This is a fine philosophy for a tee-shirt or a terrible tattoo (that you probably will regret), because it’s a can’t lose espousal. People don’t argue with a “no regrets” policy. That mindset makes you seem wise, because no one in the history of ever has said, “You know what? I really wish I had more regrets.”
I try to live my life in as much of a “no regrets” way as possible, especially (and unsurprisingly) when it comes to sex and adventure. I didn’t want to look back with regret on the time I had the chance to screw a hot bartender in an alley phone booth, so I went ahead and did it. I didn’t turn down my golden opportunity to be eaten out under the table at a fancy restaurant. I’ve been with many girls, and have had a very memorable threesome or two.
Life is short, and you only get so many shots. For the most part I’ve thrown restraint to the wind, and seized whatever I could.
Seizing, at first glance, is straightforward. I think that’s why so many people think that “no regrets” is an attainable goal. Because really … who can’t simply accept the opportunities presented to them?
You see a coin, you pick it up.
Your boss pisses you off for the final time, you tell her to crawl up her own ass and die.
Someone asks you to go spelunking in a cave or maybe skydiving … if you’re the “no regrets” type, you hike up your panties and go.
NOTE: I haven’t gone spelunking or skydiving, but I like to think that when the chance arises, I’ll have the guts to try it. Probably naked, because you only live once.
But that’s just surface level stuff. Regrets run deeper than the choices you’re handed on a silver platter. A more insidious regret is the type birthed from opportunities you don’t realize you’re missing until after the chance to grab them is forever gone.
Oh shit, I wish I’d taken computer science all those years ago, because it would have helped me land the dream job that just passed me by.
Oh shit, there was an exchange scholarship in school that would have let me live in France for three months for free, and I didn’t even know about it?
Beneath even those humdingers are the worst regrets of all: the ones that you aren’t even sure are — or will ever be — regrets: the choices that could have turned out one way or another … but which you’ll only know one side of.
Should you have accepted that job in LA instead of letting it go? Maybe it would have led to a fantastic career, a lot of money, and untold new happiness. Or … maybe it would have led nowhere.
Either way, you’ll never know.
Should you have married your high school sweetheart, rather than breaking it off when you went off to college? Maybe you made the right choice, because a life together would have held you back and kept him from growing into who he was supposed to become.
Or … maybe you made the wrong choice, and now you’ve lost the man who should have been your soulmate.
Again, you’ll never know.
Sometimes I wish that life was like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, so I could peek down those paths not taken. If I was an honest reader, I wouldn’t go back and actually erase history to choose a new road … but I would, at least, like to see what I missed.
At the very least, I’d know whether I was happy with my decisions, or sad about the choices I should have made.
At the very least, I’d know if I had any regrets.
You can’t really live a “no regrets” life because you can never see all of that may have happened, and can never know whether you seized the day or missed the boat. Too many of our potential regrets will always be hidden behind a miasma of choice. Sometimes you’ll think you should have turned left on the road of life, sure. But plenty of times, you never even saw the road on the left … or you did, but captured it too late, after you’d left it behind.
I don’t have enough information to say that I have no regrets. It’s absolutely, positively, thoroughly maddening. How can I know if I’m living my life to the fullest when I’m so fucking blind?
Sometimes, I think I’d settle for the homonym of “no regrets.”
I wish I could at least know regrets, instead of always wondering.
The cool thing about being a writer is that you can do things that are impossible or impractical. Through the magic of fiction, we writers can fly; we can travel into the distant future; we can slap around the asshole who dumped us in high school.
We can also make sane choices while simultaneously pursuing our riskier (but more fun) alternatives. For example, the first time I was on the Self Publishing Podcast, I was talking about how I’ll sometimes go through my day watching people and gathering character ideas to use later.
One memorable quote was, “The guy with the shaved head and blue eyes? I’m going to fuck him in my head later.”
And that’s how it goes. I’m reasonably uninhibited, but sometimes the object of my fantasies is married, or uninterested, or gay. I’ve been married, and my husband at the time wasn’t into swinging. But it doesn’t matter, I can seize without seizing. I can notice the hot guy, then write a scene wherein I whip his cock out in a corner and fall to my knees. It’s advanced fantasy, complete with a DIY mental movie. I’m lucky. When I write, I can cheat without cheating.
I can also ask questions that I can’t actually answer. I can do things that can’t actually be done. And yes, I can see what might have happened, in some alternative universe, if things in my life had turned out differently.
As the same Self Publishing Podcast guys wrote last week on their blog, “There’s a little bit of the author’s soul in every story they write.” Accordingly, Delilah Quinn from Cheated is a tiny bit me, and her revenge was revenge I’ve fantasized about. Recalling my past relationships, Sam and Zach from Divorced are both very much me — and their love was my love, their sorrow my sorrow. Autumn Cole is enough me that I described The Autumn Diaries as “semi-autobiographical,” and had Autumn take the pen name “Lexi Maxxwell,” then live out some of my real-life exploits.
So when, in one of my more thoughtful, quiet moments, I got to thinking about how terrible and irredeemable regret is, something interesting occurred to me.
My first thought was, You can never know if you made the correct choice at a critical moment … or made the wrong one and fashioned forever regret.
But because I’m a writer, my second thought was, Bullshit.
So I sat at my computer, and went back in time to find out.
Enter Malcolm Sims — a man approaching the middle of his life with a good job, a sweet and wonderful wife, two kids, and generally everything he’s ever wanted. Malcolm, aside from the penis and a few extra years, was also a little bit me when I first sat to tell his story in my new book Fate, which will be coming out at the end of this month. Malcolm was his own boss; he had all the freedom in the world; he was satisfied and hadn’t fallen into the ruts that so many people fall into — all things that are very much Lexi.
I could relate to Malcolm, even though he was far more timid than I am. Because although Malcolm was exactly where he wanted to be in life, there was one major regret in his past that echoed my supposedly unanswerable question: he’d once had a huge crush on a girl in high school, but because he was so timid, he never asked her out.
So what, right? Everyone has that story.
But Malcolm’s story had a twist: years later, looking back, he realized that pretty Molly Pfeiffer almost certainly had a crush on him, too.
As the story opens, Malcolm is 43 and on the cusp of his 25th year high school reunion. It’s far too late to do any “seizing” with Molly, and he wouldn’t want to anyway. Malcolm isn’t an asshole; he’s able to separate a growing, almost obsessive infatuation with Molly from the conflicting love he feels for his wife Carrie. He doesn’t really want to have Molly; he wants to have had Molly. It’s what I thought of as a “latent regret” — something you wish you could go back in time and take advantage of, even though it would change nothing in your present life.
For Malcolm — and for me, as his soul-twin — that particular species of “what if?” was as maddening as an unscratchable itch.
I chose a male protagonist in Fate for a very specific reason. For one, I feel that people are people, and I’ve had enough close male friends and knew I could step into a man’s shoes as easily as a woman’s. But more importantly — and please don’t be insulted guys; you know I love you! — men tend to be less complicated in their sexual motivations. I wanted the thing that Malcolm regretted to be as plain as possible so that it would easily “lift right out of” or “drop right into” the timeline without leaving loose ends. Every time I thought about having my lead be a girl, I didn’t believe she’d be sufficiently driven by a desire to fuck and run.
I was a dripping bag of emotions in high school. I think every teen girl is at least a bit of a mess, but boys and men are different. As I got to know Malcolm and his male hormones, I believed that he could love his wife, not want anything to change … while simultaneously wanting to travel back in time, lay pipe with Molly, then move on. No muss, no fuss.
The idea of “no muss, no fuss” was important. I didn’t want to write a sexy version of It’s a Wonderful Life, where someone finds out how life could have been different if they’d taken an alternate road. Malcolm loved his wife, his family, his job, and everything else. He (and, by extension, I) wanted nothing in the present to change. He merely longed to insert a single good time in the past — to have the memory of being with Molly, and expunge the regret of passing her by.
Half-jokingly, I began to think of a fun tagline for this book: “Would you rather have fucked and lost than to have never fucked at all?” That tagline undersold Fate’s themes a bit, but was otherwise apt. It was exactly the question I wanted to ask. Given a hot-button regret — which a missed dalliance with a sexy 18-year-old would be for even the most happily married man — did the way things had unfolded actually matter? If Malcolm’s encounter with Molly did, in fact, “lift right out of the timeline” then why would he care if he changed it?
I didn’t know the answer when I started writing, but I’ll admit being nervous to find out.
I’ve confessed that there’s a bit of me in every character I’ve ever written. That may sound cute, and you may have found my wordplay earlier (referring to writing Fate as if I were actually going back in time to correct a regret) similarly cute. But if you really think about it, you’ll see that this isn’t just me being clever, and that the stakes — for me as a writer — are very real. When I create a cast of characters, I’m laying pieces of myself like chessmen onto a board, with no true idea how the game will unfold. I don’t know which parts of my soul will be injured or murdered, and which of my heartfelt ideas and ideals will triumph.
Oh, sure, I kind of know … but only kind of. I start with a rough outline, so going in, I had an idea of the novel’s highlights and probable ending. But mere events and circumstance will never tell the whole story, and what I didn’t know — what I couldn’t know until I conducted this little experiment — was how Malcolm would feel about what happened when he returned to 1988 and shuffled his choices.
I couldn’t know if it would affect his relationship with Carrie or how he felt about her. I didn’t know how Molly would react to the new Malcolm, and wasn’t entirely sure how she’d felt about the original Malcolm to begin with. Because remember, Molly is me, too. In my real past, I’ve been in her shoes. I’d been the girl who crushed on a guy, then never had those feelings returned. I know how it feels when a guy is indifferent, and how it feels when a guy is interested — and how, depending on the circumstances, I might choose to respond.
All of these people were treading in unknown water, trespassing on my carefully held beliefs. It made me nervous. My question with Fate was, “Are regrets worth regretting?” I really only wanted to know the answer if it was one I liked … but there was a serious risk that the answer would be the wrong one, and that I wouldn’t want to know what I’d learned.
I might look at Malcolm and Molly and at the 25 years behind them, and realize that regrets were worth having — that some good things were destined to be gone forever, and that there truly were no second chances. If true, I’d know the only thing I could ever do about my inevitable regrets is suffer through their pain.
I fell into Fate as if falling into another world. The story quickly grew out of control. Malcolm didn’t go back in time once; he ended up taking several confusing trips. He began to feel like the universe was toying with him, which was something I’d never anticipated. Two new characters surfaced from nowhere, each playing significant roles in the narrative. It felt like I’d pushed something down a hill, then lost my grip. All I could do was watch what happened, and continue to write. I’ve never been able to force stories in the directions I want them to go.
I started to fear for Malcolm. I started to feel bad for his sweet, unknowing wife Carrie. I yearned with Molly, then felt deep pain I didn’t know she had. One of my surprise characters complicated things, then did something that surprised me so goddamn much, it almost made me lose the story’s ending.
I didn’t lose it, though. I finished Fate just fine … and today, I have the answer about my past regrets.
I can’t tell you how it the story ends. I can’t give you my epiphany. I can’t tell you the best parts of what I learned from spending so many hours with my characters, because it would blow an ending you’ll want to read for yourself. But I will say one thing: There’s a reason I named this book Fate.
But there’s more to it than that. See, if you’re already a Lexi reader, you already know about my signature series of novels: “The ABCs of Erotica.” To date, it’s comprised of Anticipation, Bitten, Cheated, Divorced, and Engaged.
If that doesn’t connect the dots, I’ll do it for you: the next book in my series had to begin with the letter F, so I went ahead and called this one Fate. But the story wasn’t really about fate at all, and at first, the name was sort of a cheat. Originally, I had this exact story in mind for something I’d write when reaching R: Regret.
The fact that it turned out to fit the name Fate after all feels like …
Oh, hell. I’ll just say it.
… it felt like fate.
I can’t tell you if you should regret your regrets. I know how I feel about my own, and what I’d tell you if we were side by side sipping lattes at Starbucks. But how you feel about yours is up to you.
I can only say one thing for sure:
You say you have no regrets?
Don’t kid yourself.
NOTE: Make sure you’re signed up to Club Lexi. I’ll be sending out early copies of Fate when it’s ready. Join Club Lexi here.