The revisionist history of a love life, as told by a woman of a certain age, has perhaps grown into a genre in its own right. Or maybe not - there was Lori Gottlieb, and now, in the Daily Mail, there's Karen Cross, and I think a third example (and I know there are more) needs to pop into my head (or the comments) before a genre can be declared.*
Cross, you see, is 42 and tragically, tragically alone. Sure, she's often in a relationship, and sure, her career and life otherwise is fabulous. But she'll never be a mom, or mum, I should say, given the context. What she regrets is that she didn't marry the man she was engaged to at 19. Let me repeat: at 19. But she was with him for eight more years, and what do I know of what "engaged" meant in Essex over 20 years ago (only that engagement is taken lightly on "The Only Way Is Essex," which seems irrelevant). She started dating a guy at 17, had little in common with him at, what, 27, and moved on. Years later, if I have the chronology right, she was annoyed that her ex's new girlfriend didn't want her so present in his life, but nevertheless "didn't want [him] back."
The ending struck me as familiar:
Now I can only look back and admonish my selfish, younger self. When I visit friends and family back in our home town, I can't help but hope I'll bump into Matthew. I'd like to think I'd say sorry. That I will always be there for him. But I wouldn't be surprised if he turned his back on me and kept walking.This is totally the movie "Young Adult"! Which can't be our third example on account of it's fictitious.
Cross at least acknowledges that maybe this high school sweetheart wasn't so great for her, but figures, "If only I'd stayed with [him], we'd almost certainly be married with children." How can she know? Maybe he'd have left her? Which is always the problem with revisionist histories of this nature - just because one party was the dumper doesn't mean that a year down the line, assuming a continued crummy relationship, the roles wouldn't have been reversed.
But the possibility that Mr. Pushover would have split isn't the main reason I find these revisionist histories so troubling. It's more that you have to trust your 19-, and 27-year-old selves to have made decisions that made sense given all the information you had available at the time. While a younger woman isn't as keenly aware of fertility's limitations, or of the scientific fact that no man has ever been attracted to a woman over 22 (sarcasm!), it's when you're actually in whichever failing relationship that you see it for what it is. The further you get from any relationship, romantic or otherwise, the more someone becomes what they are on paper. Questions like, why didn't I stay better friends with X can generally be answered by grabbing a drink with that person and finding you have nothing to say to each other. It's not even about 'the one' - if you left 'a good thing', maybe it wasn't as good as you remember?
And as with all profound life experiences, there is the appropriate "Seinfeld" reference: where George wishes he could get back together with Susan, gets all mopey about this, convinces her he's changed, and then you see him back with her, climbing the steps to her apartment, with precisely the look of misery Jerry told him he'd had on those stairs back when they were first a couple.
Oh, and the other reason these revisionist histories are a problem is that they never quite convince that the woman isn't happy with her life as it is. That this isn't just some script many women feel compelled to recite. If she'd wanted kids so badly (and at 42, she still may have them, biologically or otherwise), if this had been her priority, she'd likely have had them, with or without this or any other dude. I'll buy that most everyone, no matter their life choices, could wonder 'what if,' but wondering is different from regretting, and these narratives have a way of saying 'I let the conventional life of my dreams slip away' while conveying, 'Non, je ne regrette rien.'
*As overshares go, Cross's is not all that objectionable - the only children discussed are theoretical, and because they aren't family, it would be tough to prove that any one boyfriend was the one being discussed here. The only identifiable real-person potentially humiliated is the author.