Monday, March 14, 2011

R is for Regret. (Or, you know, not)

"Do you have any regrets?"

I was having a drink with a friend I'd not seen in some time and we were talking about where we'd been in our lives over the last six years or so. She: married. Had two children. Upwardly mobile and contemplating a career move that would relocate her family in a drastic but potentially fabulous way. Me: Changed careers twice. Moved four times. Got divorced.

She said it with a little bit of concern, and in that moment, I could see that she thought that not only should I have regrets, but that I should have a lot of them. The career thing bothered her, I could tell -- we'd once been coworkers and had both been labeled promising talent, but she had blossomed and I had just burned out. The marriage thing bothered her, since she'd apparently liked my ex-husband. The childlessness bothered her for reasons I couldn't quite fathom.

"Nope," I said. I could tell that it was the wrong answer, but I don't believe in regret. It strikes me as an exercise in futility because  -- well, because time moves forward in a linear fashion, so if you're always looking behind you, you miss what's in front of you, and that's no way to live. (It is an excellent way to make sure that you trip and fall -- a LOT -- if that's your goal.)

"None?" she said, in disbelief. "You don't regret that you don't have children? You don't regret that your marriage ended? You don't regret the job you gave up?"

At this point, something was very obvious to me:  we probably would never be getting together for a drink again. The truth is the most loyal pal you'll ever have in your life. I tried to be gentle, though, I really did.

"Listen," I said. "Here's the deal. You're a teacher. You know that some of the best lessons that happen in your class are the organic ones. The ones that happen when a student discovers something for herself. When the click happens. That's what life is like, isn't it? The best things are sometimes the ones that happen off the grid, outside of the china patterns and the planned vacation and the carefully constructed career ladder. I couldn't be who I am now if I hadn't lived that particular life. And yes, while I sometimes think of how differently it all could have gone, that's not the same thing as regretting how it did go. Because I like where I'm at."

It was when she not-so-subtly shook her head -- again in disbelief -- that I stopped trying to be nice. "Take right now," I said. "I could be regretting the fact that I came here to enjoy a drink with you but find myself having to justify my life and how it's turned out. But instead of regretting it, I'm choosing to enjoy the opportunity to really reflect on how fabulous it actually all is.

"And," I added, looking at my watch, "it looks like it's time for me to be getting on with it. Good luck with the family and the job."


Non, je ne regrette rein.


  1. Wow. It never ceases to amaze me how thoughtless people can be. I wouldn't be seeing her again, either. Based on what I know, I'd call your life a win. You're thoughtful, you're constantly working on bettering yourself, you're helping others through your writing, and you're happy. That's success!

  2. Winning! But not like Charlie Sheen.