Regret vs. Repent

I worked a couple of nights last year on a commercial that was shot in and around a swanky but tacky (for which we decided to create a new term: swacky) hotel in the Meatpacking District. It was definitely a place for scenesters, not only because it had a cool, modern design and was in the Meatpacking District — by far the best part of town in which to spot drunk Europeans, it’s like their mating grounds — but because there were two nightclubs inside the hotel itself. Our crew was filming in the one on the penthouse floor part of the time, so it wasn’t open, but the one in the basement was. At around 4 am, we were stationed right outside the entrance to film some scene involving a guy walking past two gorgeous twins who were practically naked aside from their four-inch heels (it was, of course, a beer commercial), so we got to see a plethora of drunk/high people emerge from the place and try to make their way into cabs, limousines, or just shakily down the street and off into the night.

“Wow, do you remember what that was like?” Andrew, the sound mixer, at one point asked me. 

“You mean being drunk and belligerent?” I joked.**

“No, just…” he said, gesturing to group who seemed to be laughing hysterically at nothing and having a hard time staying upright because of it.

“You know,” I said thinking about it, “actually, no, not really. I never really let myself get to that point.”

“Oh,” he said. “You’re lucky.”

This led me to wonder, But am I really? When I was younger, I almost never got sick from drinking or felt hung over. I can only, in fact, remember three incidences. The first was the morning after my very first night out as a freshman at college, the night when I first experienced a frat party (well, several), and had way too much punch from a barrel at one labeled “Jungle Juice,” which turned out to be a combination of Kool Aid and Everclear. At the football game the next day (yeah, I was that kind of freshman: a joiner), I just couldn’t figure out what that horrible feeling was, sort of a headache and stomachache experienced simultaneously throughout my entire body, that made it really hard to tolerate all that sun and cheering. And so my first college learning experience was to largely avoid the JJ thereafter, and thereby skip such hangovers for most of the rest of my college career. Except for one night during my quarter abroad, when our residence of 45 American students had a massive house party involving hard alcohol of multiple varieties (our British RA was the kind of guy who kept Jack Daniels flowing in his room for all occasions, if that tells you anything about how well-supervised we were). The worst part wasn’t feeling bad enough the next morning to wish I had thrown up the night before (and I really hate throwing up), but the fact that I was unable to drink coffee, that I desperately needed, for the next several days — teaching me the next valuable lesson: don’t mix different kinds of hard alcohol, particularly if one of them is Kahlua. And then finally, there was the embarrassing time in my 30s when I finally solved the mystery of what would happen to me when I drank three martinis in rapid succession, and also finally learned what it was like to vomit from drinking.  

But in spite of my youthful ability to pretty much drink without consequence, I didn’t like that feeling of getting so out-of-control that I had no idea what I was doing, so when I felt myself hitting that point, I would stop. Now, I kind of regret that, because now that I’m in my 40s, the opportunity to behave that way is basically of off the table. This is not only because it seems embarrassing and somewhat pathetic to be a middle-aged woman who’s so utterly wasted that she can’t walk or speak, but because, thanks to the fact that my stomach seems to have outpaced the rest of me in terms of rapid acceleration into old age, I would truly suffer horribly for many days afterwards, and frankly I just can’t spare that kind of time. Yeah, who thinks about a night of reckless, debaucherous fun in terms of opportunity costs? This gal. And maybe a lot of you other folks in my age bracket think the same way, especially if you have kids who are going to wake you up the next day. But the problem is that I’ve always been this way; even when I was younger, I was cautious and thought ahead, obsessively, about everything. As a result, I am one of those people who, when I look back on my life, I have mainly regrets about the things I didn’t do, and very little repentance about the things that I did that I wish I hadn’t. 

What are some of the things I regret not doing? Here’s a partial list.

  • I wish I’d tried LSD, Ecstasy, ‘shrooms and cocaine. There are actually a ton of drugs I haven’t tried, since the only ones I have had are pot, hash and whip-its, but these are the only drugs I’d really like to try. Meth, crack and heroine are just too scary to me to even make it to my fantasy list. (I know, super boring, which really just reinforces what I’ve already told you). At this point, I don’t really want to try any of them because of the aforementioned opportunity costs, plus I worry about damaging my brain due to bad drugs and getting arrested — things that could fuck up my life, since I actually have one now. Also, being a middle-aged druggie, like being a middle-aged drunk, isn’t pretty.
  • I wasn’t slutty enough. I was never able to throw myself at people I was attracted to with true abandon, so I haven’t slept with as many men as I feel like I should have, and I haven’t slept with any celebrities or women — which, in retrospect, really seem like major omissions. I actually went through a period in my 20s and 30s of trying to be sluttier, because I saw so many women around me who were not, objectively speaking, more attractive than I, who seemed much more successful at sleeping with men I would have deemed unattainable. I tried to observe how these women did it, but what I think I could never pull off was being willing to do whatever it took, no matter what anyone thought of me, to get someone to have sex with me – once again, I was too shy, scared and self-conscious. I didn’t even start learning to flirt until my senior year of college, so that means at least the years between 16 and 21 (depending on when you think you should start having sex) were full of missed opportunities, and after that, my technique really wasn’t what it should have been…or even a “technique,” really. Now, I’m married and have too much self-respect. Plus, if I didn’t have the nerve to throw myself at people when I was young and drew the occasional invitational look, I certainly don’t now that I’m 45, invisible, and tired.
  • I haven’t tried enough scary, adventuresome activities, like paragliding, parasailing, kiteboarding, hang gliding, sky diving. I have friends who do these types of things, but me? I’ve done zip lines (aka canopying), where you’re fully harnessed in, so all you have to do is sit there and hang on — and even if you screw that up, and get stuck in the middle, somebody will just come get you. I also once jumped off a cliff that was over 35 feet high into a pool of water in Guatemala, and took a bike tour down a very steep, one lane “Death Road” in Bolivia. All of those things I really enjoyed, enough that I’d like to try more like them. But now that I’m at an age where death is no longer an abstract concept, it’s harder to conscience doing something that’s genuinely dangerous. 
  • I never really tried or tried to learn so many things that I wish I had, like playing an instrument or a sport well, or speaking a foreign language, or, like I mentioned in the last post, cinematography. And while it’s true that these things are all harder to take on now that my brain has pretty much finished developing, unlike with some of the other stuff on this list, the door isn’t fully closed on this category. I am trying to learn to shoot and I fully do intend to get back to learning Spanish, but finding the time and the energy to fail is hard. The galling part is that if only I’d persevered at any of these things earlier in life, I would be good at them already and wouldn’t have to go through feeling like an idiot now. 

And I think that sort of gets at what each item on this list has in common, that I’ve been thinking about since last week’s post: fear of looking or feeling stupid was a major motivator for my failure to do all of them. I realize this because one swell part of being the kind of person who thinks about everything way too much is that you never look back on moments in life and say, “Why did (or didn’t) I do that?!“ I can recall most of the obsessive thought process behind most of them, and that’s what all of these things I’ve listed have in common in terms of the why not. Fear of risk, not so much of being hurt physically or emotionally — I worry about those things now because, having had some contact with pain and death over the course of the past 20 years, I know a little better what they mean – but fear of making mistakes, above all those that would lead to me feeling foolish. Because while I don’t see much to repent now, I repented a lot when I was younger, obsessing over what I considered errors of mine and wishing I could take them back because they’d embarrassed me. Funnily enough, the handful of those mistakes I can actually remember now seem so tiny and meaningless — probably because they were. It’s hard to believe those were the types of fears kept me from doing…well, everything. I might genuinely still repent doing a few of those things now that I repented then, like getting into arguments that were stupid and unnecessary or hurtful to other people, but being motivated too often by fear of basically nothing important — that’s definitely my biggest regret. 

Of course, you can’t go back and do all of it again, or any of it. And like I said, I wouldn’t want to do most of the things on my list now. But I think the overall trade-off of fearing and regretting less, even if it means repenting more, is worth it.

** This had come immediately after a conversation with a couple of drunk Norwegians who, I guess because they were so incredibly drunk they had no idea what to do with themselves, decided to walk over to the sound cart and talk to us for a while. One of them grabbed my open bottle of spring water and started drinking it while the other one chatted up the security guard who had followed them out of the building before turning his rather hazy attention on us.

“Where are you guys from?” asked Andrew.

“Guess,” said the chubbier one in the white shirt, which was unbuttoned probably farther down than he intended, or maybe not, but either way it wasn’t flattering. “We’re from the place where all the beautiful people in Europe come from.”

Andrew and I scrutinized them. They both had light brown hair, puffy pink faces and accents that sounded German, but not exactly. Neither one was, to my eye, particularly beautiful.

“Sweden?” guessed Andrew.

“No, not Sweden!” the one who’d asked the question scoffed indignantly, turning pinker. “That just shows you to be ignorant, your saying that. This is why everyone thinks Americans are ignorant!”  

I was later informed by someone that the Swedish are universally disliked across Scandinavia, which is what, unbeknownst to us, made this a particularly poor guess. The first guy continued to expound on this theme of how stupid we were rather than telling us where they were from, so I decided to try his friend.

“So where are you guys from?”

“I’m not the same as him,” said the friend, who had an upper lip that looked swollen on one side, as if perhaps somebody had punched him in it recently, which didn’t seem all that unlikely — especially since I’d caught sight of him earlier, pursuing a group of people out of the club and into a cab, trying to get a girl to give him her phone number, shouting, “I will pay, I will pay for it!” 

“Oh, you’re not from the same place?”

“No, I don’t feel the same way about Americans.”

“Oh, well, that’s nice.” I’ve had a lot of conversations with drunk people in my day, can you tell? “But I was asking where you were from.”

“Oh, we’re from Norway.” 

I’m not sure what you can draw from this story that makes it worthwhile that you came all the way down to the asterisk to read it, except maybe that you can get belligerent drunk Norwegians to answer questions, if you keep trying.

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