The music doesn’t blare, it throbs. The bass takes over a place in you that you didn’t even know you had, and once it mixes with the one-too-many drinks swirling around in your system, your vision blurs. Another weekend, another Soulmate party. You hate them, but the public shamming that goes along with not attending is far worse than your personal feelings. The fate of the young and un-matched is shunning and exile so you dutifully attend these house parties filled with potential mates and lovers for other people, but not you. No, you have a plan. You’re 33 years old and in only two short years, you’ll no longer feel the press and pull of your community to find your Soulmate. Those who make it to 35 aren’t required to continue the search, and you can’t wait to do your own thing.
With the first three drinks, you loosened up. With the fourth through sixth, you became delightfully lightheaded. Now, after the eleventh, you feel like you’ve entered a new dimension. Stomach churning and mind buzzing, you reach for your phone to open the ride share app you downloaded for when you were too drunk to trust your own driving. But just as you pull the device out, shock causes your mouth to go dry from something other than the eleven gin and tonics you downed like a marathon runner desperate for hydration. The birthmark on your left hand begins to glow and your heart thuds. Everyone is born with a particular birthmark unique to them and one other person in the world. And that one other person is your Soulmate, and you theirs.
You weren’t looking forward to this moment but now that it’s here, you take a deep breath and try to embrace it. No face in the crowd looks the least bit excited or alarmed. When you’ve finished searching the whole house, you sigh, wondering if false alarms are possible with Soulmate birthmarks. Suddenly, yours surges and when you look around, you see someone walking towards you. There are people surrounding you both, but this one person cuts easily through them, navigating the crowd like it doesn’t exist. Their eyes are locked on yours and they give you a friendly smile as they make their way over. Your heart stops, the muted euphoria of the liquor quickly wears off when the person gets close enough for you to make them out. They are nothing at all like what you want. If anything, they are the polar opposite. Logic screams why they’re headed in your direction, but a small part of you hopes that you’re wrong. Then, the birthmark on their left hand catches your attention and your heart sinks. It is exactly like yours, and glows ever brighter the closer they get to you.
Self preservation takes over and the last thing you see before you began making your way to the exit is the shocked frown forming on the person’s lips. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you know for a fact that they are not who or even what you want to be with. The moment the two of you touch, you will be forever locked to this person and that knowledge washes over you in cold fear. The exit is blocked by two people making small talk and you can feel your Soulmate is getting closer. Will they make you touch them? By law, they can force contact with you and you’d have no biological recourse. The bond to this person would last forever. There’s only one other thing to do. Hide.
You find a room and turning out the lights, you lock the door behind you. The party rages on outside, but the growing glow of your birthmark lets you know that the person that society says you must spend the rest of your life with is getting closer. What will happen if you don’t profess your undying love for them? Your career will be over, your family will disown you, your community will shun you, and you’ll be force to run away to only god knows where. You fumble with your phone, quickly looking up ways to reverse what’s happening, but you’re not swift enough. If the glowing mark on your left hand lighting up the room didn’t give you away, the loud beating of your heart surely has. A knock at the door alerts you that they’ve found you and you cringe as a gently coaxing, “hello,” reaches you through the door. You don’t want this. You don’t want this. You. Don’t. Want. This…
The world created by Grayson Bell in Mark My Soul is a Dystopian Utopia where the call of love must be answered or the social and economical repercussions will be great. Knowing that true love is out there somewhere is a comforting thought, but also knowing that there is no choice in the matter is a terrifying one. On the surface, the grand idea of there being someone for everyone is alluring. No longer would there be a need to struggle in relationships that go nowhere. If you and another person are meant to be, then your uncontrollable biological need for that person will keep the two of you together. And, if that doesn’t work, then societal pressures will force you to remain a couple, lest you both end up ruined. But in a world where divorce doesn’t exist, what does someone do if the match they have, isn’t the match that they want? What if they don’t want to be matched at all? Or, what if their match doesn’t care about any social or biological punishments met out? What if they leave? No one, not even someone who is unmatched would take up a relationship with someone who had already connected to their soulmate. If abandoned, the other person is left to grow old, and die loveless and alone.
Undoubtedly there are some circumstances where this type of pairing is preferable, but, with so little free-will in one’s own choice of life partner, how could anyone be sure that the person they’re meant to be with, is also the person that they want to be with? Bell creates a chilling world filled to the brim with tough decision that can lead to fear inspiring consequences. Being Aesexual, when I put myself in the place of the protagonist, I paled. What if I had no choice but to have sex, even though sex isn’t even the furthest thing from my mind? The idea that a society could force this on someone made my skin crawl. Just because I am biologically capable of having sex, that doesn’t mean that I want to do it, soulmate or not. With this story, Bell forces the conversation of nature versus choice, and society versus individual autonomy.