What if you finally realize what you should have done years ago? Is it too late to change things?
I get a lot of email — quite a bit of it asking for advice — but this one seemed especially urgent. Lori read what I wrote last night about how we measure success. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about the last lines of that piece, in which I said, “But most people learn [about their misplaced values] too late to make any difference. I hope it’s not too late for me. And I hope it’s not too late for you.”
Lori is 42 years old — and she’s afraid it’s too late for her.
I’m sharing some of her words — lightly edited with her permission to protect her identity — because I have a feeling a lot of people are in the same position.
“I got married when I was 28, but it was pretty clear soon after that I made a serious mistake,” she wrote. “I wasn’t mature enough to know how shallow he was. I guess I was shallow at the time, too, but I kept growing and he didn’t, so I outgrew him. I chose my husband over another man (and I’m embarrassed about the reasons now) and I’ve been unhappy with my overgrown juvenile husband for years.”
She told me a lot more details and then ended with her real fear.
“I understand all you’re saying, but what if I’ve waited too late?”
Lori says she turned down a marriage proposal from another man — someone who really loved her — because he wasn’t ambitious enough. She said she knew he would never be wealthy and would never be a social-climber. The man she married cares a lot about money and appearances and social status.
So she married — and had a son with — a man who gave her all the things she thought she wanted when she was 28. She thought she had everything.
They had a house that was much bigger than they needed, because it was impressive. She had the best clothes and expensive jewelry. Everybody was envious of her. But she slowly understood that she was miserable — and she found herself painfully missing the love she had turned down.
She was married and had a son, though. Besides, the other man had moved on and married someone else. She tried not to think about it — but she couldn’t forget what it was like to have someone who loved her and valued her as a person.
About five years ago, the other man’s wife died. Weeks later, she messaged him on social media to express her condolences — and they ended up having serious discussions about what had happened between them. The man admitted that he had never gotten over her. She said that he had loved his wife, but he confessed that he would go to his grave loving Lori.
Those conversations were like deep confessions for her. Lori told the other man about how she had grown and changed — and about how she realized she had made mistakes in her choices. After a few weeks, they stopped talking, but everything about what had happened stayed in her mind.
Lori told me she never should have married her husband. She said she should have left him early in their marriage as she understood how emotionally abusive he could be. She said she should have left him when she realized what a toxic father he was to their son. And she said she now wishes she had left him when she found out the other man still loved her.
“At every stage, I knew what I should have done,” Lori wrote. “But I didn’t want to face the consequences. I didn’t want my family and friends to know I screwed up. I didn’t want to lose my financial and social position. So I did nothing.”
She said she finally understands what she needed to know 15 years ago when she was making her mistakes. She said her values have changed — and she values being loved and cherished and understood more than the things that used to matter to her.
Lori told me that the other man never had children. He wanted kids, but his wife was unable to have children. She said he told her five years ago that he still wants children.
“So what if I divorced my abusive husband and called [the other guy] and said, ‘I’m finally available!’” she asked. “And what if he says, ‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late for us, because I want someone who can have kids with me.’”
And she’s scared of ending up with nothing.
“What if I finally do what I should have done 15 years ago, but he doesn’t even want me anymore?” she said.
Lori is scared. She’s afraid of staying where she is. She’s afraid she doesn’t have a future if she tries to return to the past. And she’s afraid she can’t have the children the other man wanted.
“So you see why I’m scared to even try,” she wrote. “What if it’s too late? What if I finally ‘get’ all this stuff I should have understood back then, but I just waited too long for it to matter?”
I don’t know for sure what Lori should do. (You know from reading me in the past, though, that my inclination is to take a chance on love.) But I could answer her question about it being too late.
The best time for Lori to have made the right decision — if it really was the right decision — was 15 years ago. Maybe there were another five or six points along the way when it would have been the second best time and the third best time and so forth.
But all of those times have passed. None of them matter now. If being with someone else was the right thing in the past and remains the right thing now, the next best time to make the decision is now.
Lori also asked if wasting the previous 15 years meant she didn’t have enough time to make it worth being with someone else.
She’s concerned about being 42, as though everything would have been different if she had made the right decision 15 years before — when she was still young.
I reminded Lori that she can’t do anything about the years she’s already lived. If she were to marry the other man — assuming he still wanted her — she will be 52 in 10 years. But I reminded her that she’s going to be 52 in 10 years anyway. Whether she’s with someone who loves her — or with someone who doesn’t love her — the same time is going to pass either way.
And if you really want something, the sooner you make a decision — and make the change if it’s really right for you — the more time you can have with what you should’ve had all along.
Is it too late for Lori? Should she make this huge change in her life? I can’t say for sure. All I can say for sure is that if she’s sure this is what she is right for her, the best time for pursing it is today. Not tomorrow or next week or next year. Right now. Tonight.
If you’ve wasted a good chunk of your life with something that was completely wrong for you, nothing can change until you admit your mistake and start making changes. And the right time to do the right thing — if you’re sure it’s right — is always today.