Finding love — not even a soulmate — gets harder as you get older. I never realized I found both until it was all gone. Until she left. This was a gradual realization that lasted as long as takeoff did on my flight back to Miami last December. As I crammed my Kindle, AirPods and an extra pair of jeans into my backpack below my seat, I thought about Maja. So, I put everything aside and tried to do what I always do to get rid of obsessions. I tried to write a poem. And, for the first time in a long time, platonic love made me cry.

I was out of words to describe my love and appreciation for someone who came into my life by accident — a literal mistake — and made it better.

I had never lived anywhere except at home; so I was nervous when it came to meeting my future roommates. I only knew about two until the last minute.“I got a roommate!” read my suitemate’s message on March 1. Oh. Ok? At the time, it didn’t seem significant. However, that is when our story began to unfold gradually. 

The first thing I noticed about Maja were her black sunglasses complementing her blonde hair; her flowery dress and yellow purse matching the end of summer. Her presence exuded a chill yet put-together vibe. She was talkative but nice with a natural sense of style. For some time, our relationship was limited to letting each other know when we were done showering.

I’m most certain the gym bridged our gap. I used to go daily, so one day, she asked if we could go together. As a new student in such a big school, I did not have many expectations from anyone. The expectation to make good friends has let me down before. Well, we suddenly realized how alike our thoughts on friendship were. Every day, regardless of how bad our days turned out to be, we waited for each other to go to the Pierson gym. Sometimes at 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. Summarizing our days and complaining about how rude people can be started filling a hole I did not know was there. She felt the same. Slowly, our night meetups merged into the day.

Something that’s unique about Maja is her love for living. Not only passing through life, but quenching the soul’s needs, doing things to live and not living to do things. I started noticing this when our conversations shifted from her crazy stories about love and relationships back at Yale-NUS to food. With her, everything was about food and the experience associated with it. “The dining hall food is so bad! I just need good food after such a mid day!” she would text me. That time, this turned into an invitation to Sherkaan and my first time ever trying Indian food with her boyfriend, Theo.

Anyone who knows me might find this shocking. After all, I never eat out and never dare trying something new. Maja changed that.

Ever since I started getting closer to Maja, there were two things she wanted to experience with me: my first time having a “good bagel” and my first time eating Polish food, from where she’s from. All of that happened when we left everything behind one Saturday and went to New York. We were approaching finals, so it was our last chance. Besides witnessing a wedding at Central Park, introducing her to thrifting, falling in love with my first pierogi and proving her right about a “good bagel” at Nosh Broad Bagels, Maja taught me to ask for what I want unapologetically. When in the middle of a crazy line, anxious and indecisive, I felt the need to make a random decision.

That’s when Maja stopped me and said, “Don’t worry, Nicole. Make your decision, they can wait. This is about you.” She did that. She always turned things around, made sure we were getting the best experience — maximized joy out of everything. Even on one of my worst days, when I couldn’t stop crying in my dorm about something back in my previous college, Maja stopped everything she was doing and took me to Ashley’s. We walked, felt the air, passed by Lululemon and complained about the prices. I talked; she listened. Suddenly, my thoughts felt lighter. I even left my phone back in our suite. We never texted when we were together. It was as if time stopped.

In an environment as competitive and overwhelming as Yale, time never stops. No one stops for anyone else. Maja and I stopped time for each other. She’s someone who saw me for everything I’m and loved me for that. She saw much more light in me than I had ever seen before.

After a semester without Maja, I now acknowledge how hard it was. After engaging in so many shallow relationships this past semester, the hole she had filled reappeared. Her bright presence made her absence feel like a missing painting in a museum.

Every time I met a Polish person, a student from Yale-NUS, or talked to someone who knew Maja, I brought her up in conversation. Doing so brightened my day. While it was hell at first, her teachings and our shared memories started gradually filling the hole these past few months. I started cultivating friendships who saw me for what I am and accepted me fully, and stopped settling for less.

Maja is a long-distance soulmate I never knew I needed, who slowly and radically changed my life. Today, I smile when rereading the poem I wrote for her on the plane:

“this is one of the most beautiful farewells I have been a part of. being your friend is a miracle i will always be grateful for. u showed me a light of myself i had never seen before, or others had convinced me it was not worth letting through. laughing and eating with you was liberating and peaceful. our differences unified us.”