I got into a fight with my fiancé last night. Well, not exactly a fight. A discussion during which I was upset with him, though he had done nothing wrong. I raised my voice, I cried. You see, there are The Things I Was Going To Do. You know them. You have them yourself. Those things you always assumed you would do. The unexamined, the un-acted on. The things that sit in the back of our imaginations, that go into the mythologies we tell ourselves about ourselves. The things we turn over in the moments before sleep, when we’re bored, when we’re desperate.
They are what I imagined I’d do when I was young, before I went out into the world to try to do anything.
I had vague, romantic imaginings of my future. I always thought, for instance, that I would live in Paris, for a year, maybe more, or somewhere else abroad. This probably came from watching Sabrina too many times. I thought I would marry somebody foreign, live in many different places, do some work that was important, interesting, glamorous perhaps. I never examined any of this, or tried to make it happen. I always just assumed I would at some point, the way I assumed everything would work out, the way I assumed things would get easier, the way I assumed that I would become more free the older I got.
Now I’m at the end of my third decade. I haven’t lived in Paris for a year, and instead of living in many different places, I have lived in one city now for almost six years. My work is somewhat interesting, halfway important, and only glamorous from the outside looking in. I chose all of it, and I made all of it happen. But now that I’m getting married (to a wonderful man, who is foreign born and American now), I started thinking about The Things. I started asking myself, if I get married, can I still do The Things with my partner?
So I brought it up with him. I said, “I always thought I would do these things, like live in different cities in the US, and live abroad, and I’m afraid you don’t want to.” As I spoke, I began to feel angry at him. Angry at him because I thought he didn’t want those things. And nervous to marry him, because I thought marrying him would stop me from doing those things.
But what I should have asked myself was why haven’t I done them yet? Because the truth is, he won’t stop me. I stopped myself a long time ago. Why didn’t I do the things I imagined I’d do? The easy answer is that I was afraid to do them, and I made the wrong choices. This is easy because I can tell myself that if I am braver, I can make all the right choices, do All The Things, and have no regrets.
But the honest answer, the harder answer, is that The Things didn’t fit in with the real life I was living, the choices I was making to achieve what I wanted at the time. Maybe I lived in one place for six years for the wrong reasons (staying in a past relationship I should have ended years before I moved to this city), or maybe the right ones (building the career I wanted during a recession). I made choices, for different reasons, and that meant I couldn’t do All The Things.
After I raised my voice at him, my fiancé said, “You won’t be happy if we just move somewhere else. It will be novel, you will be entertained, while it’s new. Like anything new. But then it won’t be new anymore, and you will have to find something else.”
At first I thought, marriage will take away my freedom. It’s a scary thought, but it’s an easy one. There’s a quick, external solution. Don’t get married, freedom preserved. But what is difficult is coming to terms with the fact that the solution is internal. I thought freedom was being able to do All The Things. I thought, I think we all think, that it is the whirlwind of travel, the excitement of new loves, the state of endless possibility. But what freedom looks like after the whirlwind is over is being content in the silence. It’s forgiving myself for not doing All The Things, for not being what I imagined I’d be. It’s facing down the empty spot and making something with it. It’s being able to make a choice in the face of endless possibility.