This is the question: You have a time machine. You can go back to one breakup. What would you do differently?
It’s interesting to consider what we might do with a time machine because we spend most of our lives inside the time machine in our heads. We come up with snappy retorts or witty conversation. We practice speeches and breakups and how to ask for that promotion or raise. We replay our relationships and give them different endings. We change our lives.
Only in our heads, of course, because out here everything has already played out the way that it did, and all we can do is move forward.
But it still poses an interesting line of thought simply because if we examine what we might do differently in the past, we might reveal a few things about our present. And beyond that we may have more insight into the choices we should make in the future. It can yield an incredible wealth of information, if we’re just willing to go deep into the question to see.
Let’s say I have this time machine. I don’t want to go back before my divorce because I have two beautiful children. I would assume, based purely on fictional suppositions, that with time travel I could threaten their existence with any travel earlier than their birth.
But that yields the first important piece of insight: We have to make peace with the past that made us who we are today. We have to find healing with the difficult experiences that forged us so that we can move forward with some sense of peace.
Then I look at the next relationship after the divorce, and part of me might want to go back and do something to change the ghosting that happened or go back and stop myself from falling in love with him in the first place, just a couple of short weeks before he’d do his disappearing act. But I feel like I’d waste the trip back in time because he was never going to stay. Not ever. He was always going to want someone else.
And that’s the second insight: There are those we encounter who are never meant to stay. They are simply fellow human beings on a journey that simply intersects with our own. We can’t make them take our path simply by virtue of wanting it, nor can we give up our own. We are simply meant to learn from them. And sometimes to be pushed in the right direction- even if it seems like we’re lost at the time.
But the next relationship? Would I change something there? I sit with that and wonder. Because that one? It was brutal. I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that in the whole of my life. I didn’t think it would ever stop. Part of me wants to jump in the time machine and go back to that day and fix it. But the truth is that no time machine could fix that either. It would be as wasted as the other trips because I can love him with all of my heart, but I can’t make him be who I thought he was.
That’s the third little pearl of wisdom pulled from the ashes: We have to accept what is. Love is not the only thing that matters in relationships. All the love in the world cannot fix what is irreparably broken or transform someone into something they’re not. We have to find the peace in that, too.
My time machine sits unused. Maybe there was one person, long before my children, that I might have liked to visit, only to say some things that needed to be said. But we’ve come to where we are, and I think that all of my choices were leading me here. To this place. To these words. To say that we can’t go back. To say that it’s okay to move forward.
Because one day there will be another relationship, and I won’t take it for granted because I have been dragged through so many heartaches. It will make me kinder than I might have been otherwise. It will help me appreciate the beautiful things, no matter how small. I will hold that person close and hold on to the moment while it’s happening so that if it one day ends I will know that I was at least present in my life and in my relationship while it was happening. I will be there.
I won’t try to hold on to someone who isn’t meant for me. I won’t make love responsible for fixing every problem. I won’t carry around the weight of what was because it’s made me who I am, which is pretty fantastic if I do say so myself.
I don’t need a time machine because everything I need to know about those times I know. Anything else would just be a confirmation of what my soul has already affirmed. Instead, I might take that time machine to other moments, the quiet kind we forget because they seem so simple. An hour sitting in a garden or on the shore. A walk on a path in the woods. Sitting under a night sky and seeing a shooting star. Maybe I’ll skip the relationship drama and go there: to a place where the simple things are the best things, and I don’t want to change any of it.
Or maybe I’ll enjoy this moment, now, the one I’m in. If I do that, I don’t need to go anywhere at all to feel a sense of gratitude.