Lately, I've been thinking about a very broad, daunting question: What if? What if I hadn't texted him that passive aggressive message? What if I'd waited a week or two longer before having the Talk? What if that one thing hadn't gone wrong, would we still be together? Pondering the road untraveled is a dangerous game, especially in regard to romantic relationships. But I'm a little bored, so we're going to follow Frost's advice and take the road less traveled today.
A problem concerning the what if? is that it revolves around action, or in most cases, inaction. The what if? is essentially the action of mentally repeating past decisions, unrealized meet-cutes, and failed dates over and over and over until they either make sense or you've driven yourself mad with frustration. Asking yourself what if? opens the door to a soul-crushing vortex that sucks you deeper and deeper into regret. The what if? vortex is incredibly frustrating because you can't go back and time and force yourself to act. And as one of my favorite relationship bloggers James Michael Sama writes, "Words are nice. Action is exquisite and so damn necessary." In this particular case, Sama is advising men on ways to openly appreciate their women. But I think it can be applied to the what if? spiral, as well. And that is the very reason the what if? spiral sucks so much--because it exists in both action and inaction, in both what we said and what we didn't say.
The other problem with obsessing over the what if? is the fact that the question is retrospective. Yes, you can wake up tomorrow morning and ask yourself, what if I meet the love of my life today? That's a purely speculative what if? But I'm talking about the type of what if? that exists solely in the past. We can analyze and redo conversations until the cows come home, but there isn't anything we can really do to make that untraveled road an actual possibility.
The biggest dilemma facing young singles with a crippling case of the what if? vortex is that it keeps us from new experiences. Like I mentioned, the what if? I'm talking about exists exclusively in the rearview mirror. If we spend our daydreams rehashing tired arguments or replaying every moment of a first date that never turned into a second one over in our minds, we're not living in the present. And that's a problem. What good is going to come from me sitting on my couch, scrolling through old text messages from an ex and reevaluating our entire breakup. It's not like I can go back an un-break up with him. It's not as though I can change any of the things I said, or invalidate any of the feelings I was having at the time of our breakup. I can't change the past. So, I'm making more of an effort to live in the present.
Reason #1 to Not Live in a What If? Reality
A few weeks ago, I had a really rough night. My friend Allie had invited me out with her boyfriend and a few of his friends, and I was excited to meet them. (You all know I have like no guys friends, so I was looking at this as an opportunity to make some.) We met the guys at a put put golf place in the basement of a brewery in St. Paul. As Allie and I passed by a group of people on our way into the building, one of them dropped a golf ball (that I assume they took from the put put place). As I was in a good mood (at the time), I lightly skipped ahead and attempted to kick the ball back to him. But because it's me, I stepped on the ball and wiped out in front of a fifteen-person audience.
So yeah. The night was off to a great start.
We went into the put put place and found the guys. I immediately noticed how adorable my friend's boyfriend's friend's smile was. (Say that three times fast.) Allie introduced me to everyone, and there was that immediate tiny (potentially one-sided) spark. We decided it was too crowded, so (naturally) our solution was to go to a bowling alley. I'll spare you the mundane details of the run-of-the-mill bowling alley, but I will say that I was on a roll. I hadn't bowled in like five years, but it all came back to me. I had three strikes in my first four frames.
And then tragedy struck.
As I released my ball and it flew down the lane, my thumb nail, already ripped from the coarse inside of the ball, slammed into my middle finger, slicing it open. I started to literally bleed into the ball. So, because the guy with the killer smile was still there, I laughed it off and snuck away to find some Purell and a Band-Aid. I came back good as new. During the next game, my hand started to get sweaty from the ball. So the next time I release the ball and it catapults down the lane (and into the gutter), I realize my Band-Aid had gone with it and was now sitting in the middle of the lane.
So, by this point, I'm Band-Aid Girl.
Like I said, it was a rough night. I bid everyone goodnight, went home, and Neosporined the shit out of my finger because I'm assuming there's a lot of bacteria inside of a bowling ball finger hole. Looking back on that night for like a week, I was so embarrassed. And the worst part was that I kept kicking myself for not making more of an effort to talk to the guy with the awesome smile, for not trimming my nails before going bowling, and for not dressing cuter. What if?
And then something awesome happened.
My friend texted me and told me Killer Smile Guy had thought I was super cute and really liked me. He wanted to go out on a double date. And just like that, all of those what if? nagging questions just melted away. Because it didn't matter that I'd injured myself bowling or that I'd only worn jeans and a sweatshirt. He clearly didn't care, so I shouldn't either. The what if? quickly became a non-issue.
I guess the moral of the story (as cliche as it might be) is to not fixate too much on the what if? We can always learn and grow from the past, but there isn't much point in trying to relive it because we can't. Like James Sama says, "words are great, but action is exquisite and just so necessary." I'm not saying we can and/or will ever live with #NoRegrets, but I think we should stop fixating on the things we did (or didn't do) wrong. We're all just doing the best that we can. So yeah, some days, you'll get a little lonely and wonder what if? Other days, all you need is a great friend or a chance meeting with a nice, cute guy to pull you up and out of your what if? vortex--if only for a little while.