My Soulmate Fell In Love With My Roommate. It Took Me Years To Figure Out What Happened.

"I came home and found Jason and Sarah unloading groceries to make a romantic sushi dinner. I had a sudden, sickening realisation."
The author in New Orleans, where she attended law school (2002).
Courtesy of Michelle Powers
The author in New Orleans, where she attended law school (2002).

I had to put miles between myself and Jason, so I grabbed the keys to my rusty jeep and hit Interstate 10. By the time sunset surrendered the last light of day over the Gulf, I was at the Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Inside was a deserted solarium with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Mississippi. Dazed, I sat in a lounge chair for hours and just stared at the river. It was like someone had just pushed me out of a fifth-floor window ― though everything may have looked fine on the outside, I was bleeding internally.

Up until then, heartbreak had been a purely abstract concept for me ― merely the inspiration for a catchy country tune on the radio or a subplot in a rom-com ― but it had nothing to do with my life. Then everything changed.

Jason and I met at a crowded bar on the first day of law school orientation week, when I tripped and spilled a glass of IPA onto a stranger’s T-shirt. “I’m so sorry,” I sputtered. The owner of the shirt had reassuring brown eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ve got five more of these at home,” he offered kindly while wiping beer off his arm with a good-natured grin. “I’m Jason.”

During our first week of classes, we passed notes like we were in junior high and choked back laughs. Law school was a shark tank, but his magical levity made it criminally fun. After school, we sprawled on the flannel coverlet of his bed and studied civil procedure, argued about “Star Wars” trivia and binged “West Wing” long into the night. Without the complications of sex to trigger my defences, my armour slowly dissolved into sand.

The author poses at her law school graduation in 2005.
Courtesy of Michelle Powers
The author poses at her law school graduation in 2005.

I was caught off-guard when Jason brought me (and two oyster po’ boys) to watch the sunset at a grassy spot on the Mississippi called Riverbend. My spidey sense belatedly signalled this might be a pre-planned romantic interlude. I’d never been in a serious relationship, and it chilled me to think that he wanted something I didn’t know how to give.

“Listen, I can’t date anyone right now,” I told him. “Can we just keep things as they are?”

He nodded pensively, obviously hurt but trying not to show it, and then fixed his gaze on a riverboat full of sozzled tourists passing in front of us. “It’s OK, I get it,” he eventually responded.

Later that night, my roommate Sarah wanted to know if anything had “happened” with Jason. “I really don’t look at him that way. We’re just buddies,” I told her.

“In that case, you wouldn’t mind if I dated him, would you?” she asked. I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. I didn’t like where this was going, but I doubled down and gave her the answer she wanted: “Of course not, why would I mind?”

I finally woke up to reality one afternoon when I didn’t find Jason at our planned meeting spot at the racquetball court. I paced and paced. What if something had happened? God, I was worried. Wait ... why was I so worried? Twenty minutes later, I spotted his floppy brown hair running towards me.

“Where the hell have you been?!” I blurted at him. He caught me in a bear hug while I choked back relief and exasperation. Then, all of a sudden, it hit me like a cold bucket of ice over the head: Oh. This is what it feels like when you love somebody. The sensation was unlike anything my clueless 26-year-old self had ever felt.

Unsure of what to do about my feelings, I dithered for months until I finally took a chance in the kitchen after a late-night study session.

“I was wrong when I said I wasn’t looking to date someone,” I told Jason. “I think I Iove...”

Jason immediately cut me off.

The author on a trip to Italy in 2013.
Courtesy of Michelle Powers
The author on a trip to Italy in 2013.

“Listen, if soulmates exist, we’re it. But I’m no good for you that way,” he said. “I always mess things up. Friendships last.”

At the time, all that I heard him say was “soulmate.” In Greek legend, humans once had four arms and legs, and two faces, but Zeus split them into two as punishment for their pride, so they would forever walk the earth in search of their other half. Here was my other half.

My heart sprouted wings and took flight. It soared out of my chest and launched into the stratosphere. It felt like pure bliss.

I came home a few nights later and found Jason and Sarah unloading groceries to make a romantic sushi dinner. I had a sudden, sickening realisation: While I was distracted by thoughts of soulmates, I’d missed the signs that they were busy becoming a couple.

Oh, what a pathetic fool I was. There was barely time to make it outside to my jeep before the tears started rolling down my cheeks, and then I just kept driving until I got to Biloxi. There were no answers in the black of the river that night, so when I returned, I started looking for a new apartment.

I tried dating other people. With Jason, the world appeared in technicolor, but with anyone else, everything was clad in disappointing tones of grey. I nursed guilty, dangerous fantasies that he would break up with Sarah and choose me, but things between them were practically etched in stone. When they lost a rescue cat and dog in close succession, I cruelly joked that Sarah’s track record with pets was a bad sign. Graciously, she let it pass. Green was definitely not a good look on me.

Over the next two years, my friendship with Jason carried on as it always had with study sessions, racquetball, “West Wing,” po’ boys and concerts. I never mentioned how I felt ― or how much misery I experienced when I saw him with Sarah instead of me. At graduation, Jason and Sarah and I hosted a joint farewell reception together. I disguised my agony with convincing smiles as they introduced their families to each other. Then they moved west to San Diego, got married, and had two adorable kids.

My life felt like it was over before it had even begun. In the months after Jason moved, our favourite song by J. Ralph would come on the radio, and I’d pull my car over to wail gut-wrenching, almost demonic-sounding sobs until the hurt was temporarily out of my system. I nearly lost friends from all of the whining I was doing. They finally told me to “get over it,” like I was dealing with a pesky case of the flu, not a full-fledged broken heart.

If only it were that easy.

On a trip to Nicaragua, I tumbled drunkenly into bed with my hot surf instructor, the most action I’d seen in ages. Progress! The next morning, we sipped coffee and watched the sunrise. “So, who’s Jason?” he asked. “You talk a lot in your sleep. I hope he knows he’s a lucky guy.”

Brian proposing to the author at El Limón waterfall in the Dominican Republic in 2017
Courtesy of Michelle Powers
Brian proposing to the author at El Limón waterfall in the Dominican Republic in 2017

My chiropractor, a spiritual medicine healer, convinced me to dance around a fire in a cleansing ceremony to rid me of any lingering curses that might be the source of my trouble, which felt ludicrous.

Was it bad karma? Punishment from the gods? More likely, the problem was me. By refusing to take a risk that day on the river bend, I lost something irreplaceable. Fear had been guarding my heart, and I knew the only way forward was to confront it head-on, which meant looking deep into the place inside myself that I most dreaded.

I saw a therapist, who uncovered an attachment disorder as the origin of my obsession over someone I could never have and my fear of getting close to anyone else.

“Back in ’02, were you even emotionally ready to have a relationship with Jason?” she asked me. “Could you have been a good partner to him at that time?” We both knew the answer without me saying it out loud.

It took a while to believe in happy endings again. I gradually got into the relationship game but kept the stakes low. First, I dated a cowboy who was 20 years older than me and had no interest in marriage. Then an Irish alcoholic poet who was still pining for his ex-girlfriend. The inevitable breakups were bittersweet, tolerable, and nothing like what I felt in Biloxi.

A decade later, at our 10-year law school reunion, Jason gave me his familiar bear hug. He still smelled of soap and sweat and paper. I scanned the flecks of grey in his hair and the lines in his face that traced the passage of time. We had kept in touch, but I had never told him how hard I had struggled to overcome my feelings for him.

I braced for the familiar ache in my chest I expected to show up. Surprisingly, it didn’t come. The combination of the protective scar tissue I’d formed there and all of the work I’d done in therapy to understand what I’d done and why meant I was now equipped to withstand an emotional hurricane — but the winds didn’t even start blowing. I wasn’t the same person I’d been a decade ago, I’d learned a lot about myself, and I was happy for Jason and Sarah.

And as the only single and dateless person in the room, I felt like a badass for just being there ― alone but completely content. Maybe dancing around that fire had done some good after all.

The author and Brian celebrating their wedding anniversary in Big Sur, California, in 2022.
Courtesy of Michelle Powers
The author and Brian celebrating their wedding anniversary in Big Sur, California, in 2022.

The following December, my Mom asked me about Brian, a new guy I was dating. As I described him to her, a familiar sensation stopped me dead in my tracks. It was that same cold bucket of ice water I’d felt dumped over my head on the racquetball court years ago. I jumped up and grabbed my phone to text him immediately. If I had learned anything, it was that opportunities like this did not come along every day.

Two years later, Brian and I vacationed at El Limón waterfall in the Dominican Republic. While posing for a selfie with the water soaking our backs, he took out a ring and asked to marry me. My mouth popped open like a soda can.

This time around, the fear that defended me so fiercely with Jason was relaxing on the couch with a beer. This time, I said yes without hesitation ― and with a side of compassion for the woman-child I had been on that river bend.

I used to blame her for ruining my one shot at love. Now, I wanted to tell her that mistakes are all part of the journey, that she would overcome her fears with time, and that her adventures were just beginning. I wanted to let her know that second chances do exist.

Note: Names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals in this essay.

Michelle Powers is an attorney, sommelier and writer in San Diego, where she lives with her husband, Brian, and two dogs.