by Grace Ko

The other night, Y and I had a “date night in” of sorts. The kind where you put the baby down and then sneak off to the living room and turn it into your own oasis. This night, it was movie night. We popped open a can of beer and shared it while we browsed the plethora of options Netflix had to offer. We ultimately decided on “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”. (Yes, I’m a bit late to the party.) But to say that I loved this movie would be a gross understatement.

I don’t know if it was the incredible chemistry between the actors or the reliability of Lara Jean’s character. Okay, fine, it sure didn’t hurt that Peter Kavinsky, played by Nick Centineo is a TOTAL cutie (I’ve confessed this fact to my husband…)

But what I wasn’t expecting was how hard I was hit with a sense of nostalgia. It whisked me back to my high school days. (Not because the plot was similar to my life. It wasn’t.) But maybe that was exactly it. It was so different from my life in high school that it felt refreshing. It was empowering to see an Asian-American female protagonist, not ticking off the list of the stereotypical images of an Asian woman. The plot wasn’t one where the girl had to “change” to win over the heart of the ever-so popular jock. He just fell for her because of who she is. It was one of those movies that I wish I had grown up watching.

Growing up in a mostly White, affluent town, I was definitely a minority and I felt it on many levels every day. In the subtle and the not-so-subtle ways. Not only did I look different but I felt different. There were seasons my mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and my dad pastored a church while pursuing his doctorate studies. We didn’t own a McMansion like many of my classmates did. We didn’t even own a property. I didn’t even have my own room.

From an early age, somewhere along the way, I had picked up the message that I was not “desired” because I thought I wasn’t as pretty, smart, funny, tall, curvy, witty, athletic as my White counterparts.

So I just resorted to walking the narrow path, sticking to my studies, living my straight-edged Churched life. I floated between friendship groups and didn’t venture out to parties or many social gatherings and sure as hell didn’t date for most of my high school years.

I’ve been listening to Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime”. And recently, a passage hit me like a ton of bricks.

I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.

- Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

I was walking on the treadmill at the gym when I listened to this excerpt. And I had to stop because I was flooded with regret. I started recalling things I had long forgotten about.

And it then dawned on me why “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” hit me so hard. See, there was a boy. We’ll call him Peter for fun. He was a grade below me but he was tall, handsome, fun, funny, athletic, musical. And he was my friend. He used to walk with me to class, we would stop to talk briefly at our lockers. He was basically my Peter Kavinsky. And I wanted to ask him to my senior prom. One day, a friend of mine asked me who I was thinking of asking to prom. I responded saying, “Oh I was thinking of asking Peter.” That’s when she said, this other girl in my grade (we’ll call her Amanda) was going to ask him. So… I didn’t ask him.

Why did I think it was my responsibility to accommodate Amanda?
Why did her desire to ask Peter triumph mine?
Why didn’t I stand up for myself and tell my friend that I wanted to and that I was going to ask him?"
Why didn’t I give Peter the choice of choosing?

Probably because I feared rejection. Probably because I didn’t want to confirm in my heart the assumption I had had all along, that I was not “desired”. Maybe I even thought that because Peter was White, he wouldn’t want to go with me, because I’m Asian. (I know it sounds far-fetched but I think if I’m honest, there was a part of me that genuinely believed this.)

In college, I studied French for the first two years. I qualified to apply for Junior Year Abroad in France. And I accepted but under the condition that I study the French language over the summer to prepare myself for a full year abroad studying all of my academic courses in French. And guess what I did?

I backed down. I ended up going to London for a semester (I don’t regret going abroad. I’m glad I still got myself to study abroad) but I still wonder… if I hadn’t backed down, would I have become fluent in French? I’ll never know. Because I gave up even before trying.

Why did watching an innocent chick flick spiral me down such a rabbit hole? Why is my choice of prom date haunting me when I’m happily married with a beautiful family and life? Why does this even matter?

I’m not sure. But regret sucks. It’s uncomfortable. It makes you feel raw and exposed. It feels gross and I want to do what I can to minimize feeling it from here on out.

It got me thinking… “How do I live a life without regret?” I don’t have an answer. But I do think gratitude has something to do with it. But so does not letting fear dictate your actions or inaction.

As a reminder to myself, this is a working list of things I won’t ever regret:

  • spending quality time with loved ones

  • making time to care for and love myself

  • being vulnerable to those who have earned my vulnerability stories (Brene Brown)

  • working out

  • trusting in God