I…really hate that poem. I hate how people interpret it as some sort of ‘I broke away from the pack and yay’ paean to nonconformity. That’s not what it says at all. There’s this idea that all conformity is bad and ‘settling’ and selling out your ‘true self’, and I’m sure it sells tons of self-help books, and so on, but I’m not sure it’s a great knee-jerk response to life. When you want to nonconform, you have to be ready for the consequences, and Frost’s poem barely even alludes to that.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way.
Most of my choices have been the ‘up against the wall’ choices, where if I didn’t act, disaster was certain. And I might not have done the right thing, but I did something. It’s possibly a testament to my passivity, or maybe it has something to say about my tolerance for discomfort. Or, as I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately, my childhood, where passivity and inaction were survival mechanisms. Be neither seen nor heard. Draw no attention to yourself except in praiseworthy things. And I learned, quickly enough, what those were, and which ones I could never succeed in (try as I might, I am not ‘beautiful’.) Effort didn’t count for anything unless it yielded results. If not, it was a waste and the thing was, in my mother’s most stinging voice ‘ruined’. There were no partials in my childhood world, no ‘close enough’. It was either perfect, or it was further proof of my failure.
Nonconforming had a price too high for most of my life.
But more to the subject, there are men I could have stayed with, yes, but it would only have cost me a slow grind of my soul, losing myself bit by bit to be their image of the ‘perfect girlfriend’ or ‘perfect wife’, just like my mother’s ‘perfect family’ we all had to shine as part of, or slink away in failure. Do I want to write the life I would have led if I’d stayed with those men? No. How dreary they would have been–I saw glimpses enough in what I was becoming: the hostess of work parties for people I don’t know and their spouses; a conversationalist able to talk about any number of subjects but unable to find a listener for the conversations I wanted to have, about art, ideas, philosophy, books that weren’t on Oprah’s list…; the maintainer of the vessel of my husband’s house-proud life.
There were good things–I enjoyed gardening, though he hated the tomatoes I loved so much, hated even the smell of the plants themselves; I enjoyed baking, though I got reprimanded when I hand made a birthday cake instead of buying a tasteless sheet cake from Wal-mart; I enjoyed someone to do things with…even if only his things.
But there’s the elephant in the room, always–his infidelity. Not physically–oh he did that too!–but I would have forgiven it (perhaps in my own desperate attempt to piece together a quilt of a marriage, darn over the rough spot) if he hadn’t have lied to me about it. Physical infidelity is one thing, but he broke the emotional trust.
How can I write about the life I could have had in any positive way with THAT around? A divorced woman who has no use for men with baggage, with men my own age who want girls half my age to date–that’s not the road less traveled, at all. There are many–thousands–of women who find themselves on this same road. And like me, their stories are probably banal and boring, too.