Maybe because it took me so long to be inducted into the hetero life, I managed to remain relatively unscathed by its draconian claims on my person. Until 25, friends were all I had, women friends specifically, and the particular closeness of sisterhood. It’s not what I sought from boyfriends, this love is an animal of an entirely different hue. For all that we’re walking meat sacks, the human soul is multifaceted, fractured—less a bone that needs to be set in a vicelike cast than a crystal scattering a rainbow of emotions. It’s not just improbable but wholly unlikely that any of us would ever come in contact with that single person, The Mythical One, who’d speak to every single facet of our multitudinous inner selves.

My partner has a great deal in common with me. From belief systems to cultural preferences, we operate in the sort of harmony that’s worth eroding a few rough edges for. It’s no different, however, from the way Solo and I function as an unit—a live-in one at that—constantly rubbing up against each others peeves but finding enough common ground to smooth over the friction. It’s the essence of human contact. Just as my soul is multifaceted in its needs and desires, so too is the love that it projects in different corners. Romantic, sexual, or filial love, sisterly affection, maternal concern, attachment and fondness underlined by care. I can’t expect absolute emotional fulfillment from any single source because I’m putting in something different, something unique for every one of them.

My heart would never suffer a singularity of affection, its needs are as diverse as the vessels from which it draws its animating force. If my two flatmate friends are witnesses to the minutiae of my everyday life, my partner is the one who helps me unravel meaning from it at the close of the day. I survive in the security of knowing that I still have parental figures lurking in the background, and despite the holes in communication or the lack of understanding that creeps in across the generational divide, there’s always a pact of unspoken and unquestioning love that bridges the gap.

Even those who are now lost in the void of time have left behind memories—of their words and actions, their very presence—which I find echoes of in my current soulmates. The person whom they helped shape went on to become the person I am now. And even though my body renews itself at the cellular level every seven years, the memories I carry are preserved unchanged. There’s always a certain kind of person—a set of personality traits, quirks, and idiosyncrasies—that I’m drawn to: Irreverence and independence, humour and intellect, book people and animal people. Shia and I first bonded over the musical output of Pink Floyd, and once it was over, I was left to muse over our favourite tunes on my own. These days, it’s Solo who I share this formative love with. And in some small, intangible way, a part of the Shia I once knew is rekindled in the Solo who she never met. Over and over again, I see sundered loves of the past find new avatars in the present.

Personal evolution doesn’t just stop with childhood, or teenhood, or at any other point if you give it free rein. And if the people we love don’t change with us, they eventually drop out of our lives, leaving a furrow that we have very few tools to rake over with. Breaking up with a lover or a partner is tough, but in a world that privileges romantic relationships, there are outlets—people are sympathetic, families rush to offer unwanted advice, best buds gather ’round to feed you chocolate and verbally demolish your ex, and there’s the entire gamut of popular media that feeds on the devolution of romance. For friend breakups, though, none of that exists. Friendship is considered secondary, fleeting, inconsequential in the grand heteronormative scheme of marriage and babies. When I look around and see my found family of friends, partner, stepdad, and last blood relative—my father, whom I speak to once a week and haven’t lived with in this decade—I wonder how the conventional narrative of human bonding would judge me as a subject.

A hierarchy is expected of my emotions, with my partner at the pinnacle and my friends forming the substratum, the miscellaneous rubble at the bottom. But when I look around, what I see instead is a cluster, a constellation of light, individual points of brightness, of love—some glowing softer, more distant, others long gone and only a memory in the galactic deep, others blazing incandescent and closer, and some like the pole star, steady and sure. I trace the lines between them, they are the zodiac of my present world. It’s not that I’ve rescinded priority altogether, but if I can drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to my partner when he needs me, it’s only because I have this network of support watching my back, raising me with uplifted arms.

Every single soul, even those that have departed from my personal cosmos leaving only an echo of their singular presence, shimmer at the edges of this net. Shia taught me how to love another, The Dude showed me how that love manifests in our bodies. It’s grounded in my bones, the lessons we learned, the revelations we stumbled upon in our time together. They might no longer be present, but the companionship we were bound in and the mark that left continues to guide my way forward. This is what I hold on to when I think about friends and soulmates, lovers and sisters from the lengthening past. The person I am today is a reflection of what they put into me, and the parts of their souls that knew mine continue to exist in the contours of my psyche.

Solo and I have been long distance BFFs for most of the time that we’ve known each other. In the past 10 months, we’ve evolved to live-in BFFs, and a few months later we’ll be long distance again. Unlike my expectations of Shia or The Dude, I have no delusions that one day—with time or travel or marriage or parenthood—we’ll cease to be in each other’s lives. And I’ve made my peace with this inevitability. Even if our paths diverge irrevocably, we will still have spent a good decade, a hallowed decade of laughs, japes, and adventures.

Growing up is mostly about letting go, realizing that the skies will change with every season, and that my constellation of soulmates be transformed with their passage. All I can ask for is companionship, given freely and with love, for as long as it lasts. ♦