How I Met My Soulmate’s Mother

17/03/2023

When I fell in love with a young Armenian woman, I came to realize that all the stereotypes I had heard about how restrictive this culture is about relationships and the independence of grown children were not just over-the-top exaggerations. And the tragedy that has befallen us because of them has inspired me to speak out and try to change things for the betterment of all Armenians.

Hasmik and I knew we had an instant connection. Though I was very experienced in the ways of love and relationships, she admitted to me that she had never really even been attracted to anyone before me. I could see how strange and new the whole process of our pairing was. For nearly a year, we grew gradually closer together, though she did her part to try to fight her instincts and keep some distance between us. I remember so clearly the usual reason for her apprehension about moving our relationship forward: "I just have to see how my family will react to you since you are not one of us."

"One of us." It was such an offputting way to phrase it—like that I was an outsider who hadn't learned all the sacred rules and rituals of a cult that was considering me for initiation.

From the start of our relationship, I had been warned that her parents would be very scrutinizing of any man she showed interest in, and I was the first man in her life to meet that description. Hasmik's standards for a partner were so high that she had never met someone before me that she could see a future with. As she put it, she could never be with a "simple man." I guess I am about as far from "simple" as a man can get, so she chose well in that regard.

After several months of dating, Hasmik finally agreed to let me meet her parents. I thought this was great news and a major step in the right direction. I had even heard that in some families, the daughter introducing her boyfriend to her parents was practically equivalent to a marriage proposal. It indicated she was extremely serious about him and willing to display her commitment to the closest people in her life.

I was picturing that I'd come to Yerevan for a nice family dinner and we'd all get to know each other. Maybe I'd bring my guitar or ukulele and win them over with some campy love songs sung with and about their daughter. But Hasmik didn't seem to view it that way. If anything, she seemed scared and anxious, as though this event was certain to derail everything stable about her home life. I thought she was overreacting. I thought that though I may be different than what her parents were expecting in a partner for her, they would certainly fall in love with me once they got to know me as a good man and saw how much I cared about their daughter.

I made the three-hour trip to Yerevan on the appointed day of our meeting just to learn that her father had decided not to meet me. In Hasmik's words, her father "didn't want to give me any hope of getting his approval for dating his daughter." That statement implied to me that I was automatically disqualified because I was a foreigner who didn't conform perfectly to his expectations for how his daughter's love life should happen. I was a threat to his sense of control over her merely by existing. I was desperately hoping I was wrong about this interpretation because it sounded overtly racist and xenophobic to me, and I didn't want to assume such negative qualities about my future father-in-law.

Only Hasmik's mother came to meet us in the park that day for what felt like a combination job interview and criminal interrogation. For over an hour, she drilled me with questions about the life I envisioned for her daughter. Would we live far away from them? Would I interfere with her obligations to and role within her family? Would I lessen the control and influence they had over their beloved offspring? I tried to give reassuring answers without just saying what I thought she wanted to hear.

"Well, it depends on where Hasmik wants to live. I would never force her to do anything she doesn't want to do. We'll figure out solutions that work for both of us."

It struck me that virtually every question her mother asked me was about the decisions she presumed I would be making on her daughter's behalf. Imagine her shock when every answer I gave served only to restore her daughter's own agency and remind her that I had no coercive authority over her just because I was the man in her life.

"What if things don't work out between you? What if you leave my precious Hasmik?"

"I've had a lot of experience in love, and I know what I want. I love your daughter because I see who she really is, and I know the profound effect she has on me. Every part of my life is better with your daughter in it. At this moment, I have no intention of living more of my life without your daughter in it. But I can promise you that if we ever do break up, it will be healthy and for the best. We will both walk away better because of our relationship."

"Gregory, I understand that you come from a different world with different rules, where women date as many men as they want. But we have to live in the real world here in Armenia."

I realized she meant that if Hasmik and I were to break up, Armenian men would see her as undateable. Most of them wanted pure, innocent women who had never been close to a man before them. This meant, in her mother's eyes, that Hasmik couldn't risk even casually dating me because it might permanently ruin her reputation among the kind of men who would see her as having been defiled by association with me. I was aghast at the idea that the kind of man she was describing was who she might prefer her daughter end up with instead of me.

It breaks my heart to see how this society has conditioned its young people to think about relationships. The closer Hasmik and I got, the clearer it became that there was a war going on in her soul. On one side were her budding romantic feelings for me. This was the side that was quickly starting to see me as her soulmate and part of a new destiny she could never have previously predicted. I represented opportunity for a life outside the constraints she was raised with. That's why she found my varied life experiences so interesting. I had spent most of my life going on the types of adventures and learning the types of things that her culture would never allow her to.

On the other side of the war was her respect and admiration for her family and the traditions they represented, including her need to stay true to her accepted role within it. I came to see that it would be impossible for her to be totally comfortable with me so long as she saw me as a threat to her family stability and cultural sensitivities. A systemic change was required. No isolated acts of romanticism could make her feel completely comfortable being with me, and she might even grow to resent me for trying. I had to strike at the root of the problem, which meant opening up a dialogue with the people in her life who were principally responsible for maintaining her cultural identity: her mother and father.

Very quickly, Hasmik went from being closer and more intimate with me than she ever had been to completely distant and detached. She began acting as though she had no connection to me and couldn't care less about the consequences of abandoning the expectations we had set for each other. This woman who told me I was the first man she ever loved and called me her soulmate, who took great risks to spend time with me and talked about having children with me, was now treating me like a stranger. My heart ached. I couldn't do nothing and let this beautiful woman hide the beautiful parts of herself and become something cold and ugly.

So, I wrote to her mother, who I saw as the doorway to eventually winning over the father since he had refused to even acknowledge my presence in his daughter's life. I told Hasmik's mother that I was in love with her daughter and wanted to marry her. Nothing she could do or say would change my feelings about this. Her response was more honest than I expected. She said that she respected my feelings but that what I wanted would be impossible. Her daughter and I come from different worlds.

"But nothing is impossible for passionate people," I wrote. "Passionate people change the world when they are motivated to, and there is no greater motivator than true love. And even though we come from different worlds with different ideas about how life works, what matters is that I am someone who knows your daughter and wants her to be happy. I will spend the rest of my life treating her as a part of myself and building the new world required for us to be together."

I told her she didn't have to be afraid of me just because I don't adhere to the same traditions and beliefs. Sometimes the unknown can bring us things we didn't expect would be better than what we already had. It requires an open mind and passion to see that, though.

"Your daughter and I have discovered a miraculous type of compatibility in each other. The consequences of trying to ignore it would be drastic for both of us. I only ask that you consider my feelings and intentions as a person who shares your love and concern for Hasmik. I am someone who wants to see her realize her potential and do everything she has ever wanted to do in her life. I'm not telling you this to ask your permission to be with her. I'm telling you because I think it's important that you know the truth. You are a part of her life. Whatever we do or don't do together will affect you and be affected by you."

What she said next came across as shockingly self-aware to me:

"I believe everything you said, Gregory, but I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll lose my daughter. I'm afraid you'll take my daughter into your world like some kind of fairy tale witch, and we'll lose her. I'm afraid your passion will pass, and you won't be able to stand each other anymore. I'm afraid because you two are so similar to each other, two crazy people."

"That's why I want you to get to know me better. I want you to see the kind of person I've been all my life so that you can trust it will never change. There is nothing more reliable in the universe than that a man will act according to his nature. I want you to see my nature. Hasmik has always been afraid because she thinks that you will judge her for being with me. She thinks you can't accept me. That's why she keeps me away from you, even though I am always telling her to let me come to Yerevan and spend time with her family. It doesn't have to be this way. We can coexist and flourish together."

Hasmik's mother was sympathetic to my feelings. I could tell, even through text. I think she couldn't help but like me, even though she couldn't bring herself to approve of me being with her daughter. She would rather think of me as a dream of heaven that popped into Hasmik's head one night and then left her as she awoke and returned to the real world where she belongs.

"Gregory, it will be good and right for all of us, and especially for you, to forget Hasmik and live your life in your own world. You are a creative soul. You have your inner world. You are an accomplished person. Hasmik is just a temporary source of inspiration for you, a muse at this stage of your life. It is better to put her out of your heart and mind and enjoy your life in peace. You are a good person, and I don't want it to be painful for you, but there is no other option. You have a very good idea of ​​what the difference in our cultures means. You can't resist all that. You cannot pretend that you and Hasmik are the only ones in this world and that there aren't many troubles you'd have to go through. You are a sin. I don't want to throw my daughter into the chaos of that struggle. Struggle both inside and outside, struggle with herself and her environment. You will experience the same, but it will be easier for you because Armenian traditions and environment are incomprehensible to you. Our family is not a prisoner of them, but we are in this environment and culture. Just the fact that I interacted with you this much means that I don't want to hurt you. But I love my daughter more. I am sure that in a short time you will find a kindred spirit from your world and your life will be full. Let my daughter live her life in her environment."

With this revelation, my suspicions about Hasmik's forced distancing were verified. I saw now that it wasn't just her family's expectations I was fighting. It was all of Armenia's collective unconscious associations and the judgments they would force down upon anyone in this society who dared to try things differently in pursuit of their own passions.

"Hasmik is not just a temporary source of inspiration for me. When I am with Hasmik, I know that there is nothing more that I could ever want from the experience of loving someone. It is the same thing I have been looking for my whole life, and I believe it is what she will always be looking for too. It is a fundamental part of our shared nature as two crazy people in love. It will eventually destroy us to be apart. She is necessary to who I am. Differences in culture can always be conquered. The love we feel for each other is worth finding a solution for. It is not chaos. Being apart from whom you should be with is chaos. Change is not chaos. Change is growth. It is the creation of new order. It's how we improve over time. Things cannot stay the same forever. We have to grow to survive."

I started to suspect that perhaps Hasmik's mother shared some of her daughter's forbidden romantic soul. Perhaps she had hidden it away and suppressed it for the sake of living well in her culture long ago, and that was why she insisted that her daughter must do the same. I wondered if there were any magic combination of words I could say that would remind her of that part of herself and believe in her daughter too. And suddenly, I also began to feel sympathetic to the fears and traumas that must have been inflicted on this woman to bring her to such a state as this.

"You will never meet another man in Armenia who feels the way I do about your daughter. And I will never stop feeling that way until I die. If you love your daughter as I do, you owe it to her to consider every possibility. You must be willing to see that what she wants and what will make her happiest might be something you never expected. I am not a threat to you or her. I am an emergent opportunity for someone you dearly love."

I know a face an ongoing battle ahead to open the hearts and minds of those conditioned by social forces to deny their nature and authentic desires. But if there is anything worth struggling for in this world, it is clearly the sake of one's soulmate, the woman who completes you in this lifetime and activates your highest potential as you activate hers. I feel like I am trapped in a tragic love story that can't possibly be real. It seems like something someone wrote for its narrative potential, not a devasting human experience I must endure. But I suppose that enduring this is the most romantic thing I will ever do. What kind of man, what kind of lover and soulmate would I be if I couldn't hold out hope for her to return to the light in her darkest times?

There is a light that still burns deep inside the heart of my Hasmikik. This world hasn't driven it from her fully. 

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