In the spring of 1999, a professor came to my French course to advertise that summer’s abroad program in Bourges. I loved the idea, but my boyfriend objected, and I discovered I could only get financial aid in the form of a loan. Reluctantly, I let the idea drop. A couple months later, the professor came again. I saw pictures of Bourges and fell in love. Despite my boyfriend’s protests, I took out a loan and signed up to go. Not long after, I was on my way to France.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.
If I had to pin down the happiest, freest, most life-affirming part of my personal history, those six weeks in France would be it. In that time, I lived solely for myself. I surrounded myself with things and people and places I loved. I had adventures and romances. I left my old, worn-out, dysfunctional relationship while I was there, and I met my future husband over email through a mutual friend. I spent a hushed night in a couchette with a Venetian who didn’t speak a word of English (we communicated in broken French). I ate tons of chocolate croissants and jars of yogurt and plates of fries. I laughed so much that my stomach hurt, walked miles over cobblestones daily, and cut short the hair I’d kept long for too many years at my ex’s urging.
I have no regrets about the spur of the moment decision I made to join last-minute the program in Bourges. It may not have been practical, and other people were unhappy about it, but the decision made me happy. That was my only criteria. Everything else screamed no. My happiness screamed yes. For once, I listened to my heart.
That decision was the first I can ever remember making purely on the basis of what would make me happy. I was twenty years old. Furthermore, very few decisions I’ve made in the sixteen years since have been rooted primarily – much less solely – in happiness.
This has really only come to my attention recently. I’m used to making practical decisions, or ones based on necessity, or based on the best outcome for everyone else, or based on how people will judge me for it. My happiness rarely weighs in. But therapy and recent decisions have made me evaluate why I do the things I do.
Why did I choose paralegal studies? Because it was a career that wouldn’t make me feel embarrassed or inferior to admit to. WRONG. Why did I lose over 100 lbs? Because I could feel the weight of others’ judgement. WRONG. Why did I keep going to a therapist for two months when her office made me deeply uneasy and didn’t help a bit? Because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by leaving. WRONG. Why do I refuse to self-publish? Because people would think I’m not a “real” writer if I do. WRONG. And so on.
I have a lot of decisions to make about my future right now. I dropped my paralegal course and my current therapist, and need to find new directions in both those areas. I need to decide about going back to school, and what to study, and how to move forward with my writing. I need to figure out how to balance weight loss and loving myself. But I don’t want to make any of these decisions the way I used to. I want my personal happiness, peace, and enjoyment to be a big part of that decision-making process.
Dear younger Manda,
You are an extremely practical, sensible person, and I applaud you for taking a more cautious, less Gryffindor-ish approach to life. Rushed, thoughtless decisions generally make for a lot of pain and regrets. Sometimes, however, you overthink things. Sometimes, it’s okay to just let go and do things that you suspect you will love. Perhaps allow your heart to have more say in your decisions. It’s okay to have some regrets. Without them, you’ll just end up having regrets for not doing things you wished you’d done.
Love, modern-day Manda
PS – Go to Bourges.