“I stumbled on
it kinda made me laugh.
It took me way back,
back down memory lane.
I see the happiness,
I see the pain.
Where am I?
Back down memory lane.
I see us standing there,
such a happy, happy pair.
Love beyond compare,
— Minnie Riperton
My phone vibrated in my hand. It was a text from my childhood friend, Michelle:
“(G-Force) is on Shark Tank right now.”
I paused for a second, perplexed and momentarily distracted by the much-lauded arrival of Adrian Grenier—bearing a huge bottle of Mezcal and tray full of shot glasses—into the already filled-to-capacity hotel room I was standing in at The Standard, celebrating my homegirl Mol’s 40th. It was oddly appropriate, since our “grown-up dorm party” was increasingly looking like a scene out of ‘Entourage: Ten Years Later’.
I glanced down at my phone again. Who is G-Force???
This would turn out to be the kind of ridiculous question one only asks while buzzed, since I’d actually been in contact with G more recently than Michelle. G was one of my first exes, my first long-distance relationship and one of my first loves. In fact, from the summer after my junior year through my first semester away at college, he was the love of my then-teenaged life.
“Is he? Yay!” I replied, explaining that I was at a party. Ignoring this, she texted back immediately.
“He did well…1.5 million offer with a 10% stake, etc…”
Wow. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. No, seriously. G is one of a handful of men I’ve loved who I genuinely haven’t a negative word to say about. As long as I’ve known him, he’s been the same stand-up guy: handsome, affable, loyal, considerate, ambitious, and kind. In fact, just a month or two before, he’d written to check on me, sensing that I’d hit a rough patch. I had.
He was, as always, reassuring and comforting, even after all these years. He was confident that everything would be okay. I believed him, and could only imagine what a good dad he must be, now that he was happily married with two beautiful daughters of his own. Truth is, he’d turned out to be exactly the man I always thought he’d be: the kind who makes you proud to be a part of his history.
As I made my way home from The Standard, I reminisced about my senior prom, which G had flown from the Air Force Academy to escort me to. I remember how, respectively outfitted in an ivory ballgown and tux, we were more frequently mistaken for a bride and groom than prom-goers; in fact, we looked like a beautiful Black cake-topper.
I remember how my aunt pulled me aside in the kitchen before we left, and hissed in my ear:
“You’d better hold on to that one. He’s a keeper.”
Even at 18, I knew she was right. And at 18, that was the plan: Graduate high school, go to college in New York, stay madly in love with G, graduate college, and eventually marry him, have kids, and live happily ever after…and of course, become a big star on Broadway and release an album every 18 months.
When I think back on it now, it all seems so naïve and juvenile, except he actually kept up his end of the bargain—albeit with someone else. As for me? Well, I made other plans.
But how different would my life have been if I’d followed the script I’d initially written, instead of the pages life continues to turn for me? How different would his have been? Would he still be the dynamic husband/dad/entrepreneur? Would I be the bourgeois bohemian still making music and plotting a different approach to Broadway? Or would we be happily divorced by now, living lives as separate as they currently are?
Because I can say—without a trace of wistfulness—that this was never my man to keep. Had I tried to, no doubt we would’ve eventually failed, because he wasn’t meant for me. And while it’s admittedly surreal to watch the man you once considered your Prince Charming score a 1.5 million-dollar investment while you’re seriously debating whether or not you can continue to afford basic cable, there’s no regret. I know it’s just another “sliding door” moment: the inevitable “what if” that occurs when we brush shoulders with our pasts.
And life is full of sliding doors, isn’t it?
Every day on social media, in casual conversations with friends—in my case, even turning on the television, or watching a major awards show—can bring on the wonder: what if I’d made a different choice? What if I’d gone left instead of right? Said yes, instead of no (or vice versa)? Who else could I have been? What might I have had—or not had?
When I turned 35, I remember remarking to friends that it was an age at which you begin to butt your head up against all the expectations you had for yourself. This is not to say that there is nothing left to learn, strive for or achieve after that point—far from it. But rather, it’s to say that there was something about reaching my mid-30s that made it clear that my formative years were entirely over. Anything I was going to be in this life, I had most likely already become, or at least, laid the groundwork for.
I was already fundamentally the person that I would remain. This was the foundation I had built, and from which everything would spring from now on.
35 was the age when I began to question whether children were an absolute necessity in my life, or just an assumption I’d always made. It was the age at which I looked at my then-partner, and demanded complete honesty from him, only to find that while he loved me, he wasn’t “in love” with me. And that was enough for him.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me.
35 was the beginning of a series of hard truths that began falling like dominos. It was the beginning of what has to date been the most challenging, occasionally painful and ultimately enlightening period of my life. 35 was the age at which I began to question whether marriage was more important to me than partnership; and the age I began to consider that I would have to be enough, in the event that the person I ended up with was me.
My friend Alex—a gorgeous blonde with an equally gorgeous blonde boyfriend who has yet to reach her thirties—said to me recently:
“Every woman has exactly the love life she wants, whether she admits it to herself or not.”
Now, I personally know legions of single women who would beg to differ, and should Alex ever rejoin our ranks, I wonder if she’ll feel the same. But I can’t help but feel that there is a kernel of truth in what she said, as uncomfortable as that truth might be.
After all, I know exactly why I’m not the proud wife of the dashing entrepreneur who scored big on Shark Tank: That wasn’t the life I chose. As amazing as G was—and is—it’s not even the life I wanted.
Some (possibly perverse) part of me loves my messy, unpredictable, sexy, sometimes lonely, rarely boring, high-low existence. After all, this is the life I chose; if I’d wanted it to be different, I would’ve had different priorities; chosen different partners; even had a different career. To quote the omnipresent Oprah: “It couldn’t have happened any other way.”
I guess it’d be equally clichéd but fair to say that I chose the road less traveled, which means I’ve inevitably met fewer suitable traveling partners along the way. Not everyone’s equipped to remain with me throughout this journey.
And so it is that as I write this, an eclipse is taking place in the skies above, and my social media is peppered with horoscopes and essays about the meaning of this particular planetary alignment. This stands out:
“This is the moment to open up and accept everything that happens to us, as it is all an expression of whatever we feel we deserve. If we are not happy with any aspects of our lives, we have to take responsibility for it and change how we feel…Everything that is around us is there because at some level, we have put it there.”
– Alex Myles
It is time to make peace with our choices—to close the sliding doors, and lock them, for once and for all. It is time to unconditionally love the lives we’ve chosen, not just the high points. And once again, it is time to forgive: our own trespasses, and those who have trespassed against us. (You can take the girl out of Catholic school…)
Because woulda, coulda, shoulda…whatever.