One night, when I was 13 years old, I wished upon a falling star that Joe Vanderhoof and I would fall in love and get married. Joe Vanderhoof was a family friend of ours, three years my senior. We grew up together and then one day he morphed into a hot teen and I fell in love with him. Looking back on that time, I know I was also in love with John Dunn, the sexiest guy in my Junior High. I don’t remember how exactly I managed my unrequited love for both of these boys back then, but I think it changed from day-to-day. Like, Joe would prove to be more mature than John, but then John would actually call me on the phone and ask me sexy questions.
Either way, I was convinced that Joe and I or John and I were destined to be together.
Well, the closest I came to true love with John was in sophomore year when I let him hug me in my bra as we stood in my kitchen after school one day. Joe and I did walk down the aisle together…at his sister’s wedding. I wasn’t destined to be with either one of them and thank god. They have grown into lovely men, but nothing about either of them now leads me to believe we’d be compatible as adults.
More importantly, I’m not destined to be with anyone.
Your boyfriend? The one you can’t believe happened also loves Mumford AND loves fish tacos? The one you think you were destined to make babies with? You aren’t destined, you are compatible. And lucky.
A few years ago, my friend’s estranged mother passed away from cancer. When my friend relayed this to an older relative, the relative said, “Well, maybe it was meant to be.” Those words lingered. She didn’t know her mother very well, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t have liked to work on their relationship. It’s an important one, after all, no matter how flawed. Categorizing a parent’s death as “meant to be”, while possibly meant to assuage some pain, inevitably comes across as invalidating.
Suggesting that things happen for a reason adds weight to everything. “I feel like I got this job for a reason.” It’s easy to say that everything happened for a reason, in retrospect. Looking back, you can clearly see the pieces fall into place. Well, of course; the basic construct of existence is cause and effect.
We are on an endless quest to find our purpose- why are we here? No one actually knows. It’s baffling. Unless someone floats down on a cloud and fills us all in, I don’t think we’re supposed to know.
I lost a relative to a random act of violence when I was fifteen years old. For years following the incident I tried to tie reason to it- “Did this happen to make us stronger? Bring the family together? Become more aware of violence? Shatter our bubble?”
None of the above. It happened. I wish it hadn’t. Did it mark me, make me more aware, and empathetic? Yes.
I still wish it didn’t happen.
The other day I saw a toddler and her mother sleeping in the bus depot on my way to work. Was that meant to be? I suppose if you’re lucky enough to buy the outlook that things are happening to li’l ole YOU for a special, pre-determined reason, you’re lucky enough. And probably privileged.
But In doing that, you are robbing yourself of your own agency for the sake of your own comfort.
Don’t say “it was meant to be”, don’t say “it was destiny”, don’t say “everything happens for a reason”, and PLEASE do not say it was written in the fucking stars. It wasn’t. So, stop. Right now. It’s inaccurate and offensive. Putting so much stock in destiny takes away from the mystery of life, and the mystery of life is what keeps things interesting. And terrifying. And marvelous.
If we’ve learned anything from our collective past, it’s that the arbitrary and incidental are inevitable. There’s so much we can’t explain; sometimes it’s beautifully coincidental, sometimes unfortunately calamitous.
It’s enough to make you want to stay inside and hide under the covers all day. Or it’s enough to make you want to get out and see what all the fuss is about.