Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared in Transcendence Magazine.
“Do you have a boyfriend yet?” my grandfather asked, and when I shook my head no he turned to my sister and asked her the same thing. He must have asked me this question dozens of times over the bittersweet span of adolescent life stretching from seven years old to eleven years old. Of course my answer was always no. I wasn’t concerned with boys; I was concerned with the garlic mashed potatoes my grandmother had just placed in front of me, or her pot roast and famous rhubarb pie. Boys were an alien concept, one I frankly had no time or care for. I was seven years old. Boys? Dating? What about surviving high school, or building miniature ecosystems in science class?
Plato once wrote about a group of men attending a drinking party in The Symposium, each one making a series of speeches about the nature of love. I don’t know about you, but I would have much preferred a group of women discussing love instead, but the civilizations of Ancient Greece aren’t really known for their superior treatment of women, especially since philosophers at social gatherings back then used to compare men to the gods and women to the animal kingdom. Plato wrote that “According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.” And as I grew older, and my grandfather died of an aneurysm and passed out of the world and into what I hoped was some form of afterlife, I began to wonder why I didn’t have a boyfriend yet, or why I wasn’t even trying to search for my other half. Shouldn’t that have been my highest priority? Surely Plato knew what he was talking about. After all, he was one of the greatest philosophers to ever walk this earth.
So, as many women do, I began guilt tripping myself for not having another half. I would see all the other girls holding hands with their significant others in high school, or sneaking makeout sessions behind the bleachers. When a woman doesn’t believe that anyone is in love with her, she comes up with reasons why. Sometimes I think the umbilical cord doesn’t really get snipped at birth for women, but instead stays attached for the rest of her life. The air supply of some babies gets cut off when the umbilical cord wraps around their necks, and this is what it’s like for women a great deal of the time. We constantly have to work twice as hard as men to earn the air we breathe, and if we don’t feel like we’re earning it, we pull the cord a little tighter.
But lo and behold, after several years of feeling misunderstood and unlovable (and after writing a short prose piece about twenty-year-olds who have never been loved that instantly skyrocketed to fame on the popular blogging site Tumblr), I became involved in my first relationship ever as a freshman in college. I was sure I had found the other half that Plato wrote so eloquently about after the first several wonderful months full of sappy goodnight and good morning messages and nights spent ordering pizza over movies. It soon turned out to be the most traumatic experience of my life. I was raped and abused emotionally to the point where I became a stranger even to myself. And everyone else around me was going on with their lives, but I felt petrified and stuck. I felt like all those bodies encased in lava in the ruins of Pompeii, some of the bodies with their arms around each other like lovers, except I had no one left to put their arms around me, or I shook them off because I was now afraid of touch. Everything was just torn. There was so much tearing and ripping and taking away, and so much dark. I just wanted someone to remove all the pieces of broken glass that had been placed inside me, but at the same time I was afraid that without them I would collapse. Funny how my rapist had always made such a big deal about how uncomfortable I used to be with anyone touching me until he met me and helped me overcome it.
But then he reversed it.
I lost a great deal of weight, was hospitalized five times, started antidepressants and therapy. Trauma is second nature to many women, and like many other women, I invited it into my bed. I needed it to replace the person I had wrongfully assumed was my second half. I made trauma my companion. Like many other women who have been abused, I sank. That was a year of misery I’ll never forget. The worst part was that I had been so sure. I had trusted this person with my life, and I had truly believed he was my other half.
So I set out in search of another half. I wanted to believe in the concept of soulmates, but the person I once thought was mine was a monster, and I was tired of searching beneath my bed and in my closet for claws and dark shadows. I told myself that each person in this world has multiple soulmates. Plato had written, “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.” Well, that obviously hadn’t happened. A wound had been created, not healed.
Long story short, I had a lot of hookups after my rape. More than I’d care to admit to, but I was just hoping one of them would click. Sometimes online dating sites really do come in handy. All of this searching took several months, but as time passed, and my trauma began to ease, something strange happened. I began to be okay with being lonely, or at least being alone. I enjoyed my solo pizza nights in front of my laptop screen watching Netflix. I could get crumbs all over the sheets and not worry about embarrassing myself in front of a significant other by eating the whole pie. I could watch whatever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. And I didn’t feel owned. Because of my work with abused women through my literary magazine Persephone’s Daughters and my advocacy work for them through my poetry and books, I have come in contact with a lot of women who admitted they felt like an object to their partner. You might say, “No shit, Sherlock,” but in the context of my previous relationship and my readings of Plato, I could finally see that Plato was wrong. Someone who treats a woman as if they own her is not the kind of person a woman deserves.
Plato argued that “Love is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” And even though I’m in a healthy and happy relationship of several months now, I can still appreciate what my trauma and my time alone taught me as I searched for my other half.
Platonic love is sometimes just as rewarding as romantic love, and every kind of love comes with wholeness pre-packaged. I was never a half or anything less than full. I’ve always been whole, and so has every woman on this planet. The next time I see my grandfather in whatever kind of afterlife comes after this, I’ll tell him that.
Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize.