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regret.

September 23, 2009

Every once in a while I have a moment when I’m overcome with a fear that somehow I’m not going to be happy. This is one of my greatest fears – after being fat, poor or ugly. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of making the wrong choices, but that I’m terrified I won’t know until much later. I’m afraid of having regret, of not living up to my potential, of not really wanting what I think I want. God, it sounds like I’m already having a mid-life crisis. I normally don’t worry about making the wrong decisions. At least so far, I’m very happy and regret very few things in my past. But I read this blog the other day – summed up in the following quote.

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.

It got me thinking. Clearly, less thinking is a better choice for me, but what can you do? The author compared his single life with that of his married (with children) friends. And all I could think was that I’m going to be on the “married (with children)” side of things when I’m that age. Am I going to look at my unmarried or childless friends with envy? Will that envy be something more than just a passing feeling?

Every time I see children and their parents, part of me wants my own. But then I wouldn’t be able to take weekend trips. I wouldn’t be able to randomly go out after a long day at work. I wouldn’t be responsible for just me. The more I think about it, the more I don’t really want it. But, perhaps it’s something that will come with time. I mean, I’ve fully accepted that I want to get married. No worries, nothing. And years ago, I would not have said I was in the same position. So maybe becoming a parent will be similar. When it’s time to happen, it’ll all seem ok.

Look at that – crisis averted.

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3 comments

  1. Read that article last week. My takeaway was that you shouldn’t envy others. The other real takeaway was that you should make conscious decisions of where you want your life to go. Once you get there, it’s too late. In other words, if you want to be married by 28 and 28 comes and goes and you’re not married, you need to do something about it or suddenly you’ll find yourself 65 and unmarried.

    As far as your other fears it shouldn’t be too bad because they’re all things you can control. (As opposed to, say, agoraphobia) Fat – just exercise and watch what you eat. Poor – work hard and save for a rainy day. Ugly….ok, that’s not really something you can control, but as long as you find someone that doesn’t find you ugly (such as your bf), that should be enough. I know not everyone finds me hot, but my wife does, and that’s good enough for me. And, for the most part, no one gets ugly, they just get old. And there’s nothing ugly about oldness, it just is. In fact, tons of photographers (myself included) love to photograph old people precisely because of the fine lines and wrinkles that look so amazing in black and white.

    Really, the only way you could become ugly would be to contract leprosy or have some horrible disfiguring accident. And that’s getting into the realm of silliness to be afraid about. (Unless you work in a chemical plant)

    I’m only a few years old than you, but I’d have to say that although there are a few things here and there that I wish I’d done differently, none of it is so catastrophic that I regret it. In fact, the things I feel most strongly about, if I had acted differently my life would have been the same. I just wouldn’t have hurt someone’s feelings.

    And, really, the most important thing is that as long as you’ve been aiming for something and not floating by, there’s no reason to regret where you are. You did what you thought was the best at the time and you tried your best. There’s nothing else you could have done, so it’s pointless to worry. On the other hand, if you’ve been wandering aimlessly letting others decide everything for you, then I guess you’d have a reason to be sad at not asserting yourself.


    • To your first takeaway, not comparing yourself to others is often much easier said than done. To your second, you can do everything you can to reach your goals, but if your goals end up being “wrong”, then the decisions you made along the way also, in retrospect, would be “wrong”. Using your example, you can do everything you can to get married by 28, but once there, if it ends up that married isn’t really what you thought it would be and not really what you wanted, you’re not really where you wanted to go. It could end up being a learning experience, but it’s also a bit of wasted effort and time. And what happens when that realization comes at 50 instead of 30, or in the case of children, you’re kinda stuck no matter what?


      • All good points. I guess I’m of the opinion that you can’t have the wrong goal. Your goal can only be what you want now. And if you get there and it sucks, then there’s nothing you can do about it. Life is like an experiment you can only run once. You start the experiment and you wait to see what happens, but there are no do-overs. And I guess, let’s say you realize at 50 you didn’t shouldn’t have been married at 28, the fact that it took you until 50 to figure that out must mean you had at least 22 good years, right? If it sucked at first, that’s your clue to get out right away. But 22 years? I don’t know, I guess I just see worrying about such things as futile.

        Bringing it back to a post you had a few months ago, eventually you have to pick a guy to settle down with – assuming marriage is a goal rather than serial monogamy. You just can’t go around wondering what it would be like with someone else because you didn’t pick someone else. And at that point you created a new future. Every decision is making a new future. And all other futures cease to exist. Or maybe, as some science fiction books portray, the universe segments off into a universe in which you marry John and a universe in which you stay single. And so there’s a “you” that is single and a “you” that’s married. But that’s also irrelevant because you can only experience whatever’s happening to you in this timeline.

        Sometimes, perhaps I’m just too rational. Or maybe it’s because I’m a guy. Not sure, but I just don’t see the point in worrying. To clarify what I meant before and above, whatever you choose to do, if you thought about it, then there’s no point in being sad at the outcome. You got what you got and now it’s time to make your next decision.



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