Have you ever heard of the word "bashert"? It's a word I grew up with, a word that gave me hope and helped me delude myself into complacency — all at the same time. If you doubt that one word can hold so much power, read on.
"Bashert" is a Yiddish word that means "destined." In theory, anything can be bashert. When a pair of shoes you love have just gone on sale, the word could be used this way: "I have to buy those Michael Kors platform wedge sandals. It's bashert."
But the most correct usage, if you were paying attention to your religious Jewish teachers, was this one: "When I meet my bashert, we'll get married and we'll have lots of babies." This is also the most popular usage of the word — if you've come across the term, this was probably the context.
For believers, bashert is a dating concept and ultimately a marital one. It's the Jewish version of a soulmate, and it posits that every person has another person intended for them, someone who will fulfill them and be the ideal romantic partner.
As a kid, this was an abstract idea. But as I grew into an awkward, boy-repellent teenager, bashert soon became important to me and extremely comforting. What could be greater solace than this assurance from God that I would meet someone? No matter how lonely I was, I could always tell myself, "It's OK, because one day I'll find my bashert and everything will be wonderful." Our teachers taught us that everyone had a bashert. I had only to wait to meet him and then I'd have the perfect relationship.
When boys, and eventually young men, did start asking me out, the word took on a different, more complicated dimension. Instead of using it to soothe myself, bashert became my foolproof method of avoidance, as in, "I don't think I'll go out on a second date, because this guy isn't my bashert" or "This relationship isn't working out. He's not my bashert. Shut it down."
Bashert enabled me not to face the truth about myself, which was that I was incapable of connecting with men despite my sexual attraction to them. I had issues and baggage and I needed therapy. But the concept of bashert suggested that the problem wasn't me at all. The problem was that I just hadn't met "him" yet.
I held onto bashert for many years — why wouldn't I? It was much better for my self image to imagine that none of my relationship failures were my fault. It was all destined from above.
Of course, you don't have to be religious to sell yourself on this idea. Plenty of women and men believe in the concept of a soulmate. They have faith that someone perfect will come along, that all their dating woes will evaporate, leaving only this ideal being created to complete you.
If it does, more power to you. But it didn't work for me. I can't pinpoint when I let go of the concept of bashert — if it was before I stopped practicing religious Judaism or after. But I know that for a time I was hostile to the concept, as in, "There's no such thing as bashert. It's all a hoax meant to keep us alone."
Then I finally got my shit together. I went to therapy and started letting men into my life and when I did, I could take responsibility for my own shortcomings and look at bashert with more equanimity. And after I found my life partner, I was ready to reevaluate what the word meant to me.
Maybe everyone does have one soulmate. Or perhaps we have a few opportunities of a bashert throughout our lifetime. But the key — and this is what my early associations prevented me from seeing — is that relationships are like anything else.
There's no bashert fairy dust that gets you to the altar with the right person. Instead, it's the simplest formula of all: Relationships work when you work on them. As in, "I have a physical and spiritual connection with the man in my life because we work on it every day." And since we're both committed and willing, I guess that makes him my bashert.