24 April 2008

Little Girl Dreams

Like every white, middle class blue-eyed blonde, I spent my childhood daydreaming about my future in terms of 2.2. and the white fence.  I logged countless hours agonizing over my future husband (Mr. Perfect, of course), our house (big but not too big, and a garage), our dogs (2 bassets, of course), our kids (two rowdy boys)...our everything.  All I could think about was my life in the future, and that future only came with a man and a family.  I defined myself around that dream.  It was the only way I could envision myself in the oh-so-scary future. 

This pattern of dreaming persisted well into my teenage years...and dare I say, into my early twenties.  With each new boyfriend, I would tell myself that he was "the one" and I would start picking out paint colors for the master bedroom before we even dropped the L-bomb.  Eventually, each relationship fell apart, and my WASPy dream would get recycled onto a new Mr. Perfect.  Until, one day, there was no Mr. Perfect.  My life was man-free.  No one to dream of a future with, no one to plan around, no one to consult about paint colors. 

And then the most amazing thing happened:  I was happy.  I stopped daydreaming about a future I couldn't control, and I found a present I could embrace.  

In all those years--from four to twenty-four--that I spent planning my life around "the plan," I forgot to ask myself if there might be something more fulfilling than living my life around a hopped-up, hyped-up, tired old dream.  What would happen if I only factored the one person I knew I could rely on, ME, into my future???  And then, the truly scary realization came:  Why do I keep living for "one day" when I could be living this day.

Tonight, I grabbed a fast dinner at a not-so-upscale place , and I saw an attractive forty-something woman eating alone.  (Two important notes:  1) I eat dinner out by myself occasionally and I manage not to feel pathetic or lonely, but I'm not crazy about it, 2) She had salad, I had fries.)  But this woman had a smile on her face.  She wasn't cowering her shoulders, hoping no one would witness her single dinner.  She wasn't pretentiously reading a book to make herself look studiously alone.  She didn't even touch her cellphone.  She sat and enjoyed dinner, quite happily, by herself. 

Five years ago, I would have pitied that woman.  I would have sent her a mental hug and hoped that she found someone soon.  Tonight, I completely surprised myself.  My first thought upon witnessing Ms. Single's dinner, was "I hope I'm that happy eating dinner alone at 40."  It's hard not to be jealous of someone who can make a Wednesday night dinner at a fast food joint a happy occasion. 

Throughout all those little-girl daydreams, I never considered the possibility that I could make myself happy.  I never had faith in my own abilities, and I never slowed down to consider if there were other things than marriage and a family that could make me smile and be proud.  But once I realized that there's a great big planet out there, and that I get airline miles with my credit card, there's nothing more I want than to fly around a experience it all.  I want to have a career that means something more than a paycheck, I want to travel, I want to read a thousand different books and then some, and I want to spend every possible second laughing.  And there is no reason to put off those things until "the future," when I could be doing them now.

Maybe someday I will end up with a Mr. Perfect and children and maybe even a garage.  But if I don't, I know I'll be just fine.  Better than fine.  I know that I will be happy, because I've promised myself that, from now on, I'm living my life for me, pushing my own boundaries, and I'm not wasting any more time waiting for someone else to come along and make me happy.  I've figured out how to do that all by myself, and I feels pretty damn good.      

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