson hits, I’m so dumbstruck. They’re there for me and yet the void doesn’t disappear. They offer more than kindness – love, support and more – and yet the gaping, lonely hole remains glaring and obvious in my heart and mind. It’s frustrating. Sometimes I look at couples here, or recently two of my college friends finally transitioned from the friend-zone and they’re so OMG-get-out-of-my-face adorable together and slowly this realization creeps – what am I missing out? What does it feel like? More than that, because I’m always by myself here and certain days so lonely I feel like I could die – would it be different if I have someone, as everyone else seem to? When I ask myself that… I know what the answer is and personally, I find it doubly heartbreaking – I don’t pursue anything with anyone because I can’t and won’t walk the line. That line.. I will not cross it and I’m an incredibly emotional person – if I were to start something, I’d be dead serious about it, so just imagine starting anything with a person on the pretext of “it’s nothing” – I can’t. The thing that sucks about feeling this way is that I’ve never been a romantic; I’ve never been one of those girls with ideas of the perfect wedding, groom or whatever. I’ve always been much too driven in realizing my goals, but it’s like… I’m starting to understand that some things are what they are; two halves that create a whole can’t be reproduced by oneself, no matter what. I don’t fully understand this truthfully, yet my heart yearns for emotions and things I can’t put to words. I guess my sister was right. “One day you’ll understand,” she once said. Perhasp that time is now, and it just sucks.

      But thank you so much for the reminder to basically, “go out there and make as many friends!” Because life will eventually take them away from you – that’s so, so true. Sometimes I feel everything I’ve developed and grown here – everything’s borrowed and temporary, because home isn’t here and I know home base is my final destination. Where others thrive and build local networks here, I always find it difficult because I know that once I’m done, I’m out and not just across the country out – across the globe out. It’s no excuse to not make friends and engage in new friendships, but on bad days I’ve to really fight this – why do I work so hard to keep the friendships while knowing there’s no permanence?

      I’m being too hard on myself these days, I know . Le sigh.

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