I love 90s movies. 80s movies too, actually, but my mom and I shared a love of many of the romance/romantic comedy movies from the ‘90s. Our top favorites were You’ve Got Mail, The American President, My Best Friend’s Wedding…maybe a few more. But the one I’ve watched over and over in the past few months thanks to a Netflix account and crippling anxiety which made me unable to tolerate watching any movies I didn’t already know the endings to for fear of worsening my grief experience, was Runaway Bride.
I love it because of Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. I love it because of the sweet, small town that reminds me of the one where I grew up. I love it because of the actress who plays her grandma. But I think what I love most about it is how much of myself I see in Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts’ character).
She has been engaged many times but never made it down the aisle, which is something I’ve never done. I’ve been married to Other Half for 14 years and he’s the only guy who ever proposed to me. But the whole reason behind why she can never commit that he helps her discover? That she has no idea who she is? That hits home every single time. As Ike (Richard Gere’s character) interviews the different people in Maggie’s life, he always asks the previous almost-groom how she liked her eggs. Seems like an odd question, but it has a different answer every single time. When he confronts her about never knowing herself, who she really is, as the root of her issues with commitment, she realizes that he is absolutely right. She has been reactive in her life rather than taking the time to get to know her own identity.
Several times in recent weeks as I have lamented the current state of things in my own life, close friends, my therapist, and even Other Half have asked me, “What is it that you want? What is it that will make you happy?” This is a loaded question because there are so many things that I already have to be happy about and thankful for that it makes me feel selfish for being unsatisfied. This is something that has gone on for months now. I even asked my therapist, “How did I create a life that feels suffocating to me?”
As I thought through this question, I told Other Half that I think I’ve lived my life in a way that was reactive rather than giving myself the space and time to consider what is supposed to happen. I’ve been so convinced that things would work out how they were supposed to in the end, and that everything happens for a reason, that I forgot sometimes the reason is because you’re unprepared and you don’t think through your decisions. I got married so very young, before my frontal lobe was even formed, and just wanted to be somehow older and more mature than I was. I wanted to avoid conflict. I wanted to be happily married. I went to nursing school because I knew that then I would have a stable career path, and then went back to NP school because it seemed like the thing to do because I was searching for something more. I went to church forever at the same place I had been growing up, with the same people-pleasing tendencies. I abided by the rules of the faith I was taught because it never occurred to me to look deeper into things for myself. I followed this laundry list of expectations, and I did it with one hundred percent conviction that this was my path, but I never really stopped to ask myself if this was what I wanted.
I was talking to My Friend, and I said, “I went to nursing school because I knew it would allow me to take care of other people and it would allow me to take care of myself. I knew I would have stable job prospects. But what I wanted was to get a degree in English or creative writing.”
As I said before, people have asked me several times over the past few weeks what would make me happy, and I have had to admit with a certain amount of surprise and shame that I didn’t know. I told Christina Yang that what I wanted was a complete do-over. That I no longer feel connected to my profession. That I feel exhausted by the long years stretching out before me as I contemplate living the life that pays my bills.
Even the very basic things which I always thought would be constant, things like how I understand my faith, feel somehow distant. I grew up with certain rules and expectations, and they were taught to me by parents who lived their faith in front of me. But as I’m learning more about myself, I’m not sure that I agree with everything I’ve preached in the past. I don’t think it’s wrong for women to be ordained as ministers. I don’t feel like it’s my God-given responsibility to police the sins of others. I don’t feel like if I vote for one political party versus another it makes me any more or less Christian.
A few years ago, at my pastor’s request, I started writing devotions, and it was something amazing to me that I seemed to have a natural talent for. But as soon as I started to write things that were “controversial,” someone I loved and respected started a passive aggressive series of Facebook postings questioning my audacity at asking such questions and rebuking me for not falling into a certain type of theology. And so I stopped writing them. Because that was a time when I was most vulnerable. When I was afraid my dad was going to die, and my marriage was suffering, and my professional life was in absolute chaos. I realized that it was time for me to evaluate what I actually believed and see if it lined up with what I had been raised to believe, because I couldn’t fathom that this Jesus my parents taught me about would be so callous as to kick someone when they were down for writing devotions expressing the anguish in their soul.
Anyway, at the end of Runaway Bride, Maggie goes to Ike’s apartment to try and reconcile with him after leaving him at the altar and breaking his heart. She says, “Benedict,” to which he responds, “Arnold.”
“I love eggs Benedict,” she said. “I hate every other kind of eggs.” She goes on to detail a list of things about herself that she has now taken the time to learn. A journey she only undertook because of Ike’s accusation that she didn’t know who she was.
I told Christina Yang the other day that I have no idea what would make me happy. That I have a long list of things I know haven’t done it. Then I came up with a short paragraph sent via text message that outlined some long term goals which, unfortunately, are not realistic for now at all. But they have given me something to look forward to. What I’m struggling with right now is the trapped feeling that comes from having to wait to attain them. So Christina Yang, in all her wisdom, suggested that I start with a series of small things I could do right now that line up with who I am and what I want, even if it seemed to be something minor like clothing choices or dietary changes or making a structured schedule for myself to write.
Things I’ve learned so far— I can’t tolerate the religious rule book. I have to investigate scripture for myself. I do love eggs Benedict and hate every other kind of eggs. Writing is the thing that makes me feel like life makes sense and is what I reach for when life is spinning out of control. Long car rides are life. Audiobooks bring me joy. My kids are amazing. My husband sticks by me when things get hard. My dad is the best person I know, Christina Yang gives good advice and holds my hand through nightmarish things as they happen, and My Friend isn’t afraid to tell me hard things, but with compassion and a sense of understanding. I don’t care about the big house I thought I needed. I love my Jeep in 82 degree weather. I’m eating plant based for the most part because I think it’s the right move for me to protect myself from diseases of affluence, but I love charcuterie boards and I don’t care if I have to pay $25 for what is essentially an adult lunchable. Fountain pens make me smile, especially when the ink is the same color as the pen, and I don’t care that this makes me a nerd.
I think it’s OK that my theology is a little different because there is room for multiple views in how we approach faith, and I don’t think I have to give up writing my devotions just because religious people get their panties in a wad when those of us who don’t fall in line like we’re supposed to get a little too inquisitive for their liking. The mother of Jesus was loved just as much as John the Baptist, one who followed without question and the other who said, “Are you the One? Or should we seek another?” I don’t care that Starbucks is expensive, it gives me quality of life. Life is better for me when I’m around any body of water. I’m not sure I want to work in healthcare forever. I want to write books, and I think I might try.
These might not be life changing discoveries, but they are a place to start. And in the meantime, I reserve the right to watch Runaway Bride as many times as I want because it makes me feel less alone, and closer to my mother. At least I already know how I like my eggs, so by Maggie Carpenter’s standards, I’m off to a good start.