I was going to publish this as one post, but it ended up being quite long, so I decided to split it into two parts to make it easier to absorb. But please don’t be depressed: I really only have four major disappointments – interspersed among countless minor ones – in the 50 years I’ve been on this planet. It’s just that I have a lot to say about each of the four biggies…
I posted recently that I haven’t had too many regrets in life. They amount to about three:
- not marrying the rich, lovely, delicious Penola farmer I was seeing when I was 19. I broke up with him because my mother made my life hell while I was dating him due to her own self-loathing, petty jealousy and need for control;
- not traipsing round the globe in my 20s having affairs with exotic men, and working in exotic locations like London or New York or Paris. Or Saigon or Calcutta or Shanghai, and benefiting from those invaluable life skills that only travel can teach you like keeping cool in a crisis, dealing with sociopaths and seeing wonderful, breathtaking, amazing, crazy, heartbreaking things;
- that I didn’t find a significant other to have more children with, because I really, really, really liked being a mother, and having been a solo parent once, I wasn’t keen to have more children as a solo parent – I wanted someone to share the journey with.
While my regrets really are few, my disappointments are many, and I assume this the same with most, if not all of you, dear readers. Maybe the balance is not quite the same as mine: it could be that you have more regrets than disappointments, or maybe you have about the same amount of disappointments as regrets, but there – among the threads of joy and happiness and bliss – the disappointments and regrets are woven in the fabric of each of our lives.
So what do I acknowledge as my life’s disappointments? What are those things or moments or seconds that, if I let myself think about them, bring me a feeling of introspective sadness? Or cause me to feel burdened by the weight of expectations not met? Because in the end that’s what disappointment is: expecting or wanting something to be very different from the reality and the truths we experience. Regrets, on the other hand, are things or moments you could or should have done, but for whatever reason didn’t do, or get around to doing.
My major disappointments – expectations betrayed by reality and truth – are simply these:
Being a mother has never made up for my own mother, and hasn’t given me the unconditional love I always yearned for
My reason for becoming a mother was this: I wanted my very own someone to love, who would just love me back. That’s it. This is drawn, I think, from my childhood spent with a mother who did not really know how to love her children. And that’s because, I think, she didn’t really love herself. If I unpack what my mother was, she was a woman who wanted someone to save her, and for someone to believe she was worth saving. Hence her three marriages. Unfortunately, she was the person who every life-saving class instructor warns their students about: the victim who is so intent on saving themselves from drowning that they would sacrifice the very person who’s trying – or they think is trying – to save them. To save myself, I had to first move out and away, and then I had to disengage emotionally and psychologically. I still struggle with this, but not quite as often as I used to.
Fast forward to my own relationship with my daughter. It’s not as simple as I love her, so she loves me back. Of course she loves me, but it’s in the I Know You Have Done An Awesome Job Raising Me On Your Own And I Know You Are Your Own Person And Do Your Own Thing And Have Your Own Life But Oh My God Please Don’t Embarrass Me In Front Of My Friends Because I Would Rather Die sort of love. My daughter has enormous difficulty loving me unconditionally for Who I Am because, in many ways, she is ashamed of me and wishes I were not me, but Someone Else. This Someone Else is more like Other Mothers and this Other Mother/Someone Else doesn’t go out until 3am with her work mates, and only drinks lemon, lime and bitters or Coke Zero and certainly not gin martinis or tequila shots, and doesn’t go to karaoke bars and sing her guts out, or sneak home at 8am after some pre-Christmas loving, and doesn’t run 15 kms on the weekend for fun, and colours her hair instead of letting it go grey.
This Other Mother/Someone Else would just go meekly home after her daughter’s 21st celebration and wouldn’t dream about wanting to continue celebrating her daughter’s birthday with her because she loves her and is so damn proud of her and wants to share this special occasion with her. This Other Mother/Someone Else therefore does not know what it’s like to be told by the daughter she loves and is so damn proud of that she is not welcome to continue sharing this special occasion with her and She Should Just Go Home. This Other Mother/Someone Else would not have heard her daughter say fuck for the first time ever in reference to her wanting to continue sharing this special occasion with her and Not Wanting To Go Home. This Other Mother/Someone Else is bland and doughy and conservative and middle-aged and is asleep by 9.30 next to her snoring, probably overweight husband of 30 years. This Other Mother/Someone Else is not me, but it’s who my daughter wishes I was.
I wasted my late 30s and 40s on a man who didn’t deserve my love, but who still defines my life
I don’t have to regurgitate here the heartbreak that The Italian caused me, because I have written about it. It is more than 12 years since I first met The Italian, and more than seven since he broke my heart, but that man still lives within me as something that was never allowed to ripen and deepen in intensity of flavour, and, to a certain extent defines my life now. My life now can almost be seen as a juxtaposition against when I thought I would be Mrs Italian:
- Married vs. chronically single
- More children vs. one child
- Large, extended, reliable family vs. tiny immediate, dysfunctional family
- Domestic only, sometimes travel vs. seasoned international, regular traveller
- Around the block walker vs. half marathon runner in training
- Lots of company at home vs. essentially solitary existence
- Homemaker vs. working girl (in the non-hooker sense)
- Non-creative, domestic pursuits vs. writer and photographer
- Privacy insisted upon vs. open book blogger
- Social life limited to just family vs. varied and interesting social life filled with varied and interesting people
- Constrained to keep up appearances vs. freedom to do and live on my own terms
- Dog vs. cat
- Passion and love vs. a (more or less) celibate lifestyle
- Affluent lifestyle vs. reasonably comfortable, but sometimes have to struggle lifestyle
- Deep and intimate conversations vs. responding to the cat’s meows
- Italian vs. Spanish
- Lots of grandchildren vs. probably only one or two grandchildren
- Probably growing old with someone vs. probably growing old alone
- A church full of people at my funeral vs. a handful of people at my service
Of course, these dichotomies assume best and worse case scenarios. Even if I had become Mrs Italian, I may never have had more than one child for any number of sad and tragic reasons: sterility (his), miscarriage/s, stillbirth/s, SIDS etc. The Italian and I may never have grown old together for any number of sad and tragic reasons: accidental death, cancer, stroke, divorce etc. We may not have had an affluent lifestyle for any number of sad or tragic reasons: addiction/s, job loss, death, disability, more global financial crises, fascist government, war, climate change, flu pandemics, zombie apocalypses etc.
But my point is this: I didn’t get a chance to experience any of these scenarios – either best or worse case – because I didn’t get to be Mrs Italian. I didn’t get to wear a platinum engagement ring designed especially for me by The Italian, or pick out a vintage wedding dress, or choose a church in the Gothic style, or walk down the aisle towards my groom, beautiful in the knowledge that I was chosen above all others and I was loved. By him. I didn’t get to wear a wedding ring and talk about “my husband” and make love as a married woman on my honeymoon. I didn’t get to share with my husband the excitement and awe and amazement of finding out I was pregnant. With his child. I didn’t have my husband clenching my hand and kissing my sweaty forehead as I gave birth to our child. And other children. I didn’t have awful, mean and scary fights with my husband and make up in tearful, grateful apologies. I didn’t get to do any of these things. I didn’t get to experience the high highs and low lows of being married, but he did. And has. With someone else. Who wasn’t me.
Part 2 will be posted next week, with a (hopefully) uplifting final word.