The other day I was listening to “Brothers” by The Black Keys. The album was lent to me by a friend who is much more into music than I am these days. I think he had multiple copies of it so he decided to lend one to me. I’m not sure why. (I should ask him.) Anyway, I was listening to “Next Girl” when it came to the chorus.
My next girl/Will be nothing like my ex-girl/I made mistakes back then/I’ll never do it again
This dovetailed with something that has been on my mind lately: the thought we often have that we have learned from our mistakes and we are going to do things differently in the future.
But for the most part, I don’t think we do.
Certainly we learn from some mistakes. But most of who we are, of what we are, has been set so deeply, so long ago, that it’s no longer possible to change. And even when we are able to change one small thing, who we are is such an intertwined ecosystem that there are unintended consequences. The choice comes down to repeating old patterns or making brand new mistakes that we will one day swear never to make again.
One of the things about acquiring some experience is that it can give you perspective on things. I don’t mean this to be discouraging. I don’t mean this to imply that changing or trying to change is a waste of time. It’s just that I can see more clearly now just how much I am a product of where I came from. Some of the things I’m proud to be and some of the things I wish would go away. I have a friend that says that because she’s been so good in this life she knows she’s going to have more lives coming after this one is over. Of course she thinks that she’ll make things better in the next life. But change one thing and who’s to say that the things you want to have again will be there.
One of the reasons that I love “Mad Men”, even over my wife’s (possibly accurate) protestations that “Breaking Bad” is a better show, is because I identify with the desire of Dick Whitman to be someone else. If you don’t like what someone is saying, change the conversation. If you don’t like who you are, change your identity. Go to college and grow your hair or shave it off. Move to a new town and come out as a homosexual or embrace celibacy. Try or new religion or give up on the old one. Invent a new backstory for the movie of your life that you’re always constructing in your head. Take a temporary work assignment in a foreign country. But as much as we change there are still things that we never let go. And how far do we really move away from the things that we think we hate about ourselves. Probably not very far.
My next girl/Will be nothing like my ex-girl/That was a painful dance/Now I got a second chance
That next girl may be different but there will always be something. My next girl will be different but I won’t be. I will always want to change my life and I never will. I will learn from some mistakes but I will make some of them again and again and I will add new ones. This doesn’t mean that I won’t try. It just means that while the idea of change is ever-present, the hope of it is remote.