Regrets & Choices

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There’s this one chapter in Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert about the modern-day difficulty of girls having so many choices.

In prior generations a woman might have regretted not having a career, but hey it was out of her control, so the regret was not so much about her personal choices as regretting a broad social condition, for instance.

I find myself having random fleeting thoughts like . . .

Why didn’t I join a sorority?
What was attractive about the “bad boys?”
Should I have taken the LSAT and applied to law school instead of jumping on my first writing job?
What if that one guy had been single?
What if I had stayed in California?
What if I had stayed in New York?
What if I had dumped the guy who wasn’t really into me, for the guy who was?
What if I had gone to Lithuania alone, instead of with my ex-husband?
What if I had gone to grad school in creative writing?
Why didn’t anyone ever encourage me to apply to an Ivy League school (aside from BYU)?
What if I had exercised in high school and college?
Why didn’t I ever like the nice boys who asked me to marry them?
Why did I waste like 15 years on a friendship that felt awful to me at least half the time?
What if I done what I was supposed to and married a nice Mormon boy?

As Elizabeth Gilbert points out, it’s not that I hate my current reality, I don’t. It’s just that, unlike my mother, who felt her only decision was to get married or not, choose a family or no family, I was born into a world with more choices. My daughter is born into a world with nearly unlimited choices.

Also, there is a large feminist time-lapse involved in my regrets. For instance, I grew up in a microcosm of ultra-socially-conservative-mothers-should-stay-at-home culture, religion and family. So, though my family encouraged college they discouraged ambition in girls. One went to college to find an educated man, and make sure you could provide for yourself and children if you had to. You should choose not to.

To plan on any career, or clandestinely nurse any professional worldly dreams, outside the nuclear family at all was extraordinarily ambitious. To move to Lithuania or California or New York at all was extremely adventurous and independent of me (defined as “dangerous” by my conservative family). To pursue writing as a J-O-B was a nice temporary choice, to be abandoned at the birth of a my first child.

It’s only in retrospect, when I am 36, and not 16 with all my choices ahead of me, that these same social conservatives have the likes of Stephanie Meyers and Sarah Palin, Ambitious Religious Conservative Mothers. There certainly was no such thing as a Feminist Mormon Housewife.

So, I’m not going to feel bad about my occasional musings on what might have been if the choices available to me had been different. Is “regret” really the best word for it? As my daughter’s choices expand into infinity, I get the odd pleasure on reflecting on a world of unlimited choice and daydreaming about how my life might have been different if I’d have gone right instead of left, or left instead of right, at the many forks in the road.

3 replies
  1. Rebecca says:

    Men have these types of regrets. My husband has major regrets because he dropped out an Ivy League business school. Even though he has what people would consider a really great career now, he has always really regretted that.. deep down he thinks he would have a “more satisfying” career if he had gone down that road instead of the one he ultimately took. Of course, I like to tell him when this comes up every few years “you would never have met me, and aren’t I wonderful”? 😉 These types of arguments don’t really work, and I get it. I have those same types of regrets. (Not that I ever was accepted to an Ivy League school!)

    The very first time in our marriage this came up, I was totally shellshocked that this still really bothered him, all these years later. I don’t think he is unusual. I think regretting paths taken / not taken is just a human thing. I think people who really obsess about it are not doing themselves any favors.

    I know someone who inherited a couple hundred thousand dollars as an 18 year old b/c his dad died. He blew it all instantly. He bought one really expensive car after another. He’s my age now and struggles with a paycheck to paycheck situation. The concept of all that money now probably boggles his mind. All because he was a stupid kid. I can’t imagine dealing with that kind of regret!

    I think what you and I have to deal with isn’t really the same thing… and I think that you definitely have the right perspective about it.

  2. Tracee says:

    BTW I wasn’t even counting the “OMG I wish I hadn’t done THAT! What was I thinking? Please God let my kids be smarter than me!” regrets. (like your friend and the money)

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