Back when I was a kid, whenever I came within hearing distance of two or more women talking together, I often heard one of them say something like, “If I knew then what I know now … ,” or “I’d love to be young again, but only if I could have the knowledge I have today.” Occasionally, I’d hear someone ask the other, “If you could do it all over again, would you do it the same way?”
Now, I am one of those women. Actually, I’m probably older than those women were then, by 10 or 20 years. That means that those women were questioning their choices, or were just plain unhappy with them, in their thirties or forties.
In the 1960s and 1970s, in my Irish-Catholic, middle-class neighborhood, women didn’t have as many choices as they do now. Money was tight, education beyond high school was rare, and kids were plentiful. The men made the money and the women stretched it for all it was worth. Women couldn’t get credit on their own. Their economic situation depended entirely on their husbands’ ability to earn.
Not long after, women went to college, got jobs, moved out of their families’ homes, and had mostly-worry-free sex, due to the introduction of birth-control pills. Women supported themselves, traveled, worked, and lived in their own homes with or without a man to whom they were or were not married. Life changed drastically and very quickly. Education and birth-control made this possible.
But, despite these changes, adults still had to make choices and decisions. Some of us got married, some of us had children. Some of us raised our children without working outside the home; some did both, with varying success. Others dedicated our lives to our careers, or that’s the way it turned out, anyway. That was because, even though women had far more options than our mothers did, we didn’t have them all. Sometimes our choices were limited, so we chose between what we were offered. Some people never met a man they wanted to marry. Some women were unable to have children. Some women got the jobs they wanted; others took the jobs they could get.
Even with all of the new opportunities that were offered to us, they weren’t all offered to every one of us. We, like previous generations, did the best with what we we chose from what we were offered.
My friends don’t seem to ask each other the questions that our mothers asked. Maybe that’s because if we don’t like our marriage, we leave it. Or, if we’re unhappy with our job, we look for another. We don’t feel pinned down to choices we made when we were young, or younger.
But, the prevalence of divorce, relocating, changing jobs and/or career paths, depression, homicide and suicide, indicates a great unease with our original decisions. I believe we’re all still asking ourselves if we would have done things differently if we knew how things were going to turn out.
What would you have done differently? Would you have married the same person, had the kids, chosen the career you first decided on? Or, knowing what you know now, and how things played out, would you have gone a totally different route?