Quantum Physics, Regret,
And The Art Of Bathing
I don't know a lot about quantum physics. In fact, I know nearly nothing. But I've read a little. I've watched some documentaries and talked to a friend doing graduate studies in physics. Sub-atomic particles are peculiar things, apparently. Studying them has led some physicists to question the very nature of reality as we know it. Imagine: Every nanosecond (or less), every possible thing that could happen in fact does happen. This means that there are infinitely many universes, exponentially growing in number with each passing second.
The upshot? Every choice I make creates other universes where I exist doing everything that I have chosen not to do in this universe or where I am refraining from doing all of the things I have chosen to do here. Somewhere, there is a universe where I went to the University of Southern California instead of Tulane and majored in women's studies instead of philosophy. Somewhere out there, I am still miserable because I never quit that horrible job processing loans at a bank. (You did watch Sliders, didn't you? Or how about that movie Sliding Doors with Gwenyth Paltrow?)
The idea of multiple universes has stuck in my craw and chapped my ass. It's been worrying me. With each passing year, I've fretted about the choices I've made, the universes I've chosen to live in. I've wondered, sometimes obsessively, about the universes I've chosen not to live in. I've wondered about my other selves...what they're doing now, whether or not they're happier than I am.
This is fairly neurotic, I realize, but I can't help thinking about it. So many decisions haunt me. A woman I loved asked me to go with her to South Korea. I said no. Eventually I did go, but not until each of us had already gotten girlfriends, and the romance between us was nipped before it could even think of blooming. I can't help wondering about the other "me" who said yes right away and the other woman who got to hear me say yes instead of no. Are they together now? Are they still in love? Am I happy with her somewhere?
And what about the other woman I loved, the one I broke up with a split-second before filing the paperwork to immigrate to Canada to be with her? What about my other self who bravely filed the paperwork and stayed with her? Is she living happily ever after in Vancouver now? Is she buying a house and growing vegetables and sleeping soundly with her lover's limbs twined around her?
These are just the obvious loves. I can also obsess about the crushes I never acted on, or the suitors I rebuffed perhaps too hastily. And then there are the jobs I quit, the ones I turned down, and the ones I never even thought to pursue. Add to that all the places I've chosen to live, the books I've read, the people I've befriended (and un-befriended), the opportunities I've taken, and those I allowed to pass me by. I can re-imagine the course of my life from each small decision, and I can work myself into an anxious lather over the truly big decisions. But the worry about past choices is only part of the problem. The bigger problem is that the knowledge of past possibilities precluded has rendered current and future decisions absurdly agonizing.
The reward I've sown and reaped for all my worry is an acute fear of commitment. Naturally. Of course I have a fear of commitment. Any commitment closes off universes that might be perfect for me. A serious relationship? I don't know if I can commit to that. A full-time job without a contract specifying an end-date? I don't know if I can commit to that. Lunch at 12:30? I don't know if I can commit to that.
I've got a blistering case of indecisiveness. Should I stay in South Korea, immigrate to Canada, move back to my hometown, or try some place completely new like Boulder or Seattle? My life will change radically depending on what I choose. As I ponder it, I contemplate all of my other selves and try to picture them in their respective universes once my decision is made. Which one is happiest? I go nuts with indecision trying to figure it all out.
And that's really the bottom line, isn't it? I've been paralyzed by fear of my own regret. Fear. And regret. I realized this in the bathtub while carefully refraining from reading science fiction or quantum physics. I've been haunted by the fear of making the wrong choices. When problems have arisen, I've second-guessed my decisions. I've worried that in other universes, where I chose differently, I might not be facing these problems and I might be happier. I've agonized over the missed opportunities, especially those where love was concerned. The grass is always greener in other universes.
As I lay pondering this in the bathtub, I had a revelation: In other universes, I may be happier than I am now, I may be less happy than I am now, and I may even be dead. But in this universe, I am undeniably, conspicuously, self-defeatingly neurotic. (Shit!) I want a scapegoat for this condition -- I want to blame sci-fi.
But I can't. Time is the issue to be reckoned with. And my attitude towards it. The truth is that decisions must be made eventually, and once they're made, I have a new home in a new universe. My universe. No amount of wondering or wishing or regretting will take me back in time to try out a different universe.
While watching lavender-scented steam rise off the surface of my bath water, I discovered that the trick is to accept the consequences of decisions once they've been made and make the best of them. Find ways to overcome the obstacles that my choices lead to without worrying about the universes where I don't face these particular challenges. Cherish the joys I have without wondering about the ones I don't have. Simplistic and obvious, perhaps, but a major discovery for me. (Especially after that Gwenyth Paltrow movie. I still shudder a little at the thought of missing a train.)
Now I'm letting sci-fi off the hook. It's time to blame my own attitude instead of quantum physics. So I'm letting them all go. All of my other selves, all of the avenues I didn't pursue, all of the loves I lost or never found, and all of the universes I stepped away from -- I'm letting them all go. My new ritual is to watch them swirl down the drain with the bath water -- not with regret, but with faith that the self I've chosen to be today is capable of making this universe work for me.
Quantum physics will eventually bear this out: Never underestimate the power of a woman who has taken a proper bath.
© Chris Sovrin
Chris Sovrin is a lesbian writer and activist who should probably bathe more and worry less. When not busy pretending to have a clue about quantum physics, she can be reached at email@example.com.
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