“Don’t worry about the people in your past; there’s a reason they didn’t make it to your future”
We’ve all read the above, whether it be in a book, online, or any number of other places. By now, it’s one of those clichéd sayings that go in one ear and out the other, much like a chain email, or a request to email my bank details to a Nigerian prince who can make me a much wealthier man than journalism ever will.
However, as I sat one night, I began to ponder this actual question, and when faced, it is a powerful one. The people we’ve left behind in our lives; what could and would have been if a different choice had been made?
Usually, there are three types of people in particular who make us question the above.
First and foremost for myself, and I’d imagine most people, is an old crush, a teenage love, the one who got away. This girl or guy was the one who took your breath away when your younger self was around them, they were the person you wanted to bump into or hang around with at any given chance, and in your dreams they were the person you imagined your future with.
The second choice is quite the opposite, the person whose feelings you didn’t quite reciprocate. This poor soul was someone who seen only the good in you, or perhaps was aware of the shortcomings you have, and accepted them for what they were. However, your feelings towards this unfortunate person was just not the same, and so they faded into the past to be lost but not forgotten.
Finally, there is the friend who you shared so many happy memories with. This person was there when times were tough, with an open ear and the words that could make a difference. They were there when times were good, and their presence made good times, great. This friend, over time, may have quietly faded out of your life, or disappeared with an explosive and emotional bang, but their final destination was one and the same – the past.
The childhood sweetheart is the one who, I feel, still retains the biggest impact. You may want to take a moment from this to remember this person – usually there will be one or two vivid elements to them that will take you right back, whether it’s their smile, or possibly the way they could make you laugh at any time. Once you’ve gotten them in your head, remove yourself from right now, and take yourself back to that time when they were the most important part of any day.
Allow your mind to wander to a point where you voiced your love, and it was returned, allowing you heart-bursting happiness; this point that you never experienced previously. The question is, what happens from there? Were you the perfect couple, as you’d always imagined? Did you flow seamlessly to engagement, marriage, and possibly children? Or would this person have fallen from their lofty pedestal, to smash upon the ground of reality, delivering little more than mediocrity and disappointment?
The person whose love you did not return is one for which I always feel a certain measure of guilt – in a sense, you were in control of shaping someone else’s destiny, and you dashed their feelings with letting them know they were not good enough for you and your future happiness. I find that the most poignant moment with these people is the ‘let-down’ argument, the one where they found out your path and their path were to go different places. They may have welled up with tears and broken down, pleading with you to stay; they may have become enraged, as only true passion can bring, letting you know how rotten you are and how much better life will be without you. Or they may have feigned agreement, smiling with their lips while their eyes say otherwise, as they assured you they understood this decision was for the best.
Once again, let the mind drift back – what if you had gone against your instinct and allowed a little more time? Could you have seen things in this person that you hadn’t previously? Could their presence in your life have helped you find the happiness we all strive for? Would just a little more time have resulted in feeling too trapped to ever leave, and eternally regretting the decision?
And finally, dear reader, we come to the lost friend. This one can differ wildly for people, as friends can either drift off over a long period, or else a certain situation causes a quick and abrupt end. Looking back on these two cases can cause very different feelings – with the drifting friend, there is a sense of calmness, less erupting emotion, while also carrying a deeper sense of regret. The quick-end friend, however, will usually stir up a more powerful emotion, usually anger, shame, or some another negative emotion.
To lose somebody over time indicates a situation that could possibly have been salvaged, and maybe without too much effort, hence the sense of regret sometimes present. To lose somebody quickly indicates a solid reason as to why it ended. Did the person simply grow apart from you? What did, or didn’t, you do to save this friendship? Could you or they have changed enough to warrant breathing new life into this arrangement? Would they have helped you through a situation since better than others could have? Or would this have ended in a worse way, leading to a hatred than could not be healed?
All these questions are, of course, hypothetical, and cannot be answered. We cannot travel back to that time and make different choices, and even if we did there is no guarantee that we would make the right choice, if such a thing even exists. There are so many variables that one cannot clearly foresee the outcomes. But one thing that looking back can do is to help us realise that what we have now will always be more important than that which exists only in our mind.
Every day, we are presented with new choices, whether they be minor or major, exciting or terrifying, easy or difficult, but who and what we choose now will make tomorrow a little different. It’s not easy to decide who stays aboard our crew of companions in life, but it’s one we decide every single day in what we do and say.
Remember, the flutter of a butterfly on one side of the world can generate a cataclysmic storm on the other side – try to make sure you have the crew you want with you when the storm comes your way.