Rule breaking, wedding planning, and the people we might've been.
When I got engaged, I discovered it was a good way to collect unsolicited opinions — about love, about marriage, but mostly, about weddings.
Whenever anyone asks after our plans, I am quick to joke that you’ve never met two people less interested in a wedding. (I hate planning; he hates attention. This does not an epic fete make.) But this is often met with looks of confusion and concern.
“But you need to have a party,” says everyone, as though it’s mandated by law.
“You should at least go somewhere!” says a friend, to the suggestion of City Hall.
“No no, you can’t go away,” says another, at the mention of an elopement. “I need to be there!”
“The profound thing about a wedding is that you share it with everyone,” says one acquaintance who, ten years onward, is still dissecting the amount of personal drama that went down at hers.
Occasionally, I’ll hear, “Oh, that’s wise,” or “Good for you!” followed by a tale of what they wish they’d done differently.
The most impassioned reactions often spring forth from people I’d never expect. (Our families have been commendably chill; it’s everyone else that has feelings.) In all cases, I suspect their suggestions are attempts to justify or rectify their own experiences, the choices they did (or didn’t) make.
Earlier this week, a friend sent me a link to this New Yorker piece, seductively titled, “What if You Could Do It All Over?” We’d both read it when it first published, in the thick of the pandemic, but the algorithm had unearthed it once again. As I read, familiarity washed over me with every paragraph. I immediately shared it with two more friends who had voiced concern over choices in recent days. It seems there are a bunch of us perpetually dodging regret.
It’s a worthy read, but as paywalls and time are realities, here are a couple quotes that stayed with me:
“We all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end having lived only one.”
“We have unlived lives for all sorts of reasons: because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time… For some people, imagining unlived lives is torture, even a gateway to crisis.”
Wondering after possibilities is a common, perhaps inescapable, occurrence. The more days we live, the more paths unfurl behind us, rippling in our wake. What if we’d taken that chance? What if we’d quit sooner? What if we’d held on a little tighter to the one that got away? What if…
As a practice, it’s about as useful as imagining how life might look if we’d been born into different circumstances, different bodies, different eras. It makes for compelling fiction, rich but regrettable, without much hope of bettering our reality.
As the essay posits, “Part of the work of being a modern person seems to be dreaming of alternate lives in which you don’t have to dream of alternate lives.” Like an M.C. Escher sketch, where one option leads to another, and all of them leave us wondering.
Here’s something I wish someone had told me when I was younger: There are no rules.
Or rather, there are an awful lot of rules. Infinite rules! Rules for days. But we only need to follow the ones that work for us.