My mother has a boyfriend. It seems odd to say that of a 73-year-old woman, but what else do you call a man she’s dated for the last 10 years, but isn’t married to and doesn’t live with? So, “boyfriend” it is.
But really, he’s a member of our family. I’ll call him “Ted.” Ted is a wonderful man: kind, generous to a fault, patient, gentle, but also a “guy’s guy” who has slowed down athletically only because time has insisted upon it. Ted is like a father to me and a grandfather to my children, and my ex-husband admitted that he was sad to lose Ted in the divorce. I’d have been, too, if I were him.
Every year, my girls and I vacation in Cancun for a week with Ted and my mom. It is Ted’s gift to my family, and we all look forward to all year long. Coming from a land-locked state, my girls have grown up with those white sands and turquoise waters as their beach, and I have relished the giving them that experience.
Ted and I had an instant rapport. We have some obvious commonalities — similar education, being an only child, same sense of humor — but, more importantly, we just seem to “get” each other. There is an understanding there that has bound us together for many years now, facing my mother’s health crises, my divorce, his daughter’s addictions. Despite our difference in age, we give each other advice, and respect it more than either of us does from most people.
One day when we were in Cancun a year and a half ago, I was struggling. I’d awoken that morning from difficult dreams highlighting the hard choices I’d made recently with regard to my marriage, my children, my work… I felt lost and wondered if I was rushing headlong to disaster.
We were all sitting by the pool late that morning, when Ted announced that he was returning to his villa to retrieve his sun hat. I took the opportunity to accompany him inside and check my email at my own villa. As we stepped into the elevator, Ted turned to me, looked me squarely in the eye, and began speaking as if he were resuming a conversation we’d just paused in. He said this:
Here’s the thing. My dad wasn’t the smartest guy about some things, but every once in a while, he was pretty wise. And he used to tell me that once a choice is made, there’s no going back, only forward. Any choice can seem like a bad one in hindsight, and any choice can seem like a good one. It depends on how you’re determined to see it. The trick, he’d say, is to stop thinking of it as a choice once it’s made. The guessing, the thinking, the analyzing, all that is over. The choice isn’t a choice anymore; it’s a decision. Treat it like a foregone conclusion or a mandate from God or however you have to think of it, but don’t look back, only forward. Seek the opportunities hidden in it and remain open to the possibilities. Second-guessing will only slow you down, and you’ll especially need the forward momentum if it really was a bad choice. No matter. It’s done. Just look ahead and keep moving. Okay, here’s my place. See you down at the pool.
And then he exited the elevator, and I was left, mouth agape, wondering how in the world he’d known what I was struggling with that morning.
Ted was right, of course, and I’ve thought about his words often in the time since. It’s so easy to play the “what if” game with the benefit of additional information and experience and wisdom, but where does it get us really? Reflection from a distance can be useful, definitely, but not when it stalls our progress. Not when it mires us in self-doubt and uncertainty that is likely borne more of fear and insecurity than of a truly rationale evaluation of our earlier decision. If a decision was truly wrong, we usually know it immediately and can correct our course in that short timeframe. Revisiting an old decision is usually nothing more than a way to give power to our fears. Most of us make good decisions, for us, for that moment. They may not take us where we’d thought they would, but they probably take us where we need to be.
Ted’s advice was exactly what I needed to hit my internal reset button and push past the moribund wallowing in which I was engaging. Relinquishing the weight of self-doubt and second-guessing frees up so much energy and stamina and clarity to identify and tackle the good stuff that might be just around the corner.
Plus, it gives me time to try and figure out how Ted managed to frame and solve my emotional crisis in the span of a 5-floor elevator ride…..