Finding yourself / Modern life Q&A / Of men and women

What is a soulmate?

Hi everyone! Starting with today’s blog post, I’m introducing an audiocast of this blog in English. I will read each post in English, and you can follow along in the text below. Perhaps this will be a fun way for you to practice your English with me. A big thank-you to journalist Nina Xiang for her help in getting this audiocast started.

To hear Joy read this post in English, click here.

Yoko Ono with her Wish Tree

It was 2008, and Dave and I were on our honeymoon, in Venice at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the beautiful museum in the Grand Canal palazzo where the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim lived and entertained the 20th century artists whom she befriended and supported.

After a couple hours viewing the collections indoors, I wandered into the garden where I came upon a small, live olive tree. Its branches were covered with fluttering slips of paper. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was a participatory-art piece inviting visitors to post a wish.  Some wishes were lofty, such as: “I wish for an end to poverty and tyranny.” Others were mundane: “I wish to get laid.”

After browsing some of the wishes that others had left, I turned to the small plaque beside the tree: “Wish Tree Venice. 2003. To Peggy with Love.Yoko Ono.”

Yoko Ono. Throughout my life, Yoko Ono has been the world’s most famous Asian woman.  I knew of her as the conceptual artist best known, and carelessly vilified, as the woman who broke up the Beatles.

John and Yoko: One of the great love stories of our time

John and Yoko

It was 1966, and John Lennon had been invited to the Indica Gallery in Central London for the private preview of a one-woman show. As he later told Playboy magazine, the purpose of his visit was not entirely for artistic interest. He’d been enticed by the gallery’s co-owner, who’d told him about a performance that would be taking place involving the artist, a Japanese woman from New York, in a black bag. That sounded to him like something to do with sex, and so he went.

At the gallery was one of Yoko’s early participatory-art pieces, a white board with nails in it and a sign inviting visitors to hammer a nail into its surface.

Since the show was not beginning until the next day, Yoko refused to allow John to hammer in a nail.

The gallery owner whisked her aside, saying, “Don’t you know who that is? He’s a millionaire!”

She returned to John and said he could hammer in a nail for five shillings.

He famously retorted, “I’ll give you an imaginary five shillings if you let me hammer in an imaginary nail.”

Their connection was instantaneous. John was 26. Yoko was 33.

They were not a traditional couple. John was born from a blue-collar family and became an overnight superstar. Yoko was the disappointing child of a famous Japanese banking family dismayed by her friendships with the avant-garde artists who represented the freedom she herself sought.

After The Beatles disbanded, John and Yoko lived and created music in London and then in New York. Their son Sean was born in 1975 on John’s 35th birthday. Following the birth of their son, John and Yoko lived in relative seclusion until one evening in 1980 when John was murdered by a deranged fan in front of their home with Yoko and their son inside.

Yoko Ono: A ground-breaking artist in her own right

Many people still blame Yoko for the break-up of The Beatles, disregarding the intense and passionate love that held John and Yoko together, and disregarding Yoko’s own ground-breaking work as an artist.

Here are some recollections about her from art-world luminaries:

Yoko felt that an Asian woman was seen as a dragon lady or an obedient slave—nothing in between the extremes. There were countless racist remarks in the press, especially after the breakup of the Beatles, but she has overcome it over many years. She has made a great contribution in changing the world’s view of Asian women in general. She has consistently projected an image of a self-aware, confident, creative, and strong-willed woman.
—Midori Yoshimoto, professor of art history

I do not know any other contemporary artist who has remained as relevant in so many different eras. She clearly doesn’t give a shit about maintaining status in the art world, receiving awards, or being recognized. She simply wants to make smart, inclusive work that makes the world a better place. Waking up in New York every morning makes me happy, knowing she is waking up here, too.
—Kathleen Hanna, musician

The most surprising thing about Yoko Ono is her courage to be positive. [She] turns negative power into positive power, and it’s very akin to martial arts…. You take the oppositional, negative death energy, and you transform that into a life force. She doesn’t attack back; she just changes the ground of the criticism. —Alexandra Munroe, senior curator, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and author of YES Yoko Ono

My relationship with Yoko Ono

I’ve never met Yoko Ono in person, but she’s always been a presence in my life.

I started at Duke as a marine-biology major, and when I traversed rural North Carolina on my commutes to the Duke Marine Lab, I’d stop in tiny restaurants where people had never before met an Asian. Conversation would stop and heads would swivel in my direction. Time to play cultural ambassador.  Sometimes they’d ask me where I was from and if I could speak English. Other times they’d ask if I was related to the one Asian woman whose name they knew.

“No. Yoko Ono is Japanese. I am Chinese. We’re different.”

So, it was after having long been associated with Yoko Ono that suddenly on a sunlit 2008 afternoon in Venice, I gazed at the work of this most famous of Asian women.

I imagined her standing there beside me, and I wondered what she herself wished for.  I reflected on the legendary love of John and Yoko, and I wished upon a tree that my new marriage with Dave would flourish as theirs once did.

My wish has been granted. When Dave and I first married, I thought that I could not love another person more than I loved Dave. But each year, our love has continued to deepen. We’ve since been graced with the arrival of two baby girls who make our hearts burst. But at the core of our family is still just the two of us.

What is a soulmate? Do you get just one?

Love is only the starting point for a soulmate
relationship. That’s because a lifetime commitment is nothing like
dating. In fact, marriage is like a mundane small business in which
you are co-partners and co-employees

I believe that each of us has several potential soulmates out there. As a headhunter, you need to choose the one to whom you’ll bind your life forever.  A soulmate relationship requires two things. Consuming love, plus a lifetime commitment.

It all starts with love, passionate love. When you are with your partner, your heart sings. The world is a brighter and more joyful place. You’d rather be with this person than with any other person in your world.

But love is not enough for a soulmate relationship. This can be really confusing because falling in love feels so intoxicating. No other experience is quite as fun or quite as exhilarating.  And we can fall in love well before we’re mature enough to evaluate someone as a potential soulmate. Teenagers can fall in love with passion and abandon.

But love is only the starting point for a soulmate relationship. That’s because a lifetime commitment is nothing like dating. In fact, marriage is like a mundane small business in which you are co-partners and co-employees. This actually can be really nice, if you hitch yourself to the right partner.

For the company to succeed, you and he must agree on the direction of your company and the values by which it will run. You must believe in each other completely and trust in each other’s good judgment. You must figure out how your company will make money and how to spend it. You must identify what tasks must be done and who will do what. Unlike in any other small business, however, you both must commit to being co-owners and co-employees in this company for the rest of your days on Earth.

A great marriage is like a miracle

Marriage is a choice, but it’s not like any other choice. Given the advances in medical science, you may live into your 90s, so before deciding on a soulmate, it’s really important that you feel that you have the wisdom and maturity to make the commitment of a lifetime. .

At first, you’re two independent people. When you make the decision to commit your future together, you start to intertwine your lives. Over time, your bond becomes symbiotic, like yin and yang. It’s over time that you become soulmates.

A great marriage is like a miracle in your life. It is that sacred, and you both make it sacred by dedicating yourself to each other every day.

There is nothing better.


I welcome your comments, in English or Chinese, on the Chinese version of this blog post, which is here.