Before there was Facebook, you never really knew what happened to those people from your past. Maybe you’d happen to run into a mutual acquaintance who would fill you in, but those occurrences were rare. (And if the mutual acquaintance was kind, they were also couched to your advantage.)
Thanks to Facebook, there is no escape. It truly is a global village where everyone knows everyone and someone you’re friends with is bound to be friends with that person from your past. So much for fantasizing that the ex who wronged you is going to die miserable and alone–now you can see their wedding photos or newborn babies for yourself.
I’ve had two such encounters in the past week. A man from my past just got married and another one is expecting his second child. In both cases, it was my choice to end the relationship with these men. It’s also my choice not to get married (so far) and not to have children. So why do these things make me sad?
Being a writer, it’s never enough to know what I’m feeling–I need to know why I’m feeling. I don’t regret the end of either relationship, so why the sadness?
I decided it’s the road-not-taken syndrome. Being a woman who doesn’t want children and who doesn’t care if she gets married or not makes me an outsider. While I’m happy with my life most days, there’s also an awareness that I may be missing out on something. And wanting to be like everyone else does not make me like everyone else. It’s hard not to imagine what my life would be like if I’d stayed with these men. Would I be married now? Would I be a mother? Would I feel a sense of purpose and meaning that might be lacking from my life now? And then there’s the uglier thought that creeps in–these men made it work with someone else. Was the problem me all along?
There’s a special kind of sadness that comes from realizing someone who was once so important in your life has made a life with someone else. Even if you don’t love them anymore. Even if ending the relationship was the best thing you’ve ever done. Our society equates marriage and children with the ultimate brass ring–if you’ve met those milestones, you’re successful, and if you haven’t, you’re not. It’s hard to see people from your past seize the brass ring while you’re still standing outside the fairgrounds. It’s easy to forget that you didn’t want to go to that carnival in the first place.
So how do you get over this bittersweet feeling of regret? You talk to a friend who remembers all the reasons you ended that relationship in the first place (with regret also comes rose-colored glasses, a lot of the time). A friend who reminds you how well you’re doing, and of all the things you have to be thankful for in your own life.
And let yourself cry…just a little, if you need to. And then wish the person well in your heart. (Or if you truly can’t do that, pray for the person he married–because you know, better than anyone, that she’s going to need all the help she can get.)