What is it about regrets? We dwell on them, we sing about them, we count them. Or, boast of not having any. “I don’t believe in regrets,” I used to say. “Every choice I’ve made has gotten me where I am.”
Oh, to be 22 again, full of shit and blissfully unaware of it.
Seriously, I used to say things like that. To guys, in hopes of impressing them, I guess. I think it made me feel wise to shrug off the idea of regretting anything in my past. I had other, equally embarrassing tag-lines as well – I was not destined for a lengthy stint in the dating world. But the regret thing was one line I repeated so often that I actually convinced myself it was true.
To state that the mistakes of my past made me who I am today is, well, ridiculous. Of course they did. My actions – good, bad, and otherwise – continue to shape me, and will forever. But at 22, apparently I thought it was flirt-worth conversation. Gah. And to have stated I didn’t believe in regrets is a) embarrassing to remember and b) a bald-faced lie.
Regret exists. I was just too naïve, unprepared, young, and single-minded to acknowledge my own. But of course I had regrets – not ever studying abroad, never living alone, not applying to more colleges, gaining weight, never learning to ski, not pushing myself harder or following through on anything. Still, “I don’t believe in regrets” was oft repeated in the late 1990’s.
So why am I dwelling on this now? Well, the short and silly answer is that I went and saw “13 Going on 30” earlier this afternoon, and it made me think. No really, it did. Yes, it was a sweet fluffy confection of a movie, and yes, I cried at the girly parts. But beyond that, I felt really, profoundly sad when I got home. The entire premise of the movie hinges on Jennifer Garner being able to right her wrongs. She gets a do-over, so those regrets she had? Are fixable. And those mistakes she made, which made her who she is? Can be fixed as well. Which make her a better version of herself.
I’m past denying my regrets, and I’m also past seeing regrets and pride in my choices as being mutually exclusive of one another. But the things I mentioned above? Those are recent history. I’ve never really given thought to mistakes I may have made Way Back When. I’m not spoiling anything to say that “13 Going on 30” begins when Jennifer Garner is 13, and that her life at 30 is influenced immensely by her life at 13. The fifteen years that separate me from my 13-year-old self feel much more expansive, much less connected. I remember being 13, I have photos of myself at 13, but rarely ever think about myself at 13.
There are infinite directions our lives can go in, and it is fun to imagine all the parallel existences we could lead. But I always imagined the axis of those lives being somewhere around Me at 21, Leaving California. But god – I made some shitty choices way before college, before high school.
The movie has especially made me think of Brian Benedict, this geeky but sweet guy with whom I went to junior high and high school. When I was about 14, he called me at home (which never happened) and asked me on a date (my first) – he wanted to take me to a movie. I was not interested, but had no idea how to say no gracefully. Instead, I agreed. And then I asked my two friends (neither who I’ve spoken to since Grad Night) to meet me at the movies and act surprised to see Brian and me. And so on a warm spring Saturday, Brian Benedict and his dad picked me up in their family station wagon. Brian brought me daisies, which he knew were my favorite flower. His dad drove us to Burger King, which was across from the movie-plex. I ate my chicken sandwich in fear of being seen by anyone I knew. Worse, I was already dreading entering the movie theater, where a guy I had a crush on worked. So I carried my bouquet of daisies and walked a safe distance from Brian and we went to the movies, where my friends “happened” to run in to us, and I acted like a total child (which I was). Afterwards, Brian asked if he could walk me over to the TCBY for some frozen yogurt, and I said Sure, and invited my friends with us, even though I could see how hurt Brian was. Eventually, his dad’s wagon pulled into view and I was driven home and I jumped out of the car with a quick goodbye and a “see ya at school.” Except that at school, I was mean to Brian and I laughed at him behind his back, and when he called to ask if I’d like to go out again, I said no, we would just be friends.
That was all ancient history. I have no idea where Brian Benedict is now or what he’s doing. He wasn’t at our 10-year reunion. I’m happy with my life, happy with my friends and relationships and experiences. But all afternoon, I’ve been wondering – what if?
Professionally, I really think I’ve made some mistakes. I feel as if I steered myself into a corner, but I’m working on getting turned around. I’m hell-bent on proving that Things Happen For A Reason, so come hell or high water, I will find a new job and I will get re-routed onto a career path and I will be able to look back and see how all these missteps lead me to exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I will.
But what that silly, silly movie has me really wondering is…what if Brian Benedict turned out hot?
Edited to add key details: The movie Brian took me to see? Was "Doc Hollywood." And during all the love parts (well, sterile, asexual Michael J. Fox-Julie Warner love parts) I sat on my hands, terrified of any physical contact with Brian. I was a slow 14, and passing notes was pretty much all I asked out of a boyfriend at that point. I cannot watch "Doc Hollywood" now, not even for a few minutes.