Those Wide Open What-Ifs

Do you remember when you were a teen and reading books or watching movies and you’d think about your future and it was all possible?

What would you be? Where would you go? Who would you date, marry, live happily ever after with?

The world was full of so many firsts. So many big events.

Sometimes when I read YA, and am put back in those teen romance angst years, I feel pangs of grief. I feel like this sounds crazy because who wants to go back to the angst? The angst took over my life, it was terrible, so many what-ifs, so many possible social blunders and hurt feelings and crushed hearts (99.9% my hearts). What am I mourning? Why do I cry at the parts no one is crying at?

Because that part of my life is done. The part where anything was possible. The wide open what-ifs. That’s over. Not completely, 100%, I mean I guess there is still the small possibility of living in far off lands and I still do have some firsts left to tackle, but… you know what I mean.

I met the man I was going to marry.

I had my wedding.

I had my first baby.

I picked my career and scramble daily to solidify that path.

I moved home.

This is it! My life is happening! I know who my husband is, I know who my first child is. It no longer can be anything at all. It is what it is and it is great, but it is also limited.

Marriage is the death of possibility. That sounds overly dramatic. It is the birth of stability, in a way. And in a way, it IS the death of possibility. You’re making a choice that forever and ever you’re waking up to that one person. That body with your body. The faults with your faults. The laughter, adventure, sickness, health with all of yours. Matched up, sewn together, bound hands and feet. We’re in it to win it. You and me, kid. And all of that.

But it will never be the dashing Scotsman.

It will never be a honeymoon in Greece.

My wedding dress is/was my wedding dress. It will never not be.

And sometimes it is nice to look back and think, “Thank god THAT’S over!” but then other times it feels like it all happened too fast. I could do it better the second time around. Think of all the things we know now! Think of how far we’ve come. But it’s over. It’s just started. But part of it is already complete. Check, done, moving forward.

It makes me sad. I’ll never be 17 again. Thank god. But, I’ll never have those wide open what-ifs again, either. No matter how happy I am, I miss being able to dream about the could-bes. I miss the possibility of it all.

19 thoughts on “Those Wide Open What-Ifs”

  1. You know, it’s funny you mention this because I was driving by a high school yesterday at high-school-let-out-time, and I couldn’t help but think “I kind of miss high school — so much promise, so many opportunities, so much excitement on the horizon!” For me, marriage hasn’t been a death of possibility. If anything, it’s an opener — I crave doing exciting things *with* a partner, not alone, so I’m excited for all the adventures we have coming up in our lives together. But I do wonder what I would do differently (non-marriage-related) if I could re-live life starting from high school!

    1. You are totally right about that. Having the perma-buddy is my favoritest part about marriage for sure. And it does open up a lot of opportunities.

  2. I feel like the older we get, the fewer possibilities there are–like, as we go along, we pick a particular path along a decision tree that was once entirely open to us when we were younger. that makes me sad.

  3. I get the loss of What-Ifs. There are definitely whole branches of wide-open wondering that are off the table now. But for me, I feel like high school (and college and my super broke early 20s) was just so much NO – sure in theory anything was possible, but in practicality: I wasn’t old enough, I wasn’t allowed, I didn’t have the money. I felt like I spent a good decade just waiting for my life to start. The life where I got to decide what I wanted to do and make that happen. AND then it did. I grew up, I went to grad school, I ended the bad-for-me relationship and started dating my wife. We bought a house, we got married, we had a kid! All these things that I wanted finally took shape, which felt so empowering to me. Maybe I have less wide-open dreaming, but I feel like marriage/growing up has opened up a lot more practical possibilities to me.

    Just sort of musing on this as the opposite side of the coin, not trying to argue about your feelings (in case that isn’t clear). I totally get where you are coming from, these are just sort of my current thoughts on the subject.

  4. The what-ifs of the future are what have been plaguing me lately. At 27, this is definitely Not where I saw myself. Grandma’s basement, kind-of-sort-of changing careers, deciding if I want to go back to school, not knowing anything beyond the summer job I have lined up that is 10 weeks long. All the uncertainties have been getting me down because I feel like I’ve failed. I don’t really have a career. I’m not married (still figuring out the man part, which is pretty important). Hell I don’t even have my own place.
    But reading this post, you’ve suddenly helped me see it in a new light. Maybe I should feel lucky that at 27, I have so many possibilities and firsts still out there waiting for me. I still get to date. I still get to day dream about my wedding. I could still pack up and go teach English abroad. Or maybe I’ll get into grad school and start a whole new career. Maybe instead of an apartment, I’ll get to buy a beautiful historic house in Detroit now that I’m finally living back on the East side.
    I know your what-ifs were more about nostalgia than mine are, but thanks for helping me realize that maybe the unknown isn’t so bad after all. I needed the reminder.

    1. Yes!! Having some of those things are good. Like a steady career would be excellent for you. It has been too long in the making! But the grass is always greener. It is not necessarily better or worse to be married or not married. It is not necessarily better or worse to be settled in a dependable job in a dependable field.

  5. I think about this in relation to my career all the time! When I started working, bright-eyed and freshly out of university, I could theoretically have been anything, even the CEO! Now, 10 years later, the choices I’ve made and the circumstances I’ve been in mean that most of those possibilities are gone. There are still opportunities for me, they are just much more limited (focused?) now. I don’t really have regrets about the choices, but still, it’s strange to think I “lost” all these possibilities along the way without really being conscious of it at the time.

    1. This is it exacccttllyyy. I definitely have no regrets I just want to have my cake and eat it to. I want to always have all the options, just to have them. But that is ridiculous. I want to be able to have everything I have now and still be able to do it all over again if I want. Which, I guess, technically is possible… but not realistic. So instead I sometimes look back and am sad that I no longer have certain options. Not that the options I have no are bad. I’m a complicated being!!

  6. In my own experience, I had seen all the best since I got married… I have traveled (not as much as I would want) but have seen places that I would never thought I would. I have moved, and even to another country! I have seen my kids grow, and see them graduate from schools I would watch football games on Mexican TV on January 1st. bowl games. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought for me to happen… believe me, there is much more to come!!! 🙂

  7. I get a little nostalgic/sad about the “what ifs” sometimes. I remember this being talked about on APW a couple years ago as “ghost lives” for the paths not taken – what if I’d ended up married to a different person, living in a different place, had gone back to school for something different, etc.

    I LOVE my life, and being with my husband, whom I met during college, rather than spending my 20s single brought a lot of good things – stability, the ability to travel more, a built-in partner in crime. But sometimes you can’t help but wonder what your parallel lives could look like.

    For me, the big area I still do this in is with kids. I am 99% sure we aren’t going to try to have them, and I”m quite happy with that choice, but every now and then, I wonder what our lives would look like if we had gone down that road instead…

  8. Lauren,
    Thanks for writing this. This topic has been on my mind so much lately, and has left me feeling somewhat guilty. I got married 3 years ago, and have been with my husband for 7 now. Our daughter is turning a year next month. These are big things, unchangable things. Not that I want to change them in any way… I love my little family and I am so happy in this life. But I am frequently reminded that we only get one shot at life, really. Yeah, you always have the power to change direction, but this stage, this year will never come again.

    I was also an angsty teen (weren’t we all?), and I do remember the dark days. But oh the possibilities! And the FREEDOM!!! Not that it felt like it at the time, but after having a baby attached to me for a year, my ideas of freedom have changed. I was such a daydreamer…. Anyways, glad you shared these thoughts!

  9. This post is why I relish every, single, solitary moment of being gloriously, perfectly single. I just eat it up with a spoon with the understanding that it won’t be like this forever (and that’s ok).

  10. Man, I’ve been thinking about this A LOT lately. I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years, moved in together in January, and we’re starting to talk about more serious stuff (such as possibly moving to another city, etc.). I tend to be really independent and it’s hard to have to consider another person! That sounds so childish and I guess it sort of is but it’s the truth. Mid to late twenties is a strange time: some friends are single and love it, some friends are engaged/married and love it, some are in between and who knows.

  11. Ack, the perils of being so behind in blog-reading. I LOVE this post and LOVE the comments. I have a lot of romantic ghost-lives that tinker around in my brain, mostly because they hinged on embarrassingly bad decisions made by me that ended up and I constantly wonder about those moments and what a different outcome would’ve meant. It’s hard not to get swept up in those daydreams but the finality (i hope!) of marriage and the absolute of having a child makes me tell myself that regret/wondering are moot points because then I would not be where I am today, with these two wonderful people.
    In fantasy land, I ALWAYS think of this when we watch a silly rom-com and the woman is dating or flirting or whatever. We almost always turn to each other and say “oh god, thank goodness we never had to *really* date strangers/blind dates/etc” but part of me mourns that. [you put it perfectly with the “scotsman” reference because my 14-yo self was convinced I was destined for a man with a European accent :)] In reality I know I probably would’ve *hated* dating strangers but maybe I would’ve killed it – successful in my career and sexy and being awesome on a date and having a loft in a city. (hahaha isn’t there always a loft in the city?)
    Great post – thanks for prompting me to process this!

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