What I've Learned
I've never had a relationship that I've regretted, except for that woman who picked me up in a bar in Sidney, but that's another story. And she did provide me with a unique and memorable experience. However, I've had more than a few relationships that I regret not ending sooner. (For example, I should never have left the bar with that woman.) A relationship should be enjoyed, but not hung on to like a lifeline. Looking back at my relationships, long and short, there are none that I can imagine being in at this point in my life. The people who were, and are, most important to me are still in my life in some meaningful way.
I've learned that, if what you are doing stops being enjoyable, stop doing it. I got out of the Air Force after 14 years because I was no longer enjoying it. It was prime time in my life, and I didn't want to spend another six years doing something I didn't enjoy just so I could get some retirement income. Pursuit of the dollar is a shallow pursuit. Life is too short to not be happy, so I changed careers without any regrets.
It is easy to fall into the commitment trap; continuing to follow a course of action after it is obviously wrong. We fall into this trap because of inertia, money invested, time spent and/or effort put forth, whether it is a relationship, a job, or some other endeavor. I've learned how to gracefully say goodbye and move on with my life.
Planning is highly overrated. For example, the best vacations I've ever had were the ones where I started out by saying; "I think I'll head in this direction." Over-planning is like over-fertilizing one’s lawn. It often deadens the results. Spontaneity leads to more interesting experiences. I learned this in high school when I would borrow my dad's car and go for a ride with my friend Bill. We would start down a country road and turn right at the first road. Then we would turn left at the next road, and so forth. There was no planned destination, and we saw things and went places we would never have experienced had it been a planned trip. I look at life a lot like that. Some of the turns I've made in life that seemed wrong at the time, were, in retrospect, some of the most interesting.
Later in life, people tend to regret what they didn't do rather than what they did. I see a fallacy in this thinking. We cannot know if the road not taken was the better one, so we shouldn't regret the unknown. I don't regret any of the big decisions I've made. We all have little decisions that we regret, like seeing a bad movie. But if all the movies I'd seen had been great, and all the women I dated had been perfect, I would have nothing to compare them with. Greatness depends on one's experiences, perspective, and expectations, so we need some bad experiences to make us appreciate the good ones.
Many people have told me that I have led, and continue to lead, a varied and exciting life. They are correct. The irony in this is that the people who have told me this were all married with children. I get envy from my family-oriented friends most of the year, and unneeded sympathy on holidays.
I have no regrets about being divorced and not being a father. For me it was one of the roads not taken. It is impossible to say what might have been, so I don’t second-guess my decisions or what-if my life away. Being single and childless has given me much more freedom to do what I want, when I want, and where I want. The only frustrating part is that there were, and still are, so many choices.
A lyric from a John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy, says it best: “Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.” In the end, all we have are the memories, so I wish I had paid more attention.