I’m not prone to living in the past, but every so often I do a V-8 palm to the forehead. If I knew then what I know now, I’m sure I would have done things differently. But that’s the problem with 20-20 hindsight: you don’t have the information you would have needed to do the thing you now wish you would have done.
The particular case of regret I am thinking of today (I have a list) involves someone I have known since seventh grade. While my ancient diary from my first days of junior high does acknowledge this boy on my crush list (one of several blonds—my weakness—I had my eye on), within short order, I went in a different direction, setting my sights on someone unattainable and keeping them there for three years.
But I always liked this boy; he was what we referred to as a “good kid.” One night in college, we got drunk together and our lips somewhat inadvertently locked, but he was too much of a pal for me to take it seriously or to imagine that he did.
A few years ago, we became reacquainted and have since become good friends. He’s still a good kid, so to speak, and our rapport is still in the pals realm, which it has to be anyhow, since he’s married. But the renewed friendship has been eye-opening to say the least.
One surprise is that it turns out he’s really smart, which has replaced blondness as a key attractor for me. When I was in high school, everyone knew who the smart kids were. That’s the problem with high school: you’re wedged into a small compartment and stay locked in, with only the rare Houdini-esque escape. This boy was reasonably well known (my class didn’t have a classic popular crowd) and very well liked. But he sure wasn’t a brain in any sense.
His PhD in the sciences would suggest that perhaps he was. Advanced degrees don’t measure IQ (since I barely made it through college, I have to say that), so what’s been more enlightening is the conversations we’ve shared, in which he’s exhibited the type of deep intelligence, thoughtfulness, and perceptiveness that I find appealing.
In short, what I’ve discovered in my old age is that we get along really, really well. He is exactly the sort of person I would like now, in every sense. Let me clarify: I don’t have a crush on this guy and, even if I did, I’ve never met someone quite so in love with his wife. (When I saw a picture of his wife recently and mentioned that she was pretty, he corrected me. “She’s gorgeous,” he said.)
No, given the situation, I simply like him and think about the opportunity that might have been there thirty years ago. And as I say, if I had known then what I know now, I would have looked at him differently, for sure. But not only didn’t I know who he was, I didn’t know who I was. My type then was pretty arbitrary, based mostly on physical attraction as a starting point, followed closely by the ability to torture me with elusiveness. In fact, one summer I had the choice between three guys and favored by far the cruel blond over the two Ivy-League-bound nice guys who seemed ready to throw themselves into a puddle to keep my dainty feet dry. That was who I was—a mixed-up party girl who wouldn’t really know what she wanted for another 25 years. Was I thinking of what type of father the naughty blond would make, whether he’d get out there and throw a ball around with our 11-year-old? Don’t think so. Was I considering whether my beau was flexible and would make the tradeoffs a relationship needs to succeed? Not at all; if anything, I was looking for the difficult man I could tame.
It was only by living my life that I came to know what I really value in a relationship. It would have been dumb luck (and I’ve seen it happen) had I stumbled into the right type of relationship without experiencing so many of the wrong ones. There’s only so much I can rue the lost opportunity with my old friend, then. I suffered from a type of blindness that would only be cured with time, and seeing clearly now can only help me moving forward.