I remember back in the 1980s in a Sunday magazine there would be a column about 'What I Wish I Knew When I Was Eighteen' and this post is similar though for me it goes back before that age. To some extent it was also influenced by the movie 'The Butterfly Effect' (2004) an incredibly bleak movie (though it is now on to its second sequel). In contrast to the Catholic-orientated focus of Hollywood movies since the 1960s which I have commented on before, it has a more Calvinist, predestination approach that harks back to the Film Noir genre of the 1940s. It is a counterpoint to 'Groundhog Day' (1993). 'Groundhog Day' argues that if you work hard and keep persisting you can turn around a grim existence into something better. In 'The Butterfly Effect' in contrast, the main character has the chance to go back and alter parts of his past and tries to improve things for the people around him and in fact makes it worse and worse on each occasion, more get abused and injured and he is increasingly disabled. Ultimately he goes back to being in the womb and strangles himself with his umbilical cord and then it shows removing himself from the equation actually makes loads of people's lives better. Many of us feel that we are actually a discomfort to the world. However, that perception that your whole life from birth is not only a waste but actually damaging is pretty hard to swallow. I tend more to the 'Groundhog Day' approach and feel that with greater insight or even simply taking more time to consider things then I could have led a much better life.
The factor that confuses the issue is that the key way I would have lived my life differently is probably have to have killed myself when I was a teenager. I did not have a happy childhood but it just got worse afterwards. I know it would have upset my parents but given how they went on to humiliate me utterly and cause me to be ill in the subsequent years, I doubt they would have missed me long. Of course with me out of the way my younger brother may have suffered more such damage, but given his more laid-back attitude maybe it would have impacted on him less. I would hope that with my death my parents would have realised that they had been making my life unhappy and would have felt remorse, it is the least they deserve, though I doubt it would have affected them much or for long.
Of course, as has been proven in recent months, I lack the courage for suicide. I think that given the high rate of suicides among teenage boys in the UK, if I was going to be able to do it, I would have done it and so it would have happened for real by now anyway. If I cannot bring myself to do it as an adult with access to so many more means, then I was unlikely to do it when I was 12. So, assuming I bottled out then and stayed alive. What things would I have done differently. One thing is I would hope to have quite a lot more courage. I have noted before how fear has stopped me going to and seeing so many places and certainly stopped me having success with women. Even if I was courageous on say one out of ten occasions that I lacked courage, then I think my life would have been a lot richer and a lot happier. I never seemed to lack courage in standing up to my parents and that simply led to more condemnation from them and greater humiliation at their hands, but standing up for what I believed in at school and elsewhere would probably have helped me, it may though, have led to even more bullying. Given that I got bullying at all levels of my school life right up to when I was 18, I guess it could not have been any worse and appearing tougher may have scared off other bullies.
Though I think I would have benefited from being more courageous, I think I would have saved a lot of time, discomfort and money by realising what I was not able to do. As I have written before I was useless as judo, canoeing, fencing, go, aikido, ten-pin bowling and Chinese all things I took courses in, sometimes repeatedly for absolutely no benefit. I could have put my efforts into things that I have had more success at, generally nothing sports or language related.
I was unfortunate when a teenager to witness men on at least two different occasions being utterly humiliated when they asked women out. This scared me away from doing this and at least on five occasions I walked away from women who were asking me out. Of course, you are not going to succeed on every occasion and even when I gained some courage I offended one woman so much by asking her to go out with me that she demanded an apology. However, if I actually had had more dates and break-ups and new relationships, then I would a) have become more adept at doing it and b) more immune to the embarrassment it can bring. Of course I could not have removed the scars on my body which made me feel so awkward, but I would have sooner realised that women do not really give a damn about such things if the man treats them properly and seems to have had some confidence. I also think that if I had had sex before I was 34, then I would not have run into the problems with women despising a virgin in his 30s. There were certainly women when I was 18-21 who would have slept with me but I walked away from because I felt so inadequate. If I had more courage I would have also contested other men for them, rather than simply giving up on a woman when I saw another man interested in the vicinity. I also wish I had learnt far quicker to forget about the women I fancied in my youth and not agonise over what might have been. Also I wish I had understood that we are not living in a Jane Austen novel and women pay no attention to little notes of affection, these days they want to be asked directly. I wish I had joined a dating agency in 1994 when I first moved to London rather than waited five years. I had more success by far when I did than before and I could have had a great deal more in that mid-1990s period when okay I was not rich, but I was younger (27-32 in 1994-9), of course if I had had sex earlier and more confidence with women, then it would have increased my chances even more, but as it was I could have had a lot more dates (something I thoroughly enjoy), in a city I love, London, with so much to see and do there that is better with someone than alone. In general I wish I had had the courage just to ask women I fancied out rather than agonising over it until they found someone else. Usually the rejections have not been painful.
I certainly wish I had studied different subjects at school. I would have worked far harder at Chemistry and Physics and taken German rather than Latin, though given my difficulty with languages the outcome would have been little different. I certainly should not have taken English 'A' Level (which I failed first time and only scraped through on retake), I should have gone for Law and then applied for a Law degree and got a job in the law. It is an area which fits my personality and I would not have had the many years (up until I was 33) of earning less than £10,000 or periods of unemployment. Once at university I would have worked a lot less than I did. I worked incredibly hard, in the library most days until 9pm when it closed, and yet I still only got a 2:1 degree. I could have got the same and had more socialising and getting on with women rather than day-dreaming about them.
I wish I had never thought I could be a teacher. Taking a TEFL course was an error, partly done to keep my parents off my back, but it was clear I was useless at it and imagining myself in some remote East European city teaching English filled me with fear. Trying to be a school teacher was even worse. Even if I had not failed the course, the job would have stressed me out so much as to probably have led me to retirement from illness by now. Of course, if I had studied Law, then I would not have ended up in this awkward position. The alternative was to get into the civil service sooner than I did. Of course if that letter from the Inland Revenue had not been disposed of by my useless flatmate, I would have been at the exam and be a tax inspector by now, so even opportunities to get back on track failed.
Housing of course has been a bane of my life throughout. It was always something that alarmed me especially when applying to university. On each occasion I seem to have picked a place with a bad landlord/lady, in Coventry, in Oxford, in Norwich, in Milton Keynes, in all of these places I had to move on. Maybe it is simply that such a high percentage of landlords/ladies are bad and that I could not escape having troublesome ones. In recent years it has got worse as outlined on this blog, but in those cases there was little property to choose between. Of course I should have sold my London flat before they started dumping £14,000 charges on me, but that would have been counter to all the advice I had been receiving about renting out property up until then. Certainly in terms of flatmates I would have been far, far more careful, particularly in terms of the complete nightmare in London a man who stole and broke almost everything he came into contact, sub-let the living room and threw litter at our neighbours. I just wished I had waited for the woman who was coming to see me after him. I am very bad at picking people. Every removal company I have ever used has been terrible, even though in Milton Keynes, there is a large selection of decent ones. I always pick the worst from any list and so if I lived my life again I would rely on other people's opinions much more.
If I lived my life again I would buy far fewer non-fiction books and far fewer computer games. I tend to buy both as retail therapy and then they just gather dust. I have a few computer games I replay repeatedly over the years. Not buying these things, not drinking coffee daily from the cafe would have saved me thousands of pounds over the year (I had spent over £2080 on coffee at work since I joined the company in Summer 2005, which I could have made myself in my office). This money would have gone into holidays to places I want to visit and still have not done such as Budapest, Florence, Lyons, St. Petersburg and Japan.
If I lived my life again and had the chance, I would have gone to the weddings in Germany and Malta that I was invited to but bottled out of attending. They would have been fun or at least an experience to talk about. I could have attended the one in Scotland too if I had not done the TEFL course which started the day of the wedding (a Monday, unusually). On one-off incidents, I wish I had not taken the bus back from Coventry to the party in Oxford and stayed the night with the woman who had invited me. I had walked away from her when we had been on a date two years earlier when another man interested in her had shown up and started making advances (the whole relationship had been very hesitant as I never had the courage to tell her how I felt about her, and her friend said that because I was two years older, I was too old for her) and staying that evening would either had re-ignited the relationship or it would have snapped me out of the wistful way I thought about her for a decade later. I knew she was popular, but if she had told me right out, 'no', then I could have moved on. I almost jumped off the bus when it came to a stop and ran back, but it seemed too movie-like at the time. I have always been too romantic in an ineffectual drippy way and not in a robust, actually achieving something way.
I wish I had heeded the advice in 'The Guardian' in about 2003 about never going on holiday with your girlfriend. Every holiday doing that has been a huge mistake and usually ended the relationship. Weekends away are safe, but anything long is fatal and led to lots of heartache.
There are very few things in my life that I am proud of that I would repeat if I lived my life again. Of course, putting all these variations in would mean I would not encounter many of the circumstances, though, for example, in the case of housing, I am sure I would have had equally as bad landlords/ladies just with different names and houses. If I still ended up in certain circumstances in my re-lived life again then I would happily do them again. The first is help a woman with a child in her hands pull an elderly man who had fallen off the back of a canal boat in a lock on the Oxford Canal, out of the water. The second is, dissuade a woman who had been living with a man for many years, from trying to seduce me or trying to have sex with me. She went back to him and confessed her attempted infidelity, not something I advised, but a consequence of discouraging her from trying to have a sexual relationship with me. Obviously it would have meant sex a few years earlier than I got it, but I am morally proud of me getting her to do the right thing and remain faithful (ten years later they are still married).
I do not think my existence has harmed people. It has disappointed a lot of people, but in fact in most cases they have probably found better outcomes not being intimate with me than if they had done. For me though if I lived my life again, I would strive for a wider range of experiences at an earlier age, leading to a fuller engagement with adulthood at an earlier period (17-22 rather than 34-8) based on a better career plan and a mixture of greater caution and greater courage (I think the two go hand-in-hand as with the flatmate and removal company, having the courage to say 'no, you are useless, I want someone else'). However, I cannot get over the fact that actually removing me from the system would benefit a lot of people. I would not be taking up the job that someone could better use than me to lead a successful life. I suppose if it comes down to it, I do feel like 'The Butterfly Effect' character, if you feel your life is invalid then the best option will appear never to have started it.