With the advent of my oldest nephew turning 18, I found myself thinking back on the last 18 years. As you do. Where I was in life when he was born, which is to say, on the verge of homelessness and complete physical and emotional devastation. It would be another nine months or so before I’d accept a lifeline, and things would finally change for the better. So I find myself thinking back on all that has transpired since then. The person I am today compared to the person I was 18 years ago, and all the stops in between. I think back on jobs I had, places I lived, friends I made, men I dated, and all the work going on underneath the surface to shift my own emotional landscape. All the “life” that has happened for me over the course of my nephew’s life, because he came along at such a pivotal time.
And while in the midst of all this reminiscing, I find myself battling a not-so-subtle shift from nostalgia to regret.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing – or at least, it can be. You think back on good times, you reminisce about happy memories and events… that stuff doesn’t have to take away the present moment, it just means you can look back on your life and enjoy the highlight reels, you know? But for me, at least recently, it seems like that nostalgia can take a wrong turn and before you know it, you’re wondering where you went wrong and wishing you’d done things differently. You’re thinking things were better back then, and wishing for times gone by. You’re sometimes even forgetting the bad or not-so-awesome parts and only remembering the good parts, maybe even as being better than they were.
And I guess maybe that only happens if you’re not finding the happy with where you are right now. (Note to self: remember to keep finding the happy in where you are right now.)
Regret is one of those things I’ve always promised myself to guard against. I’ve seen how it destroys people – in particular, someone very close to me; I’ve seen how it can permeate every waking moment, and how it can tarnish even the happiest of times, turning it all into one big pile of “not enough.” I’ve seen how it can make you turn against yourself, lamenting choices made, paths taken… all of it.
And now, I know what that feels like.
(All the more reason to battle against it, then.)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a family of my own. Maybe it’s because mine was blown apart when I was a kid, and I’ve been trying to get that sense of security back ever since. Maybe that’s why I’ve never truly felt at home anywhere – not for very long, anyway – because it’s just been ME. But whatever the case, I have recognized in me the desire to have kids, the desire to find a partner, the desire – a need, almost – to pair up and settle down and have a life and family together. And maybe it was just the *idea* of these things – although my body was always yearning to know what it felt like to grow and carry a human – but whatever the case, that desire has always, always been there. It was never strong enough to make me willing to settle, mind you; to have a kid in less than what seemed like ideal circumstances, but it’s definitely been ever-present.
Unfortunately, I think that desire was coming from the wrong place. And I should probably put quotations around the word “wrong” because, you know, we all just do the best we can. But when you’re being driven by a desire to fill a void left behind, the results you net probably aren’t going to be what you really want, and, more importantly, what you really, actually need. Instead, it causes you to be a whole lot less selective in your race to the finish line of “happily ever after.” I spent a lot of time and effort on liars, cheaters, manipulators, addicts… you name it, all for the sake of trying to fill that void and get that happily ever after.
That’s a lot of wasted time. A lot of wasted years – if that’s how I choose to view it.
To find myself, at the age of 43, still single and without a kid or two of my own, still not having experienced a thing that, to me, is one of the greatest representations of what it means to be human and to participate in that life experience… it’s hard. To know what a solid human I am and all that I have to offer someone else, all that I would have had to offer a little human as a parent, and to have spent the last 18 years growing and changing and working towards that “better person every day” thing and to STILL have never found what I’ve wanted with someone else…
I think I might just be mourning the loss. And I think I have to be REAL careful to not fall into the trap of blaming myself somehow for all of this. Wishing I could have grown and changed faster, or gotten myself ready to receive those gifts when it was still a possible thing. You know?
Nostalgia takes me back to Minneapolis, when I dated one of the sweetest, kindest, smartest, most generous and thoughtful men I’ve ever known, until he moved back to Boston to finish school. Neither of us was prepared to navigate a long-distance thing, and I know that. We lost touch not long after, and I was left with a lot of happy memories with him, as well as the knowledge that I could, in fact, open up to someone good (after spending a lot of years falling prey to not-so-good). But that nostalgia turns into regret sometimes. Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I stay in touch? Why didn’t we try again? Why couldn’t that have been the one?
Nostalgia takes me back to Portland, too. To another sweet, kind, thoughtful, emotionally-present man who was ALL IN with me… and I loved him enough to break things off when I realized I wasn’t there yet. He deserved and needed more than I could give, and it wasn’t fair to pretend any other outcome was possible then. We’ve also lost touch, and I think that was more of a protective measure for him than anything, at least in the beginning. But again, nostalgia has turned into regret there, too. Or at least a whole lot of “what if” and “why not.” Why couldn’t I have been ready? Why did I have to miss out on someone good who was all about it – and me?
And maybe it’s just that neither of these were the right time, right person, right situation, and that happens. Maybe none of it warrants regret, because sometimes things just don’t work out. I’d imagine they’re both happily with someone else by now, if that’s what they wanted, because they both had such good and willing hearts. I don’t begrudge THAT at all; if anything, I’d be happy for the women they’ve found to spend time (or their lives) with. They’d be some fortunate women.
But I see where nostalgia can go with me, at least some of the time. Nostalgia turns into lamentations of wrong turns and bad calls and all the other things that, at this point, I have no control over other than how I choose to remember them. I’ve continued to make “interesting decisions” in who I spend time with, but I’m pretty sure those days have also come to an end. I’ve finally, finally had enough; I just wonder sometimes if it’s too late.
I mean, I know. There is still plenty of time to meet someone and to have that partnership, barring some unforeseen tragedy. If all goes well, I still have another 40 years of life ahead of me, and that’s a hell of a long time; a lot can happen. And, truth be told, I’m finally in a place where I am happy on my own, too. I’ve got a job that I love again, I’m in school and learning about things that fascinate me and it’s got me on the right career trajectory, I have a roof over my head and loving family members and friends nearby… what it means to be alive is however you define it.
I think I finally get that.
So I guess I’m just making room for mourning the loss – of past loves, sure, but also the loss of hope surrounding certain things coming to pass in my life. Acceptance. And then, too, making room for appreciation of everything else that’s come to pass instead. Engaging in active gratitude, and maintaining perspective about all of it. When you regret, there’s no room for anything else; it tarnishes even the brightest and shiniest of things, and adds a whole lot of weight to the burdens we already bear, just by our very human nature. If nothing else comes to pass in the next 40 years of life, I just want to keep on shining.
And so, no more looking back with anything other than a fond thought and a small smile. Onward and upward, y’all. ❤