Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You plan, God laughs

On my drive into work this morning, I was thinking about the traditional American timetable of adulthood. Here’s what most people intend:

1. Graduate college
2. Get married
3. Develop a career
4. Buy a house
5. Have children

I’m sure that timetable works quite well for a few people. But for most of us, even if we’re planners, life doesn’t turn out that way. A college (or high school) education gets sidetracked because of a pregnancy, so the couple marries. Maybe a career never happens, and the couple gets by on a lifetime of jobs that pay the bills but aren’t what they once dreamed of being when they grew up. Maybe the couple never owns a house of their own.

Some would say that this couple failed, that a good life is a series of steps that must be followed in a set progression. I say that attitude is bullshit.

I’ve always loved Smashmouth’s song “All Star,” especially this part of the chorus:

“Didn't make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do so much to see
So what's wrong with taking the back streets
You'll never know if you don't go”

I believe in planning, but life cannot be mapped out, which is good. What fun would it be to know everything before it happens? We just have to hold on tight, hope for more good than bad, and grab every opportunity that comes our way.

I left home before I graduated high school. I attended community college for one semester, then transferred to a university 200 miles from home. I moved there, and my boyfriend, R.S., tagged along. I was in school one semester, flunked my classes because of illness, and moved back home, boyfriend still in-tow. R.S. and I lived together 5 ½ years, during which I worked full-time and took a few classes in community college. When I left R.S., I was 24 and single for the first time in my adult life. I partied with friends, I dated, I had FUN. I met R.J. at work, and we became friends, and then became more than friends. 2 ½ years after meeting, R.J. and I married. We separated 3 ½ years later, and our divorce was final about a year after that. I worked, returned to school, and tried to regain my footing as a 31-year-old, single woman. I moved back to that university town but never returned to school. J. and I reconnected, he moved to be with me, and we got married. We moved home to Dallas.

So here we are. We both have baggage from our pasts. I work full-time in a job I love that may or may not become a career. J. attends school full-time. Neither of us has ever owned a house. Money is tighter than it often is for a couple in their late 30s. We don’t travel as much as we’d like, for a variety of reasons. We own one older car that thankfully still gets us from A to B. We do not intend to have children together (J. has two sons who are - unfortunately - not a part of our life; we hope and have faith that will change someday).

Have we failed at being grown-ups? Have we failed at life? It's true that we took “the back streets” to arrive where we are today. We had fun; we did and saw a lot of things. We learned what works for us as individuals, and what we need to be happy. We realized that money isn't everything, and that life is often simpler when you’re just getting by. We know that fun evenings are spent at home with our pets, not in a bar. We know that we are each 100% committed to the other, to our marriage, and to the life we are building together.

We hope to someday own a home. We hope to park two new-ish cars in the driveway. We hope to travel. But if we don't get to do those things, it’s ok. “You'll never know if you don't go,” remember? We would not be who we are if we’d taken a traditional path. The fact that we took the “back streets” is not something to be ashamed of, or something we need to justify to anyone. Besides...I think the traditional path looks pretty damn boring.

I have a good friend who recently broke up with her live-in boyfriend. E. is 19, and just finished her sophomore year of college. She and her boyfriend began dating in high school, went to the same university, and lived together for one year. They intended to marry after they graduated. I was concerned about that, having once been 19 myself, but I knew it would work itself out. E. sent me an email about the break-up, and in it she said, “If it’s meant to be we will find our way back to each other but we each need time to grow up and be independent.” I wish I’d realized that at 19. Hell, I wish I’d realized that at 28!!! E. is smart, loving, beautiful, and funny. She will be a wonderful schoolteacher, wife, and mother someday. But I hope she’ll follow some “back streets” first…that’s how you find out who you are. Sometimes, we look back on the wonderful things that happened over the course of our lives and realize that, at the time, those things derailed all our plans for the future.

You plan, God laughs.


RoseAnn said...

I think the people who judge others the harshest on their "failure" as adults are those who blindly followed that recipe and have found the results unfulfilling. I wholeheartedly agree that the bumpy, unplanned journey leads to more learning and memories than anything scripted.

I was just reminding my mom of that in regards to their literal bumpy journey this week. LOL

RoseAnn (is it just me or is Google giving everyone issues?)

Carol said...

I've noticed that, too, RoseAnn. So many people who did things "the right way," but who are unhappy, seem to feel that they deserve to be happy. And if they encounter someone who did everything "wrong," but who is happy and fulfilled, it seems to upset them even more.

(It's not just you. I've been having problems with Google since last week.)