It’s always the thing I’ve found hardest about breakups – the change of plan. Eventually you work out a new path, new plans take their place, and you go off another trajectory. But I’ve never quite been able to get over the resentment that things never happened the way I wanted them too. In my angsty teenage years, I wrote a poem. The only lines I remember are the final two:
For all that was lost,
And all that would have been.
In my head there’s a parallel universe with an alternate version of myself to whom those things happened, and that parallel me generally seems happier in some way. I can’t seem to let it go, because I believe things should have happened that way. Yet life experience and Robert Burns have taught me that the best laid plans often go AWOL.
Change has been a constant in my life, more than most. I’ve lived in seventeen houses, two countries, and have been to ten schools. My name even means ‘resurrection’ in Greek, as one nerdy history teacher was always intent on reminding me. Yet still I catch myself fearing change, resisting it, being regretful and disappointed when it rears its head again.
But change is inevitable. Heraclitus said, ‘The only constant is change.’ So why are we still so afraid of it? To say ‘You’ve changed’ is generally considered an insult. Why as a society do we reject it, unless it’s the change that follows the accepted direction of school, university, good job, marriage, buying a house and having a baby? Anything considered a snake rather than a ladder brands you a failure. And now the open archive of social media increasingly holds us to a certain version of ourselves – one that we chose in our teenage years.
Our whole attitude to change is unrealistic. We will undergo years of transformation, growing into the person we’ll become. If you’re lucky, you keep growing.
In hindsight, we chart the big, sudden changes in our lives,; as if they were a divine blast or a fluke. But were any of them really that sudden? More likely they were building up inside of us for a long time, our thoughts, feelings, ideas slowing moving towards a new facet of ourselves. It’s only at the big pivotal moments that we notice this culmination. Or later, when our old and new selves collide – sometimes literally like meeting an old acquaintance in the street, or seeing an embarrassing photo pop up on Facebook.
I had such an occurrence a few weeks ago. As is common for me, my moment of reflection had a sartorial source.. Vogue tells us about the bar to office ensemble. But on this day I had a hybrid to create that the glossies hadn’t given me any tips on. ‘Baby meet with former fashion colleagues’ to ‘jazz gig meeting fellow uni students’. It was a collision of new and old selves that I didn’t know how to reconcile. It made me feel like a fraud somehow, that I couldn’t possibly contain both people within me. In my days in the fashion office, I was always ‘polished’ – heels, perfectly curled hair, flouncy dress. It was the version of me that everyone came to expect. Looking through my wardrobe now, I felt the need to fit in with that image, my hands hovering over the dresses that had lay dormant for over a year of lockdown, the heels that were gathering dust while my feet gradually forgot how to wear them. And then I pictured turning up to my later rendez-vous with my uni crew – the image of Elle Woods tottering onto campus in all pink superimposed itself over that image. How to reconcile these two versions of myself?
In the end I resolved the style conundrum (when in doubt, jeans and a nice top). Then later that evening, I took my plush, velvet seat in a hip new hotel bar, settling in to watch the jazz gig. My uni friends were late, so I sat there alone, looking at my fellow attendees. They looked cool. French girls just being their cool ass French selves, older guys talking about the instruments they played, a guy in a navy blue worker’s jacket and rolled up jeans who later turned out to be the DJ. I felt I was on the outside, self-conscious. I don’t belong here, I thought. I’m standing pressed up against the window, looking at the party inside.
And then my fashion conundrum from earlier came back to me. Maybe I didn’t feel like I fit in now (and would we ever even want to fit perfectly?) but why couldn’t this be another space that I morphed into?
I was reminded that I’d already changed once – why couldn’t I change again? I could take my cue from Doctor Who. Hold my former selves in a line up, knowing they exist in some dimension and I’ve taken the best parts of them into my current iteration. I can blast off into new, unexpected territories and into places I never dreamed I would go. Regenerate into something new, adjust my edges to flow into a new realm. Why was I sitting here worrying about what would and wouldn’t change? Surely life will be better when we accept that a change, a metamorphosis is going to come, and from it we will emerge more dazzling than before.