Relationships

How Has Your Life Surprised You?

What Things In Your Life Have Surprised You?

This morning, I woke up in the Holland Tunnel. Allow me to explain…

Historically, I have preferred to sleep in a room resembling a tomb — dark, cool, silent. I am also what can only be described as a tidy sleeper. There is no balling of pillows and minimal rustling of sheets. Often, I’ll wake in the morning to find the bed is still made, with me inside of it, like a sardine neatly tucked in its can.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is my sleeping opposite. In every single way. And I have made some concessions.

Now we sleep with an arrangement that I jokingly refer to as “the Holland Tunnel.” Today, the ceiling fan whooshed air around the room, like the bed was a convertible. The white noise machine whirred with a sound similar to cars rushing through a tunnel at rush hour. An assortment of pillows, gathered into an arrangement loosely resembling Stonehenge, were placed ON TOP OF MY BODY. The blankets formed a rumple at the foot of the bed, spilling onto the floor.

“What IS this?!” I grumbled to myself, more out of surprise than annoyance.

What I really meant was, how did I get from tomb to tunnel? And how did it happen so quickly?

Just one year ago, I did not yet know this person. Moreover, I was in a place where I feared I never would. If one-year-ago-me could behold this scene, she would surely laugh. She would also be pleased to see how much can happen in a year — that one can go from not knowing someone to not being able to picture life without them.

Once I exited the Holland Tunnel, I headed to the shower, the birthplace of important thoughts. I realized that over the years, there have been many things I’ve sworn I’d never do, or say, or be. And then, at some point in the future, I’ve done or said or been them. There were many well-laid plans that have, for one reason or another, gone in an entirely different direction.

When I was 17, a group of friends were discussing their plans for the future. What would they do after high school graduation? I remember declaring that I would NEVER live in New York City. So dirty! So urban! So not for me. And yet, once the Barnard college admissions gods had spoken, I happily moved here the following year, and stayed for the next 17.

Eleven years ago, an ex-boyfriend tried to solidify our relationship by gifting me an adorable adopted puppy. The relationship ended months after the fact, but my dog is easily the love of my life.

Younger me would be simultaneously horrified and confused by the contents of my closet, though I can’t tell if the high-waisted jeans or Birkenstocks would offend her more.

Everywhere I look, there is evidence of such unexpected turns — career changes, random opportunities, chance meetings. There are friends who moved to unexpected places. Others who’ve had spiritual transformations. Acquaintances who, with just one fated phone call, embarked on entirely new career paths.

I have a long standing, not-at-all secret appreciation for The Real Housewives of New York City (fondly referred to as RHONY). Recently, I decided to go back and re-watch the first season, which wound up being a surprisingly profound exercise.

From my future vantage point, 11 seasons hence, it was fascinating to watch the characters earnestly go about their lives. “I bet we’ll become great friends!” croons one cast member, about a cast mate she will famously spend the ensuing years sparring with. The seemingly enviable marriage will eventually end in divorce. There are unexpected career changes and children and even jail time.

While it does make for great entertainment, the larger point is that no one is immune to that crazy thing called life. No amount of money or vanity or fame or planning can protect you. And while most of us haven’t lived with cameras documenting the previous decade, I’d venture to guess we’ve all been through similar shifts.

In the words of Lemony Snicket, “Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.” But sometimes, you do like them.

For now, I’m content to sleep in the Holland Tunnel. In New York City, with my dog at my feet, and who-knows-what waiting just around the corner.

What parts of your life have surprised you? Are there any things your younger self would be amazed to see?

P.S. Marriage pet peeves and in defense of resting bitch face.

(Photo by David Keller.)

  1. Anne says...

    10 years ago I thought I’d never
    – work in an environmental NGO, as I studied law and not something cool as earth science (and then I got the job because they really wanted a lawyer)
    – live with a flatmate at 33 and not with a husband and two kids
    – have friends who take the place of my faraway family
    – sit in a group therapy and tell total strangers how I am feeling
    – wear pink
    – order my books by colour and sleep only in white linen
    – travel abroad due to my “sensitive stomach” – turns out it’s celiac disease and Nepal was the best country ever
    Now I am wondering – what else may change? What am I missing out, because I’m too stuck? And what have I missed out because I thought – I want that, but that’s not me/aka the image I’m trying to preserve?
    At the moment I’m saying, I’ll never
    – be in a loving relationship again, because after being single for 5 years it just seems like not gonna happen
    – learn not to feel a sting that I’m not a member of the marriage-husband-kids-club
    – have the courage to quit my job and spend a year travelling, climbing, hiking
    – marry my best friend (because that would be like giving up on love and romance, and he’s also still hoping for the big love)
    – wear makeup on a daily basis
    – move to the countryside, because there are no good jobs for me
    So what are you still holding onto?

    • Mary says...

      I also want to quit my job and travel for a bit but it’s so scary

  2. Julia says...

    When I was 17, I dropped out of college to please my mother who believed my future was best served as a wife and a mother. College was for rich people, she said. I gave up my dreams of being independent. I never wanted to rely on anyone the way my mom had. That was my only wish for my future.

    Fast forward three years: I was married, living below the poverty line, working three jobs, and about to give birth to my son. My high school sweetheart was becoming an alcoholic. I remember going to a foodbank once and bursting into tears when they were out of food. My future felt so bleak.

    Fast forward two years: my son is 18-months old, I’m living in Athens, Greece and I’m packing a suitcase. Early the next morning I’m leaving to go back to the states when my cheating, abusive, alcoholic husband is at work. It takes 38 hours and 5 layovers but we get home. I have no real job skills, no income. I’m terrified about my son and my future.

    Fast forward three years: I found a call center job doing tech support. I excelled and moved up the ranks quickly. I have a fancy fabric shower curtain on layaway, but I have an apartment, food in my fridge, and my son is thriving. His bio-dad fell in love with someone else and I’m happily single. My future is looking hard but hopeful.

    Fast forward twenty years later: My son is about to graduate college. I bought my second home two-years ago. I work in a profession that I love. I married my best friend six months ago and I’ve never been happier.

    It’s been one heck of a journey, but I achieved my goal of being independent (while a little man was dependent on me). I think my younger self would be incredibly proud. We did it!

    • K says...

      This gave me goosebumps – congrats on where you’ve landed!

    • Fernanda Abreu says...

      Oh My God! Congratulations! You should write a book :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, julia, huge congratulations on the amazing life you’ve built and all you’ve done for yourself and your son.

    • Natalie says...

      Love this !

    • Andrea says...

      Wow!! You are incredible!

    • Ali Hughes says...

      Wow, what a ride! You are amazing!

  3. Lee says...

    And isn’t the funniest part that we still can’t help thinking we are now our “self” when history has shown us that “self” is just a process moving through time, adapting and changing through all it experiences and consumes? I’m trying so hard now to embrace my “self” as the porous, entangled process I know I am, but it is so hard to escape the narrative structures I’m so used to experiencing myself through. I’ll be 33 in the morning, and I am very much in a ‘fleabag season 2 crying scene in the confession booth’ moment of my life. How can uncertainty be the most natural and the most unnatural thing at the same time?

  4. Sarah Jane says...

    I’m surprised that I get to live in a house that I love so much, that I live on the west coast, that I am so happily married (I wasn’t sure I’d ever find my person), that I am so exhausted constantly, that time goes by *so quickly* as an adult, that our country is where it is politically, that I can’t carry a child (I always took my fertility for granted– turns out that wasn’t a given), and that not being able to carry a child aches so deeply.

  5. Jackie says...

    Oh this is so beautiful!

  6. Caroline says...

    I always wanted to get married and figured kids would follow. I never thought about where my friends would fit in once I was a settled “grown up”. Now I’m pushing 30, married to my best friend, decided children aren’t for us (but have a strict two dog minimum!), and can’t imagine life without my amazing girlfriends. My close handful of friends from law school, college, and childhood are spread all over the country and I regret not cherishing those times in the moment where we lived within walking distance. I can’t imagine doing life without them just a text or call away. I’m so glad younger me made such wonderful friends even if they weren’t a formal part of my future plans!

  7. Leah says...

    I’m currently a stay at home foster mom (that’s a huge shock all its own) and student, and I don’t have any plans to return to work! NEVER saw that coming. We’d be more financially stable if I worked, of course, but our quality of life would go WAY down. I’m also finally finishing my degree in my 30s. I felt so profoundly stupid for so long, not having it, and I am really proud to be nearly done now. I’ll finish before the end of the year!! I also never thought my husband would lose his faith, which was something that united us deeply and has been a painful loss, making me feel like we are adrift as a couple now, having different beliefs. I’m still navigating that one but I know it will turn out ok :)

  8. Tera says...

    Caroline, you are such a lovely, talented writer

  9. h says...

    one marriage, 33years. one child, 19 years. A college degree in marketing, working in law enforcement. Nothing is what I thought, but everyday is the opportunity to do something new and help someone.

  10. Rebalette says...

    I always thought I would be a loved person. I didn’t have any must-have characteristics for a partner, or any kind of deadline, but I just figured that sooner or later I’d find a person who wanted to share my life…everyone else seems to! Somehow I’ve reached an age and built a life where it’s become clear that isn’t going to happen for me. Useful, independent, sometimes appreciated, mostly happy, but not lovable. What a surprise!

    • Maria says...

      This is me. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Yulia says...

      I am glad you are independent and mostly happy. You seem wonderful to me. I find you lovable. <3

    • tiffaie says...

      I don’t believe you are not lovable. You must believe you are!

    • NC says...

      This hits so close to home…
      As much as I still think (and hope) this will happen to me, the last thing I would have ever imagined in my 20s is that I’d one day be 33 and single, having never lived with a partner or met a man wanting to build a future with me. All of my close friends are in committed partnerships and navigating the disconnect between the state of our current lives is something I never expected.
      The only constant in life truly being change indeed, I know this situation is only a moment in time and try my best at avoiding fatalistic thoughts It is verrryy easy to feel unlovable, but as cliché as it sounds, being loved is about more than just romantic relationships. It comes in all shapes & forms, starting with the relationship with your self <3 .

  11. Ali says...

    I never thought I’d end up unexpectedly pregnant in my last year of university to a man who was planning to move to the other side of the world.
    I graduated, he stayed, now 10 years on we’re celebrating 7 years of marriage and planning an overseas trip together with 3 kids in tow.
    People joke that it was the making of us, I think they may be right.

  12. Marissa Biddle says...

    I never ever imagined that I would meet this guy back in my country — a foreigner doing business there — married him and move to his country with our baby. To a country that I never had the hots to even visit. Adaptation was frantic some times — but I would not change anything. Now I have a dog, a kid, a degree that I conquered in a language foreign to me. Luv

  13. JL says...

    I moved back to the town I swore I would leave forever to raise my daughter and I LOVE being a mom more than anything in the entire world. My seventeen year old self would be horrified at how boring my life is, but I can’t believe how happy, full and purposeful my life feels now that I’ve truly found my missing puzzle piece (my daughter).

  14. I always knew I wanted to leave my childhood home. I never thought that my parents would end up losing said childhood home and how much I’d miss it or how heavy my heart feels knowing that I’ll never see it again. I never knew that I could make other places home, too.

  15. Anne(agram) says...

    I remember sitting in the law library at the end of my 1L year, studying for finals and taking stock of my prospects in life. I saw this tall handsome gentleman walk through, laughing with some friends. I looked at him, recognizing him as he was well known on campus, and thought, “he is the one person I will never have a chance of dating” (or probably even chatting with). I ran into him at the start of my 2L when he stuck around town for a clerkship and now we are married with two children and a dog. I still feel like maybe I pulled one over on that sweet, bright, handsome man.

  16. Heather says...

    My life has had so many twists and turns but the biggest one is that I never thought I would be divorced at 32 and a single mother living with my mother in a tiny little nothing town. Also never thought I would feel so confident and truly in love with myself as I do right now. I finally feel like I know who i am and that’s such a great feeling. Also if past me could see how much present me loves to exercise she would be shocked!

  17. Emily says...

    When I started my mental health journey two years ago, I was anxious, critical, insecure, planned my life to a T. Since then, I’ve gotten help and have never felt more alive. I live in every moment and throw caution to the wind when it comes to “living big” like a previous CoJ post mentioned. I have learned to love myself unconditionally and to unapologetically feel all my emotions and sit in uncomfortable ones. I honestly never could have imagined or wished for this self-understanding. I didn’t know what could be until it was. I can’t praise therapy enough!!

  18. Annie says...

    One of the best pieces I’ve read on here!

  19. I can’t believe I’m gay! I had no idea – and that I’m marrying a woman with my same name (or even that I’m getting married at all!). And I can’t believe I recovered from that eating disorder I struggled so long with. Or that I’m now a therapist in San Francisco. I can’t even believe I live in San Francisco. My younger self would be so pleased and excited for this future that at the time she wasn’t sure was worth living for. It totally is.

    • Anne says...

      I just adore your answer.

    • Lizzy says...

      Ohhhhh I can’t believe I’m gay either! And marrying the love of my life, an Italian woman, after a divorce and before that a 10 year (crap) marriage to a man, with 3 kids resulting!
      Can’t believe I’m a stay at home mum at the moment (was allllll about the career until my youngest was 1), can’t believe I’m financially strapped but feeling the richest and most satisfied of my life,
      Can’t believe I get to be a wife with a wife. Feels like the most extraordinary luck!

    • This is everything <3 xxx

  20. Jenn P says...

    I never would have thought that at 41 years old, I’d have lost both parents. That was the biggest and worst surprise of my life. I also always figured I’d have kids by now, at least 2 of them, and be in full on mom mode – running them to ballet and gymnastics and soccer and baseball and piano and worrying that I’m not doing something right and calling my mom constantly to make sure it was going to be okay. But my husband (of not quite a year) isn’t a kid guy, and I have some health issues that have made having kids a no-go. It’s not what teenage Jenn imagined, but I love my husband and I love my life, and I have dozens of “nieces and nephews” that I can spoil and love and eventually be the cool aunt that picks them up from parties that they shouldn’t be at in the first place.

    • Rosie says...

      Professional aunties are the absolute best. I’m so glad you are embracing your amazing, imperfect, and unexpected life and finding ways to share your beautiful perspective with the next generation.

    • Rachel says...

      Oh Jenn. This is so much life, and said so well. Wish I could give you a huge hug, then have a cup of coffee together. Big hugs, and keep being the cool aunt. <3

  21. Alexandra says...

    When I was 10 years old, I went on a family trip to the SF Bay Area and decided it was where I belonged. Fourteen years later, I moved here and am so, so happy to be living where it just feels right :)

    In terms of things I NEVER anticipated happening… in college I started casually hooking up with a friend of mine. Many of my friends asked if anything serious would happen between us and I always said “I would NEVER date him.” I proceeded to not take our relationship seriously at all for over a year. Well… it’s 4 years later and we live together and are planning our whole lives together. I’m so glad I was so wrong!

  22. Elliesee says...

    How did I end up with 4 daughters? The best surprise. Other then that, my life is the same as in 1992, same boyfriend, same employer, daughters are going to the same School I went to, same teachers, same nuns…

    • Owl says...

      I can relate to this. My biggest surprise is how the major things have stayed the same! I never headed into adulthood with a firm idea of what the future should look like. I had an open mind and a desire to live life fully. My parents were divorced and I moved quite a bit as a kid, so I wasn’t set on anything too traditional. Yet, Somehow, here I am. Married 22 years with one child, working at the same place (an excellent job in my chosen career) in the same city where I attended university. A lot of things have happened, and I wasn’t always sure how things would pan out (example: early on I hated my job!) but my husband has been stable and devoted in a way I couldn’t have imagined. There were a bazillion other surprises, but I guess the biggest one has been that I’ve faced them all with the same person! (And in the same city…)

    • Ser says...

      I have four daughter too. I feel like a queen .

  23. I never thought all the things “younger, stream-lined” Erica swore against would become the things that make me exactly who I am today…and joyfully:

    Going to college in Los Angeles (and end up making a home here for the next 11 years). Falling in love with someone without a college degree (and marrying him). Getting a couple of tattoos (and planning for another). Living minimally in a 400-sq studio at the age of 32 with a husband and pup (and loving every day of it). Cutting back on my hours as an L&D nurse so I could pursue my passion for flowers and work at a flower shop (and not giving two damns about that “plan” for pursuing my PhD).
    Also, Birkenstocks (with socks).

    Letting go of the self-imposed expectations and following this profound heart of mine has been the greatest gift, the most rewarding surprise. Thank you for reminding us to reflect on the beautiful, uncertain road that is our life!

    • Lizzy says...

      Love this 🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻🙌🏻

  24. Sarah says...

    I fell in love with a woman. The great surprise is that I didn’t question how I could not. That this person I knew and adored and lit up next to at every hallway encounter, that she was obviously the best one for me and that we were the best for each other. We drop into habits and avoid punching out of them but I’m telling you, the benefits of any motion that swaps the obvious to a shaky + nonstop shock are legion and so, so beautiful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s really beautiful, sarah.

    • Ashley says...

      And I fell in love with a man! Love just is, and I wouldn’t trade ours for anything.

  25. nicole says...

    I literally just watched RHONY season 1 this week and had the exact same thoughts as you! Crazy to look back and see how much has changed for those women. It’s kind of scary as well, to realize no one is immune to change. We can’t control everything no matter how much we might try.

  26. Jenny says...

    Does looking back on what a naive little welp you used to be ever scare anyone as much as it scares me? If 30-year-old Jenny laughs at the sureties of 25-year-old Jenny that turned to ash in my mouth, 80-year-old Jenny is gonna laugh so hard at me now. It’s also comforting, like looking at the ocean and realizing how tiny you are except you’re realizing what a twit you were in the past and therefore present and probably forever. I lover her though, that Jenny who leaned her face against that man’s chest in line for huckleberry ice cream after a city hall wedding and thought, “This love is on a geologic timescale. I’ll love you till you turn to dust.” I also found a diary from when I was 13 that says I’ll be finishing residency when I’m about 30 and should therefore seek a house, a dog, and a Mr. Jenny at that time. Second year medical student with a dog and a mattress all to herself here.

  27. Emily says...

    Former breadwinner, media exec, defined by work was suddenly laid off with a 2 year old at home. I decided not to jump back on the hamster wheel and instead am freelancing part time. I put my kid in a cooperative nursery school which means I spend a lot of time in his classroom and feel like I can go incognito with the stay at home parents- a role I NEVER imagined I’d play. We make money work and are enjoying this season of life while we’re in it. Will I go back? Will I do something else? Who am I try to to figure out what life has waiting for me??? For now, I’m enjoying PB&J for lunch and getting my hands dirty in the finger paints. Don’t think I’ll regret it on my deathbed.

    • I could have written every word of this!

    • J says...

      lol @ “Incognito with the stay at home parents”. I also freelance part time from home and I feel like I live in both worlds. It’s a weird line to straddle. I also relate to maybe trying to figure out something new and just living in the moment. This time with them is so precious, I try not to let my fears about how everything is going to play out. Thank you for the reminder that I will never regret any of this time I have with my baby.

    • Eve says...

      “Don’t think I’ll regret it on my deathbed.” Love this. Such a good yard stick. Guaranteed you won’t regret a minute.

    • Rebecca says...

      I am surprised that I am still single at 28 and have no kids. I would have thought I would be married with 5 kids by now. My heart aches for those things. What also surprises me is that I have the same best friend as I did in 7th grade and she still makes me laugh like no one else can. After years of mindless jobs, I am surprised I have my dream job teaching 3rd graders in a far from perfect neighborhood. It is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. I am also surprised how quickly deeply you can fall in love with 25 little souls!!!!! Today was our last day and I cried tears of joy that I got to spend this past year loving my job every single day. I didn’t know that was possible. So while I might be lacking a husband and babies, my heart is still full from so many wonderful surprises.

    • S says...

      Would love to hear more how a co-operative nursery works -sounds so interesting, practical & healthy

  28. Lisa says...

    Thinking back on the last few years, the unexpected things were unpleasant, and in some instances downright awful. I never thought I’d experience infertility, or have to fall pregnant through ivf, have my father nearly end up in prison, have to have an emergency c section, a ventouse for the birth of my second baby, and then a baby in neonatal incredibly ill. But you know what? All those awful experiences gave me perspective on life that I was lacking, and it’s motivated me in ways not having gone through all that wouldn’t have.
    I’m now trying to change career and Im trying to figure out how to do this, and to plan or at least get an idea of what I want my life to look like in five years time. But then on the other hand I’m concerned that doing so will close me off (at least mentally) to other opportunities that might actually be better.

  29. M says...

    I am shocked that I am the most junior executive in my company and make six figures. I sincerely have no idea how that happened. I’ve never, ever identified as a career-driven person. Quite honestly, I climbed the corporate ladder because I needed something to do; what I really wanted was to get married and have kids. Finding Mr. Right took an entire (painful) decade longer than I thought it would. Of course, in retrospect, he was worth the wait and we are THRILLED at the prospect of having a family – hopefully soon! But it took so.damn.long. And I had to keep living and supporting myself in the meantime. I felt so misunderstood by friends/family/strangers for years. Also, for the record – I am grateful for my career, but it’s more a reflection of my childless circumstance than my inner drive.

    • Ashley says...

      really, REALLY needed to see this tonight….to know that others wondered if it would ever happen, and then it did & it was wonderful.

    • Ash says...

      Reading your comment felt like I was reading my autobiography.

    • DJ says...

      This is me to a “T”! Still haven’t found the guy but am working my way up in my career and not because I particularly want to be top dog (I’m ok in middle management) but rather I’ve got the time and there’s only so much travel and volunteering I can do before I run out of money!

  30. Alison says...

    This article is so apropos to my life right now. I never in a million years thought I’d be:
    – 35 and divorced (and competing with Britney Spears for the shortest marriage of all time)
    – Living in a tiny apartment with my tiny rescue dog (was NOT a dog person even 3 years ago)
    – Childless at 35

    Lately, as I approach the slow ascent to the big 4-0, I find myself questioning whether I will ever meet “the one” or anyone worthy for that matter. I want children so badly…it makes me sad to think this may not be in the cards for me. I am so much luckier than many but it’s so easy to spiral into your own head and self-defeating thoughts. To be the only one in your friend group who is divorced, especially while everyone else gets engaged and married is also tough. Life can be tough. But this article gave me HOPE so thank you Caroline. I continually come back to COJ for the community and comments. It’s lonely out there.

    • Deidre says...

      The biggest surprise (and there had been enormous ones, including a divorce) was getting pregnant at 40 and having the most wonderful daughter.

      Ah, life!

    • Callie says...

      I hear you. I am 34 and can’t believe I am single and childless at this point. I worry that all my luck has already been used up on other things in my life. But as Ask Polly says, you have to believe in the fact that something great is coming, and I force myself to believe that every day. I try to see being single now as a special time before I meet an amazing person, and I hope to look back at this time as an important period in my life.

    • Teri says...

      I identify with your comment, Alison. I’m also recently divorced, almost 35, and thought I’d have kids by now. You’re right— it’s hard sometimes.

    • Meg says...

      One of the most amazing women I know decided she wanted a child with or without ‘the one’. She adopted a beautiful baby girl all on her own, and met and married ‘the one’ a few years down the line. It doesn’t have to happen in the right order. Hugs.

    • Carolyn says...

      Sending you a big hug. I was just freshly thrown into a divorce that I did not see coming. Therapy and saying yes to new opportunities have been so helpful for me, but the most helpful of all is knowing that you’re not alone. Some days I wonder if I can survive this. I also am the first of my friends to go through this, so books and articles and comments on CoJ have been really helpful– Other people have experienced this and lived through it (and even been really happy again!). Here’s hoping we’ll be two more to add to that list!

    • Robin says...

      I hear you, Alison! I also got divorced in my thirties and moved from a big house into a small apartment with my cat. I eventually found my mate and we now have a beautiful baby boy, but sometimes during the race of the day, I think back fondly to those quiet days in that tiny apartment with my sweet grey cat curled up on my lap. There was a peace in that time and space that’s been hard to emulate elsewhere.

      In regard to self-defeating thoughts, a good friend once said to me “Just because you feel something doesn’t make it fact.” Don’t let fear infiltrate your peace–you WILL get there! Wishing you the best.

  31. Genevieve Martin says...

    Just got back from a 3 day solo hiking and camping trip on the coast path in Wales. Age 16 I cried my way through Bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition and vowed never again. 13 years later my love of walking, camping and the outdoors has crashed in from pretty much nowhere and now it’s my happiest thing!! :D

  32. Meredith says...

    I was never going to “online date” never going to marry someone I had known for less than a year, and never going to marry a military man . . And of course I accomplished all of the above. Never say never folks! We were married 11 months to the day after our very first Bumble date and I’m doing my best to keep thriving during my first deployment experience as a newly minted (albeit older than average) army wife.

    • Lauren says...

      This is me! Met a sailor on eHarmony (I would NEVER… but I did), engaged 8 months later, married 11 months after our first date, and here we are, 8 years, 2 dogs, 2 kids, and countless nights apart later, here we are. He is the best unexpected part of my life.

    • Nikki says...

      Anther military wife! HI!!!! I would love it if COJ team did a deployment post. What it’s like for families and spouses and our tips for moving all the time and during long periods of time without your significant other.

  33. Elise says...

    I am in the middle, where nothing is resolved and I am not even sure what I want. I am (hopefully) wrapping up 4 1/2 long years of higher ed and I feel like I’ve grown up so much in that time that I can’t see how adult life outside of school will be. Will I have friends again? Will I find a job I like? Will I end up having kids? Will I finally have health insurance? Everything is uncertain! This is probably the point in my life I will look back on thinking, “little did I know. . .”

  34. Jessie H says...

    Let me tell you about May 2017-May 2018.
    -May 2017 – end a frighteningly controlling engagement after a six year long relationship
    -June 2017 – move 2000 miles away for a promotion
    -August 2017 – bought my first house, turned 30 6 days later
    -November 2017 – had bariatric surgery
    -March 2017 – became a licensed (single) foster mom
    -April 2017 – took placement of a 21 month old boy who I would later adopt
    -May 2018 – hit the 100 lbs lost milestone (my weight would eventually stabilize at 125 lbs lost)

    There is absolutely no limit to what can happen in one year. None at all.

    • Jessie H says...

      That last one is supposed to be 2017 :).

    • Caitlin says...

      This is wild. GET IT GIRL. I seriously have chills. Congratulations to you and your beautiful life!

    • Nikki says...

      Now THIS is the story I would love to hear about!

    • Mariana says...

      I smiled reading this! So happy for you :)

    • Fr says...

      Wow! What an amazing journey!

    • Nicole says...

      Love this! What a year!

    • Laura C. says...

      Oh my goodness Jessie, you’re amazing!

  35. Christina says...

    Sometime around age 21, I was talking with my Mom and Dad about “when I should get married.” Age 25? 35? We settled on age 27, because that would be a good time to have kids, have a job I love, and maybe even live in my hometown. I even wrote down the plan on a piece of paper–and then I basically did everything differently. I am now 49, I live in a little beach cottage with my dog and cat, never married, no kids. I became a make-up artist for MAC Cosmetics in my twenties, went freelance, went back to school, started teaching elementary school, worked in curriculum development, went back to school again, and became an Elementary Teacher Librarian. AND along the way I went waaay off my plan and took pole dance lessons and then bought a pole dance studio! Tattoos, hair dye, solo travels, big breakups, mistakes and great big leaps of faith–I’ve done so much! My dad died 5 years ago and while I sometimes feel a little sad that I didn’t have those kids and husband and safe career for him to meet and hear about, I did get to make him proud by living a full and interesting life. I continue to learn about and make peace with all my bits and pieces, and I kinda can’t wait to see what other goodies are in store for me. Isn’t life grand?!

    • Renee says...

      Really love this!

    • Grace says...

      A grand and full life indeed!

    • Meg says...

      Christina, I loved reading about your life – you sound like fun!

    • What a gorgeous, beautiful journey your life has been! :)

    • Jasna says...

      Best comment in the history of comments!! You are awesome, Christina!!

  36. Marie says...

    I can’t shake this feeling that I am on the cusp of something incredible. I am 20, almost 21 years old, and I feel proud to have made it where I am now. And at the same time, I am anxious to see what the future has in store for me. So today, I am savoring feelings of hope & excitement, and I nurture my dreams for the future- and I embrace the humor in that I have already faced so many twists and turns in my life, and I’m just getting started!

    • Jessica says...

      I hope you have an amazing adventure! Good luck to you! <3

    • Vero says...

      I’ve had that feeling of being on the verge of some big amazing changes and let me tell you, they turned out to be more beautiful than I EVER could have predicted. Wishing the same for you!

    • Stella says...

      Yes, best of luck with your adventure!

  37. Ivy says...

    Oh man, there’s an endless supply of surprise in my seemingly-planned life. Allow me…

    – Went to an in-state school (too mortified by out-of-state tuition to venture elsewhere)
    – Turned away from a journalism-focused life in NYC to stay in the midwest (for a boy, but a nice boy)
    – Went head first into a marriage to said nice boy (I had previously said no marriage before 28. HA! I was 23.)
    – Quit journalism all together to work at an insurance firm (what?)
    – Divorced the nice boy by 27
    – Started back at school for a master’s to teach
    – Fell in love with my best friend (whom I met at aforementioned insurance firm)
    – Got engaged again at 29

    No kids. Definitely thought I’d have kids by now, but given all that happened above… it was probably good I waited.

    • Hannah says...

      I’m 29, also getting close to engagement and turned away from a journalism focused life (although I did start freelancing) after getting my master’s in journalism from Medill to stay in the midwest too for a boy (we broke up a few months later)

      there was another person who commented earlier that she also left behind her dream of being a globe trotting journalist. today I find myself working as a medical writer instead, with journalism as a hobby

    • Allison says...

      When I was about 23 most of the kids from my hometown were getting married and buying houses. I desperately wanted to be a homeowner (cared little about getting married) but had just started law school in the most expensive city in the country. Fast forward less than 15 years, I’ve:

      – got my JD
      – took a year off and travelled around the world with my future husband
      – practiced law in the second most expensive city in the country
      – got married young-ish
      – left my job (and convinced my husband to leave his really great job) because I despised practicing law, lived in Argentina and travelled to all seven continents
      – moved back to the most expensive city, started a business, had two kids, sold the business for an awful lot of money, and am finally extracting myself from the business while planning another sabbatical/year of travel with our young kids
      I still rent. We love it.

  38. Tash says...

    After a terrible pregnancy and postpartum period, I was sad my son was going to be an only child. Fast forward five years and a marriage breakdown, his dad is having a child with his new partner and my partner has six children of his own. Thank god he’s a little extrovert because I did not see the transition from only child to SEVEN step- and half-siblings coming 😂

    • Winslow says...

      Whoa, Tash, thanks for sharing. My partner and I are traveling a really bumpy road with our two-year-old. We originally dreamed of a least two, hopefully three, maybe even four kids, but my partner has had a change of heart since our kid was born – he’s “one and done” now. I’ve been mourning: the possible “loss” of the second and third children I might not have and (a) sibling relationship(s) for my firstborn, and/or the thought of splitting from my partner at least partly because of the discord regarding our family planning. Thank you for reminding me that there are many roads to family.

    • Sadie says...

      Winslow, it gets better! I had a very difficult time for the first four years with my very spirited and demanding twins (many tantrums every single day). My partner regretted becoming a parent. We spent thousands of dollars on parent-child therapy, which didn’t help. And then around four and a half the kids began to gain control of their emotions and developed much greater independence. It all became so much better in the course of a few months. We are like a different family now then the one we were a year ago. Hang in there!

    • Angela says...

      Wow Sadie! My twins just turned 4 and I could’ve written much of what you’ve said. I’m really in turmoil over wanting another one myself and disagreeing with my husband. I’d just like to be at peace with the decision as I’m 35, so I feel like I need to be happy with tv’s decision. It just went too fast having 2 at once. So happy you found your sweet spot!

  39. Gail says...

    Just so surprised how freakin’ fast it all goes! Carpe diem, my friends… carpe diem.

    • Cheryl says...

      You are so right. Seize the day, enjoy the moment, savour the small pleasures…The older I get (55 now and can barely believe it!), the more I see this is what life is all about. Beauty in the everyday mundanities.

  40. Scarlett says...

    My life has surprised me in how close its been to what I’d imagined as a young kid! I found an assignment that I wrote in middle school– I was about 11– where we had to write letters to a close friend as our future selves. I wrote mine to my best friend at the time (who has since passed, RIP dear friend) telling her about my 2 dogs (check!), 2 cats (check!), house with three stories (check!), and husband named Brock (husband, check! Brock, unfortunately no check). It was funny and bittersweet to read. It reminded me that I have everything I had ever wanted right at my fingertips and made me feel like my friend was still with me. <3

    • G says...

      I love this! I’m so glad it makes you feel close to your friend. I remember the end of 6th grade everyone in my class wrote a paragraph about our favorite things then and what we would be doing in 20 years. I was a retired Olympic swimmer that then went to Columbia law school. None of that happened but I do still love the movies Clueless and Sixteen Candles even at 34.

  41. M says...

    How fun kids are! I’m honestly surprised at how much fun I have with my son. Everyone told me that having a baby would be “worth” the physical changes/lack of sleep, and people talk often of the amount of love you feel. But not enough people tell you how fun it is–just to wander outside for an hour and pick up sticks, or to splash in a kiddie pool after dinner. I’m completely surprised by the fact that I’d like to have a big family. I wish I’d found out sooner–my age may be a hindrance, but I’m trying to remain calm and to remind myself that there are a lot of ways to grow a family.

    • t says...

      I am so happy that you find it fun. I have been surprised by the opposite. I don’t find it fun. I find it fulfilling, rewarding, loving, awe inspiring, and I laugh sometimes but I certainly don’t find it fun.

    • Jackie says...

      M, I can totally relate. The FUN our daughter brings into our world is unbelievable. Screaming with delight when she sees a bus, or hears an airplane. Her joy is contagious, I feel so grateful.

  42. A says...

    Things I wanted and expected – living in NYC, married to a handsome foreigner, running my own design business. Things I didn’t want or expect but ended up with (happily!)- two gorgeous children, a cat, and planning a move back to my hometown. Life is bananas.

  43. Kylie says...

    When I was 14 I ended up coping with my mom nearly dying of MRSA in her brain by developing an eating disorder (anorexia, which morphed into bulimia – exercise type). I struggled for 10 years -and lived a very unfulfilling and anxiety-filled life- until I got married and realized every life event (and every day) had been muted in some way by my eating disorder’s presence and I didn’t want that anymore. I got a CEDS therapist and a non-diet dietitian and here I am today, 6 years later, in a bigger body than I’ve ever had and I’ve never felt more at home in my body or more relaxed around food. My daughter’s birth in 2017 was my first major life event not clouded by the eating disorder and I’m so grateful thoughts of food and my body didn’t preoccupy that day and aren’t a part of my life anymore. I thought food and body size would always be a complicated thing for me and they aren’t anymore and I didn’t expect that. I’m so glad I realized I’m not more valuable if I take up less space in the world and that taking care of myself doesn’t guarantee thinness. I found the body size that is healthy for me, found new ways to cope with life and had so many loving people support me along the way. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns now, but I like it now and I really couldn’t say that for my teen years and early 20s.

    • Lauren says...

      This time last year I was in the depths of a post D&E hormonal crash and now I am two weeks into motherhood with a beautiful and healthy son for whom I am endlessly grateful but I am also reeling with the frustrations of breastfeeding. I have always heard that breastfeeding can be complicated but I never imagined it would be as hard as it has been over the past two weeks. We are lucky to have a lactation consultant who is covered by my insurance but every step forward with breastfeeding has been followed by several steps back and it’s causing a lot of distress during what I hoped would be a more positive time. Currently pumping and bottle feeding expressed breastmilk and formula and doing body work to improve his latch and mouth strength with the hopes of breastfeeding in the future. Any tips from other moms are welcome and appreciated!

    • Clermont says...

      Lauren – breastfeeding was so incredibly hard for me and my daughter for the first several weeks. I can’t tell you how long it was a struggle because she is 4.5 now and my brain has blocked it out, but there were a lot of tears from both of us and I got so much conflicting advice. I was also pumping, bottle feeding expressed milk and formula, and trying to breast feed (which meant not ever sleeping – I’m sure you are going through that now). One thing that I think eventually helped, besides time and practice, was that I finally tried different positions like lying down to breastfeed. At the hospital they had propped me up with pillows and made me sit so rigidly that I was miserable. So if you haven’t tried different positions, I’d suggest trying. Another thing that was really hard on me was the guilt of not being successful at breast feeding and not feeding my child enough. I had to get over that and be grateful for the formula. She ended up loving breastfeeding eventually and kept at it until 14 or 15 months (again, can’t remember the details), but I also had to keep supplementing with some formula until she could drink cow’s milk. Last thing- look into whether your son might be tongue tied and that is making it harder for him to latch. Has anyone tried to tell you your nipples are the problem? I got that one too – my nipples never changed and my daughter and I eventually got the hang of it so I think that was b.s. Hang in there! Take care of yourself! and don’t begrudge the formula.

    • Sarah says...

      Trying to respond to Lauren, below, re breastfeeding. My baby had a tiny tongue tie (that fixed itself), and would clamp down so hard but couldn’t fit her mouth over my nipple. I used thin nipple shields, and they made a world of difference. I only needed them for a few weeks.

      Even when things were going better it was still insane to feed so frequently, and it was months before it didn’t hurt. I’m thankful to be 11 months in and now I love that time with her. Good luck and congratulations.

    • Lori says...

      Kylie – I’m so happy for you. What a beautiful life! As the mother of a 19-yr-old who has struggled with anorexia since 8th grade, your story touched me. My daughter has been doing ok for quite awhile , but I know there is so much more joy out there for her in the coming years and I can’t wait for her to find it!
      Best of life to you and your family. :)

    • Ellen O. says...

      Lauren, I FEEL YOU. My first baby just straight up refused to latch. We tried various lactation consultants, every type of pillow, asleep, awake, hungry, not hungry. I had a tube taped to my boob to drip formula into his mouth and I would try to affix a nipple shield while he wailed and flailed in my arms. He probably had a tongue tie, but my pediatrician just kinda laughed at me when I asked. I spent all my time attached to that damn hospital grade pump rather than resting or cuddling my baby, and I drove all over town to pick up breastmilk from strange women who had an oversupply. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have said fuck it and fed my baby formula. Trying and failing to breastfeed made me absolutely miserable and robbed me of so much new momma bliss. My second baby nursed well from the get-go (although I did still work with an LC because he had a tongue and lip tie). If you want to stay the course, consider seeing a baby chiropractor. Sounds crazy, but ours helped us a lot. And if you want permission to throw in the towel, I hope this will suffice, because that was all I wanted during those dark days. My older son is now almost 3 and is wonderfully smart and healthy. Formula did not in fact “ruin” him as I thought it would. Sending you so much love.

    • A says...

      Hi Lauren,
      Breastfeeding is such a rollercoaster.
      I was in a similar situation… the never ending breastfeed/pump/bottle cycle is exhausting.
      After seeing a lactation consultant she recommended a NIPPLE SHIELD! It was a game changer. They can be controversial (like a soother, some say it can interfere with the latch) but my daughter was able to feed with just that and I was mercifully able to stop pumping and supplementing.
      We used the shield for a few weeks, and after we were comfy, I started removing it mid-feed until we didn’t need it anymore.
      Try a nipple shield! They sell them at the pharmacy (at least in Canada). They look like the nipples of bottles (not to be confused with the nipple shields for breast pump, my sleep deprived husband came home with those funnel-y things at first ;) ). But they are sized the same way as the shields for breast pumps.
      Sending you positive vibes!

    • Keri says...

      Lauren- getting my son’s posterior tongue tie fixed was a game changer! These are harder to diagnose but super common. I tried everything under the sun and I was just always in pain, seeing someone who specializes in this type of tie is key! Also just know that how you feed your baby is in no way an indication of your ability, love, or determination. There is no “giving up”, just decisions that lead to a healthy and happy family. You are doing and incredible job.

    • Maya says...

      Lauren — I had such romantic dreams of breastfeeding my son, and was devastated when I found out I wasn’t able to produce breastmilk. I pumped around the clock for 5 weeks and was only producing a half ounce a day. At that point my husband put it this way — ‘your son can have a mother who’s happy and rested or he can have an exhausted mom and .5oz of breastmilk a day. Which one do you choose?’. It really helped put things into perspective. The emotions around breastfeeding were so much more intense than I expected! My son is now 2, and looking back at that experience (and labor/the first year in general) I’m struck at how many concepts I had around what motherhood would be, and what I wanted it to be. And how painful it was to have these concepts crumble around me. In hindsight, I wish I chose kindness to myself over the anxieties around what I should be doing. It’s something I make an effort to practice now. For a lot of moms breastfeeding gets so much easier, and for some it doesn’t. And that’s ok! My formula-fed son is super healthy! Being able to bottle-feed meant my husband could feed our son as well, taking some of the burden off me and helping them bond too. Echoing what other mamas said — take care of yourself, and trust that doing that will be the best thing for your baby too. <3

    • Midge says...

      Kylie: Good for you! I will never forget the moment when I realized that I had stopped obsessing about food. It cracks the world open.

      Lauren: I struggled through breastfeeding with my first. My son never caught on — just too impatient — and so I pumped and bottle fed for nine months. With my second, she breastfed for four months until she was done. It was totally her choice, and it was so freeing! I ended up breaking all the feeding rules and it turns out all she ever wanted was baked ziti. Now they’re 11 and 13, and perfectly healthy. It all works out, even though I know how awful it is to live through it.

    • Holly says...

      Lauren, nipple shield worked for both kids. Both didn’t need it after a few months. That tiny newborn mouth is extra pinchy and it can get easier as they grow. Also, lying down position saves tons of energy. You are amazing and doing a great job!

      Kylie, what an incredible story!

    • Megan Parpart says...

      Lauren-I am 7 weeks into motherhood so certainly still in the trenches. I too was surprised by how difficult breastfeeding was. I would cry and cry-from pain but also from the “unfairness” of the fact that I just couldn’t get it right. I ate right, took supplements, did everything you are supposed to do during pregnancy and after and I felt it was a horrible injustice that it came so easily to some women but not to me. After 3 sessions with lactation consultant, cracked, bleeding nipples, and a case of mastitis, I “gave up” on breastfeeding and switched to exclusively pumping. I felt bad for giving up but it was a HUGE relief. I was very lucky to have an adequate supply and so far have not had to supplement. I told myself I would not spend another moment obsessing about my output and instead would give my baby what I could produce and supplement with formula if that was not enough. I did try my best to increase my supply but with the deal that if it got to be too much, I would cut back:
      -Ate everything under the sun said to increase production (oats/oatmeal, lactation cookies, brewer’s yeast, flaxseed, spinach, increased protein intake, WATER, and beer)
      -Pumped every 2 hours for a few weeks. This is hard to keep up but I think it helped in building my supply. I was able to drop pumping sessions after a few weeks of this.
      -During those weeks of pumping every 2 hours, I would “power pump” at least once, preferably twice per day.
      -SLEEP (you will notice you get the largest output after your longest sleep of the day)
      -Fenugreek (I took this only for a few days, supposedly once it increases your supply as long as you keep nursing/pumping it will stay increased; this made my baby gassy)
      -Mother’s Milk tea and red raspberry leaf tea

      Also, a few other things I did for the sake of my sanity were to give my baby a bottle and pacifier. Maybe this is why he could never latch properly but the amount of sleep and stress relief I have gotten because of it were worth it. FUCK nipple confusion. A happy baby is so much more important. Per the lactation consultant, I was feeding my baby through a syringe (which made him VERY gassy) and letting him suck my finger. Sometimes your own sanity has to prevail. I use Comotomo nipples by the way.

      Hang in there!!

    • Emma says...

      Lauren – I’ve had both my babies in France and really wanted to breast feed them but just couldn’t. The pain was incredible. Thankfully, in France there is no pressure to breastfeed whatsoever and no guilt, no connecting it to ‘how good a mum you are’ or any of that shit that seems to happen in the US and the UK (where I grew up).

      I breastfed for about a week for both of mine and my midwife said that was great as that was the most potent milk anyway. You actually stay five days in hospital in France when you have a baby, with loads of support, lovely food, own room with a bathroom…and it’s all free! Here, it’s about getting the best balance for the whole family, not what the mum can punish herself about.

  44. Ashley Em says...

    So many ways, but most freshly… finding out today that the baby I’m 16 weeks pregnant with has triploidy, which is “incompatible with life” — e.g. fatal, and means the baby will die in utero or shortly after birth. Considering options I never thought I’d have to think about, ever… and none of them are good. Heartbroken beyond belief.

    • Alex says...

      Oh Ashley, i’m so so sorry. What devastating news. Thinking of you tonight.

    • Lynn-Holly Wielenga says...

      Ah Ashley Em, my heart is breaking for you. Sending lots of love your way.

    • Lisa says...

      I’m so sorry, Ashley. I don’t have the right words to say in a time like this but want you to know I see you and my heart breaks for the grief you are going through. Life can be brutal.

    • Eva says...

      Ashley, I am so sorry you have to go through such a terrible diagnosis. Sending you lots of love, light, and healing vibes. I’ll be thinking of you.

    • Sheena says...

      Ashley,

      I just wanted to reach out and send you some hugs. 8 years ago, I was also 16 weeks pregnant when I found out my baby had triploidy. There are no good options. I am so sorry. Wishing you good medical care and compassionate support as you travel this most heartbreaking path.

    • Jade says...

      Ashley, sending you so much love and hugs. This sounds like such a difficult life event.
      My thoughts are with you this eve.
      jg.

    • Ingrid says...

      Sending love and tears through the universe to you. So sorry…

    • Karen T. says...

      Oh man. I’m so incredibly sad for you. That just flat out sucks. Sending you all the love in the world.

    • Alex says...

      Ashley,
      I am so sorry to read this. I don’t know if it will help but I found out I was pregnant with a fetus with triploidy at 12/13 weeks back in February 2016. No-one could explain why it happened. You are right that none of the options are good.
      Fast forward, I fell pregnant easily with my daughter and she was born in January 2017. A happy healthy baby and the light of my and my husband’s lives. I would never have had her if I hadn’t taken one of the incredibly difficult options back in February 2016. So through it all, please keep believing.
      Sending you all the love in yhe world.

    • Isabel says...

      ❤️

    • Claire says...

      Hi Ashley- what terribly, hard news. I am so sorry you are going through this. I am thinking of you. Wishing you comfort and peace and so much love and kindness as you navigate this difficult time.

    • Natalie says...

      Ashley ,,

      I am so very sorry. My brother and his wife had a baby with 3 copies of the 9th chromosome- trisomy 9 – also incompatible with life. Such a difficult situation to navigate and all I can say is that there are people in North Carolina who want to wrap you up ina hug . So sorry :(

    • Laura C. says...

      Ashley, I send you a big hug. I’m so sorry. I will pray for you. ❤️

    • Love to you xxx

    • Loesie says...

      Sending you so many warm hugs.

    • Stephanie says...

      I am so sorry. Knowing nothing I can say will change this awful reality, but wishing you whatever small solace there may be in knowing you are not alone…

    • Andrea says...

      Oh, my heart is breaking for you. I hope you know you did nothing wrong. Sending bunches of love to you. So sorry.

  45. Amy says...

    I thought I was marrying a banker, and due to a career about-turn about a year into marriage, I’m now a navy wife (he leaves again this weekend, this time for just two months). Now that the kids are older this is getting easier, but the six-month training session while I had three very little ones definitely sent me into depression that I couldn’t fully process until months after he returned. It has given us highs and lows that I couldn’t have imagined going in to this lifestyle.
    “What if” seems to be a futile exercise.

    • H says...

      Amy, I cannot express the wide range of emotions I feel for the spouses of our military. You obviously love this person that feels compelled to serve this country in ways I wish we no longer needed in this world. I thank you for your dedication and sheer determination to continue loving and supporting your partner and raising your children, and having to do it without your partner continuously by your side. I pray for his safety and I pray for your unseen and rarely commended act of courage.

  46. H says...

    Lately I have really been finding myself enjoying COJ relationship entries and love COJ readers’ comments that I had the courage to write my first comment! Thank you for creating this platform and loving community!

    I am an observant person. Within my group of friends, I have witnessed these two words “I never….” coming out of a friend’s mouth and the following words after actually come true. “I never want to get married” and three years later “H, I am getting married!” “I never want to date that guy.” and two years later “H, youre invited to our wedding.” Never say never, right? From this and many more experiences, I am always hesitant and cautious to use “I never…” But reading everyone’s comments, should I have said those two words more without fear/hesitation so my life would be filled with colors/ surprises?

  47. Lynea Wilson says...

    My husband was recently very confused when I explained that I bought a velvet crop top so that in 50 years I can look at photos of me in this mauve monstrosity and say: “oh man, 2019, look at that crop top, what a wild time, gee what color is that?” It feels fun to lean into a trendy little expression of time and place. Also, generally, crop tops in my closet would have horrified my self-conscious teenage self, as would the candor with which I wear them!

    • Sarah says...

      I love this idea! I’ve been printing out all the slightly-blurred/“gee I wish I’d looked better” photos that have been languishing on my phone and putting them into chronological albums because I know future-me will have a ball looking back at them.

    • Meg says...

      YES. I love participating in fashion trends where I think to myself “In 20 years I’m going to laugh so hard at this outfit.” Why not?? Timeless is overrated.

    • Maria says...

      Love this. I’m 59 and let me tell you, this doesn’t ever have to stop. Last summer I bought clog sandals for the first time and wore them to death. I just completed a long, painful and necessary process of teeth implants and today I am going shopping for crazy flourescent lipsticks to show off my new teeth. I love how fashion can be an expression of that joy of being in the moment while knowing that all things will pass.

  48. Becca says...

    Fifteen years ago I was in high school, a little baby lesbian figuring myself out and in my first relationship with my best (girl) friend I had known since fifth grade. We decided that we would get married and live happily ever after. We broke up a few months later. We found our way back to each other five or six years later and have been together ever since – we are now married, own our own home, have two dogs, and I’m pregnant with our first baby! The biggest surprise in my life is that it worked out just like I had planned and that I’m living out my dreams with her. I pinch myself every day.

    • Suzanne says...

      Becca – I love this story so so so much! :)

      XOXO

  49. L says...

    I never thought I’d make it into the profession I’m in; I am there. I never thought I’d end up with a city boy; it turns out that my two long term adult relationships have been with city boys who do.not.like.the.out.of.doors (to my dismay). I never thought I’d have kids; they are amazing. I also never thought that as an adult I’d spend any amount of time second guessing and contemplating my life choices. But such is life and I am at peace with that.

  50. Dee Paulino says...

    Being extremely happy at 29, unmarried and without children has been a pleasant surprise; especially given the pressures women in my culture experience. Also, landing my dream job in state government and being completely dissatisfied has been a surprise to me.

  51. Katie says...

    Gosh, I just really loved this today. Thanks so much!!

  52. Tara I says...

    I never thought I would be the one to get divorced. Or have the word boyfriend roll off my tongue again without sobbing. I’m back at a job that thought I hated. I later realized my boss was the problem, not the job. I never thought I’d be the one that would have a miscarriage, and my ex-husband would walk out. That ending led me to even greater love and a 7-year-old little boy wh and for him, I learned to do the shoot dance. Life is fucking magic if we let it be.

    • V says...

      I never thought my anxiety would leave me. My life was very small and kept getting smaller. And now, I don’t identify with being anxious anymore. I felt like a tightly curled bud that started to open and is now blooming brilliantly. I never would have believed that I would actual face myself and my patterns and work up the courage to change them and leave behind the ones I didn’t need anymore.

      Two years ago, my relationship ended, I moved out of our shared home, had to find a temporary place to live on Craigslist, my schooling ended, my job ended, I had no money, my parents finalized their divorce and sold our family home. It felt like the ground underneath me kept falling out, and it became almost comical when I wondered what else I could possibly lose. But I took a deep breath in and decided I would go with the flow.

      I moved into a house I found online as a 3 month sublet so that I could put my head down and study for my incredibly stressful and expensive registration exams. It was going to be the year of me! I was ready to be totally solo, doing my own thing and focusing just on myself.

      Well, it turned into a permanent room in the most perfect-for-me old character house. I started dating one of my roommates who is without a doubt the complete love of my life. It’s 1.5 years together now, I’m working my dream jobs (each of them is part time, within 5 minutes of my home and completely align with my values), I’m helping the community while I make my living. And I love gardening! My partner and I built our garden together and we are growing things and enjoying our life together. I never thought I would be so content with living a small quiet life (felt major FOMO after watching so many people travel the world while I spent 8 years in post-secondary) but I’m so grateful to be living this version of life. I know it won’t always be rainbows and roses but I’m embracing it while it is!

  53. Amanda says...

    When I was 18 and fresh out of high school, I had no idea what PhD was or what the heck college professors do. I came from a working-class family in a teeny tiny Midwestern town and the highest degree I thought you could get was a Master’s unless you were a medical doctor.

    Today, at 29, I have a PhD and am employed as a college professor. I didn’t really aim to end up here, I just kept following the paths that seemed interesting to me until I stumbled onto this one and decided to stay on it for awhile.

    I always thought I’d be a writer, though, of stories and books rather than research manuscripts. Hopefully some day I’ll get to walk down that path, but for now I’m pretty happy with the one that I’m on.

  54. I never, never, never in a million years thought I’d end up in California but here I am, for 18 years! Younger me, even college me, would never believe it.
    Life is so weird and wonderful.

  55. Lisa says...

    On our second date, my now husband (who works in theater) said he was sure he’d end up in New York at some point. I remember so clearly thinking, “Well THIS isn’t going anywhere.” I had always thought of myself as a country mouse, but somehow instead I’ve managed to live in Boston, Washington DC, Chicago…..and now New York, all with the best man I could’ve ever hoped to marry. No regrets 😎

  56. Rachel says...

    Two things come to mind.
    1) my husband was my best guy friend the first three years of college, but I had a huge crush on him the whole time. He was uninterested for three years, and then he changed his mind. I frequently think about what 18 year old me would think if she knew about our three daughters 14 years in the future.
    2) last year my husband and I converted from the Protestant faith we were devoutly raised in to Catholicism. I’m so thankful for this path, but I’m still shocked to hear my daughter pray a Hail Mary. That probably doesn’t seem that shocking to most people, but most of my family are teetotaling Baptist ministers so it seems strange to me (and to them).

    • H says...

      Ah Rachel, my husband was MY best guy friend for the first three years of college as well. Funny enough, we had zero interest in each other. One day we were driving together and I just really wanted to hold his hand. I had a big “uh oh” moment about not wanting to ruin our friendship, got over myself and made the first move. 10 years later, we’re happily married with a baby! Isn’t it amazing how things work out??

  57. maia says...

    This post arrives at a good time in my life. I love my job and the team I work with but often feel stuck in a routine.
    I fear so much for the climate-change, envirronemental problems (and maybe focus a little too much on that). It gives me energy to act for change, but I must reckon that most of the time, I expect only bad surprises from our future. And I had such an accumulation of deceptions lately (rejection from a date with hard words from him, family problems…)that I think I became very cautious, and often felt the need to withdrawn from social life, which leads to less life good surprises too!
    But your words (and the ones of you, commenters of COJ!), encourage me to stand up straight again, open my eyes, and pay attention to whats around.
    Thanks Caroline and the COJ community! <3

  58. Hillary says...

    Growing up I always had big, athletic dogs. I hated little, yappy, lap dogs. I now am the proud dog mom of who tiny furballs. In my defense, they are very athletic and love a long hike!

  59. I’m continually surprised at having my first and only baby on the cusp of turning forty, and finally starting my dream career at 41, after nearly two decades of false starts and dead-end jobs. I’d like to say I always believed I would be happy, but truly felt only doubtful and pessimistic. My daughter immediately made me an optimist—my job is an added bonus.

  60. HM says...

    My husband and I always imagined we’d have two daughters. After we got married, when people would ask when we were going to have a baby, I’d say “Oh, September 2014, preferably a girl.” In September of 2014, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

    Then when it came to having a second child, I knew it was a boy by the time I took the pregnancy test. Our son is the greatest unexpected joy of our lives. He is exactly the one we needed, and he and his big sister are the best of friends.

    A few of my friends have expressed similar feelings during pregnancy, and I always try to assure them–you get the one you NEED, and you’ll fall madly in love with whoever they are–so try not to worry too much.

    Also, dressing a boy is somehow even more fun, which is another unexpected gift.

    In closing… I grew up in a small town where Birkenstocks never went out of style. I had worn them blissfully my entire life, until my senior year of college, when a friend said “it’s so funny how you always wear those big dorky sandals.” It was a glass-shattering moment… I’d had NO IDEA they were dorky. They were just always a part of my life! Anyhow, I didn’t stop then and I won’t stop now. I’m wearing Birkenstocks as I type this (obviously).

  61. Amanda Simwaka says...

    I just turned 35 a few days ago and was reflecting over the last ten years and was amazed at how much has changed. My dad died, I developed a chronic disease, I got married, had three girls and moved from California to South Africa!
    Watching the movie, “Hatari” as a little girl I NEVER wanted to move to Africa. Now I absolutely love it.
    I’m just wondering what the next 10 years will hold.

  62. Christie says...

    I’m 32 and often horrified by the echoes of my 23-year-old self that said things like: “I will never move to the suburbs,” “When I have kids, I will never let them do THAT,” “that is so tacky”… the list is pretty extensive. The past nine years have been wonderful, but also filled with the unexpected and have taught me empathy and to never say never.

  63. Katy says...

    Things that have surprised me: coming out at 21; getting married to a man at 31; having a miscarriage, then a stillbirth a year after; getting divorced after 7 years of marriage; getting sober; learning how to live alone/buy a house/take care of everything (part time with 2 amazing daughters) at age 39; coming (back) out. I’m surprised on a daily basis.

  64. Erica says...

    My college self would be appalled to see that I am now a stay at home mom. I remember a conversation I had with three friends during our senior year about that very topic. Two of them wanted to be SAHMs and my other friend and I were staunchly opposed to the idea. I’ll give you three guesses which other friend is also SAHM now, and two of them don’t count. ;) I struggled with the transition during the first year, but now I am SO happy to be raising my daughter and waiting to meet my next little babe in a matter of weeks (or days?!). I’ll probably re-enter the working world some day, but for now I’m cherishing this time and I realize how fortunate my family is that we even had the option to make this life work financially.

  65. Mary says...

    In my early 30s I found myself extremely depressed and “stuck.” I had a great job but that was all I had going for me. I had lost faith in myself. Without telling a soul except the two people I needed letters of reference from – I applied to graduate school in a foreign country just to see if I was capable of getting in. I was accepted! I took a one year leave of absence from my job, packed my little apartment into a storage unit and prepaid for a year’s storage. Zoom one year later and I had a fellowship in yet another country, I had met the man who would become my husband and I had quit my job at home. My life took a complete 180 just from deciding to see if I could get into graduate school. I didn’t realise quite the depth of my unhappiness at home until I was brave enough take such a huge step. And I still marvel on a regular basis at how much my life has changed and how grateful I am for it.

    • April says...

      Can I ask where you went to school? Contemplating a similar move and it would help inspire…

  66. J. says...

    Every single thing I haven’t gotten has given me so much more than I could have ever imagined had I gotten it. I read somewhere about playing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in reverse in your head and how it fills you with gratitude for all that is bad– if I hadn’t suffered X, if I hadn’t lost him/her, if it HAD gone my way–what magic and joy and strength of my life would have disappeared?? For every job I didn’t get, plan that didn’t pan out, successful relationship I wished for mightily that failed, vision of myself that didn’t come to be, I found things that, as one of my favorite writers says, are only ever available to those who have known loss, disappointment, and most of all pain (which is to say: all of us): to be wiser, braver, kinder, and more joyful.

  67. Lindsay Somers says...

    I can’t believe all the things that happen in the Grand Canyon of Life! ;) The (seemingly) surprise twists of fate making all the dots connect. I would never have believed that I would marry a guy named BOB (BOB!) and that my Mom would die young of a brain tumour. That honestly surprises me. How did those things happen? Don’t waste time – it’s finite. That’s a surprise lesson to learn at age 35 losing my Mom.

  68. Jenny says...

    This was a great read! I feel like I’m in the stage where I’ll hopefully look back sometime in the near future and think – remember when you wanted what you have now? It’s a tough spot to be in, the waiting. But that’s life!

  69. For years I thought I’d get back together with my first big love, who I met when I was only 14(!) but was on and off with for years afterward. I desperately wanted this relationship to work out; it started out so perfect and pure in a way that completely opened my mind to what life could be like. But after multiple break ups, it became something that wasn’t healthy for either of us. During all of this I met a best guy friend who I immediately knew was going to be incredibly important in my life. Slowly, over years, I began to secretly yearn to be with him, but I was still so wounded and confused and left with a disorganized attachment style from the first that I couldn’t conceive of being able to love him for a very long time. I began to expect and hope that my best guy friend and I would be together later in life, probably both of us divorcés. We’d be in our fifties, perhaps with our own separate children, and have a house with a cozy fireplace room and lots of bookshelves.
    Almost 10 years ago, the first man hurt me in a way that left me knowing I was done with this relationship. No part of me still hoped we’d get back together again. It was like our relationship had been so strong, but with each time we hurt each other, it wore away, until there was nothing left.
    Within a week of that decision, my best guy friend professed his love for me, and we’ve been together ever since. We are married now, and live in a beautiful 110-year-old home (albeit in a city I swore I’d never live in :) and will be searching for our forever home in the coming months (a cozy den with a fireplace is our shared #1 priority). We have 2 dogs and 2 cats (never thought I’d have more than 1 dog and definitely no cats :) I am so proud to watch him do the work he does, and I’m in the beginning of a surprising career change myself; I have felt so lucky to have been so supported by him throughout this process. Most importantly, we have a funny, charming toddler who is *ours* together(!), and hopefully another on baby the way soon. :)
    It’s amazing what life can give you when you decide to leave behind what is not serving you.

    • Andrea says...

      Have been overthinking about phrasing that last sentence as “when you *decide* to leave behind what is not serving you,” because as I mentioned it wasn’t so much a decision as it was an honest look at what had happened, and an openness to detach myself from this oddly safe feeling, albeit destructive relationship. Sending love to anyone out there who has decided they want to move on but feels stuck. I hope someday you are able to let go and move on with peace and grace, and I hope you all have the kind of love you deserve. xo

    • Cait says...

      What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

    • A says...

      Thank you, Andrea. Your words came at just the right time for me—the agony of feeling stuck, the permission to move on, your kindness in encouraging a letting go, an embrace of peace and grace. Knowing we are worthy of great love is not always easy, and it is heartening to know that it is a shared feeling. I’m grateful you shared and encouraged by your courage. Best of luck for all ahead!

    • Britt says...

      I needed to hear that last bit today. Thank you for sharing.

  70. I love this so much.

    I never thought I would end up with someone who wasn’t a reader… someone who wasn’t as pretentious about grammar as I am. NEVER. Someone who doesn’t see TV as a muse—what would we even talk about??

    But I did end up with him. I married him. And the grace and kindness and love he has added to my life is something I couldn’t have even pictured before. I pictured a snarkier life. I pictured reading the New Yorker side by side and rolling our eyes at reviews. I pictured much more insecurity in my soul.

    Instead, I got a home where I never question my worth or wonder if I am enough. A life where kindness is king and laughter reigns. An existence where we never take ourselves too seriously. Kitchen dance parties are a regular occurrence and heading to the mountains in our VW van (again, who am I??) is one of our favorite adventures.

    Love has shown up in ways I didn’t even know existed, for which I am breathlessly grateful.

    And I almost dismissed this guy because of his misuse of “there.”

    • R says...

      This speaks to me so much. Thank you for reading my mind, or at least putting it into words. (If you, like me, have enough snark already, it is beautiful to be with someone who balances that out.)

    • Sam says...

      I love this. It reminds me of someone I met this year, whom I almost don’t know what to do with simply because he’s just so nice.

    • Lauren E. says...

      Wow, this made me tear up. Beautiful.

    • Katie says...

      “Love has shown up in ways I didn’t even know existed.”

      Thank you, Rachel.

    • V says...

      This is so honest! I used to be a grammar snob too. I didn’t see it for what it was at the time, but now I’ve realized it is is classist and tastleless to be judgemental about the way people use grammar. Lack of English grammar education or difficulty comprehending the rules of grammar just shows that we have had privilege that another person doesn’t have. A person’s grammar says nothing about their heart or soul, and our judgement about someone else’s grammar says everything about us. My partner now misuses or misspells words and I just couldn’t be less bothered (the old me would have been horrified!) So glad you didn’t miss out on this love of your life for that reason!

    • J says...

      “I pictured a snarkier life.” Can we be friends? Beautiful story.

    • Lauren says...

      You word it so well! My 16-year-old self would never, EVER have believed I’d marry a guy who was in Special Ed. Now I can’t believe I was ever that narrow minded…not that I’m disappointed that my love of reading ended up being catching… 😂 🤗

    • Oh my gosh, I love these replies! We should start a Reformed Snarky Grammar Snob Club. (I must say, the habits are so hard to kick.)

      And, J, yes please! The Cup of Jo comments section is like the opposite of reality television contestants competing for love. “I am actually here to make friends.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes rachel!!!!

    • Annie says...

      This is so, so beautiful.

    • LYNN says...

      Truth. I too thought I’d marry someone who was well read, spoke French and like refined things. Instead I’ve lucked out and met an animal, nature loving twitcher who reminds me to stop and see the birds. He’s softened my edges, and shown me a life I never had the imagination to dream up – and it’s so much better.

  71. Leigh says...

    What a great topic, Caroline! :) Maybe my biggest surprise was that I would end up moving to my husband’s hometown … and LIKING IT! Haha at least so far. We used to laugh at how ridiculous that idea was, but as our priorities changed, we thought a peaceful, low-cost of living, smaller community doesn’t sound so bad! And here we are. At age 30, I’m pretty excited about how things might change throughout the next few decades. Life is unpredictable – sometimes that’s scary but sometimes that gives me the most hope!

    • t says...

      That’s great Leigh. Where do you live?

  72. Suzette says...

    Sixteen years ago, my mother had a massive stroke. I was in my early thirties when I got the call, my sister was 29. Mum spent four months in the hospital, as my sister and I scrambled to figure out what this new life looked like. We weren’t a particularly close family: My sister and I had significant issues that were easily avoided when we lived at opposite ends of the country. Not so when you’re dealing with a sick parent.
    Mum lived with my sister and I when she got out of the hospital, and those first years were hard. Hard. Mum was angry. My sister and I were overwhelmed. We were suddenly responsible for all kinds of things we had never planned, including merging three households, selling a townhouse and searching for a wheelchair-friendly home. There was a lot of yelling, a lot of tears. A lot of angst and regret.
    After a few years, my sister opted to forge her own path. She has returned to our home city, and does what she can to help. Mum continues to live with me, and while it’s not the life I had imagined for myself, there have been unexpected silver linings.
    I have worked through more “stuff” than I can begin to explain. In part to better deal with my sister and mother, but also in order to see life through a more positive lens. When all this happened, I was a solitary creature who worked hard at a low-paying job that made me cry. I had no friends and no real interests. Living with Mum meant I had the financial support to take a few months off – long enough to heal from the crappy job and find a better job, that lead me to the amazing job that I’m currently in. Understanding that I needed balance in my life lead me to taking, and eventually teaching knitting classes on the weekends – which I did for a full decade. Now I’m in yoga teacher training, experiencing a completely different kind of transformation. I’ve made good friends and built a support system. The system (and the people) I needed 16 years ago. And I’m able to give back to that network in a way that wouldn’t have been possible when Mum first had her stroke. That network has led me to all kinds of adventures and experiences that weren’t part of my thinking all those years ago.
    I’m not sure 34-year-old me would believe 50-year-old me if I told her that everything will turn out OK. There are a lot of days when I don’t want to be the grown up. A lot of days when I don’t want to do this by myself. And while life caught me off guard all those years ago, the good consistently outweighs the challenges. I’m not sure I’d change a thing, because those experiences have made me who I am today. I really like 50-year-old me and am curious to see what the future brings. (What would 60-year-old me have to say??)

    • M says...

      Suzette, this is such a hopeful story from an unusual perspective. I moved back home to help care for my mum seven years ago after she was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and it’s been so difficult; my thirties haven’t really been conventional or very aspirational so far, but I think life sometimes teaches you lessons that you need to learn and there have been some surprising positives. I loved reading your post; thanks so much!

  73. This is such a thoughtful and inspiring post! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how little younger me could have predicted the life I’d have now, and how much it suits me. Shifts in diet and faith and friends have all surprised me, and yet are so right in ways I could never have known. :)

  74. Elizabeth says...

    This was such a great read. I think the truth that often goes unsaid about being “surprised by life” is that oftentimes, the surprise is born from the pain and heartache of not having things go the way we’d thought they would, or the way we wanted them to. If we’re “surprised” it’s because we didn’t get what we expected, and that is often painful. I think of how happy I am now and of all the huge fails that got me here. It helps put present pains and let-downs into perspective. I’m not who I thought I’d be 10 years ago. So I can’t wait to see who I’ll be 10 years from now.

  75. Jessica Melindy says...

    My biggest surprise these days is that I work in a cubicle and that I love my job! I grew up “knowing” that I wouldn’t work at a desk, but instead that I would be creative and I would work with people. But as an introvert who went to art school then became a human resources professional turns out what I love is a quiet workspace and stability with a schedule!

  76. Mary says...

    This is one of my favourite quotes: “God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.” – Terry Pratchett

    I don’t think me 5 years ago could have imagined where I am now, in my field of work. I was convinced I would become an architect, and ended up studying engineering…only to somehow, through a series of small decisions that accumulated over the years, to end up working in global health and development. Even a year ago, if you had told me that in the span of 5 weeks, one fateful conversation and single job application would have led to me upending my entire life and moving to rural and remote Tanzania for a posting, I probably would have laughed at you. It’s been a tough year, but I to remind myself that life can and will change continuously, and that where I am is only temporary.

  77. t says...

    There have been lots of surprises in life for me such as marrying a woman, being the primary breadwinner (instead of the socialite I wanted to be), having kids, etc.

    However, the biggest surprise by far is that sense of longing for change doesn’t go away. I remember being a teen and thinking I can’t wait until I am an adult and can do whatever I want but it doesn’t exactly work like that.

    I am very happy/fulfilled in my life and marriage but when I was young I always thought I would grow up and feel like I had everything I ever wanted (with some death and sadness interspersed of course) but it is still amazing how I never stop longing for change/more/different. That has been very surprising for me.

  78. Laura C. says...

    There is a street in my hometown that I used to snob. I don’t like it, it is dirty (bad humans who don’t pick up their dogs’ poop) and I just never liked it.
    Well guess who lives in the dirty street now 😣

  79. Sasha L says...

    I think very young me would be surprised by how happy my life is, and surprised by what happy and secure and loved feels like. I didn’t have expectations for my life until I was much older, and even then, I didn’t expect, but just wanted to feel safe, secure and happy. I’m so grateful to have a happy ending.

    • Laura C. says...

      Lovely words Sasha

    • MS says...

      I’m just beginning to lean into joy, security, healthy love. Young me had no idea what these could feel like — and could never imagine a future in which I would be worthy of them. Today it takes a lot of work to trust these feelings. Thank you for sharing this, Sasha. I relate so much <3

  80. I love this so much, Caroline, as always. Now you’ve got me pondering in the best of ways. Thank you for sharing!

  81. Kelly says...

    as a follow up to the post on giving up drinking…i would not have anticipated when I got married 22 years ago that both our maid of honor and best man (who were only friends through us) would go on to develop terrible alcohol addictions. thankfully, both have gone through recovery and are sober, but with a trail of destruction in their wake. It has certainly been eye opening to witness this close up and also to know how profoundly our relationships with them have changed throughout their journies.

  82. Loesie says...

    Funny you asked. I have been contemplating that thought recently.
    When I was 16, an exchange student program took me to California.
    Always having been fascinated with the US ever since going there when I was 11, I wanted to go back as soon as I could. So I did. And I went back as often as I could (afford). My parents took me to New York in 2000, and I fell in love with the city as soon as the plane touched the ground.
    I have always seen my life in the US. I even walked into a lawyers’ office once when I was in the US in 2007, to ask what I had to do to be able to move there. ‘Find a guy, give him 10,000 dollars and ask him to marry you’ was his answer. Eventually, I went back home, and planned on living a big life with lots of trips to my beloved country.
    I met a guy later that year (biggest non-traveler in the world), fell in love, married him and settled down. I now work as a secretary/office manager at his firm.
    Ever since I lived in California, I thought I would have this big international career, traveling the world for work, being in the US as often as I could, perhaps even running into an American guy while doing so, and settling down in the US.
    Now, I live about an hour from where I was born and raised, I go to Germany on holiday every year, and I can bike to my 9 to 5 job.
    My Mom and I took a trip to NY last December. I still feel I could live there, and I wish there was a job around where I live which would mean I could ‘use’ my passion for my home away from home. Whenever I talk about my time in the US, my eyes start to twinkle. I dream so often about Europe and the US not being separated by a gigantic Ocean between them, and me taking my car to drive there.
    Sometimes, I feel so guilty towards my 17-year old self, for not having lived up to the expectations I had of myself way back then. But I guess part of being an adult is realizing that (some of) the future goals you set for yourself when you were young, had nothing to do with the path that life itself has planned out for you..

  83. Mara says...

    Up until the age of 27, my tune was “When I have kids.” My heart was never into it, but I thought that’s what you do. Now at 36, I can say that it’s ok to not want kids! At a younger age, I never would have thought this life would be possible — to not want kids, not have kids, AND have a loving husband who feels exactly the same. My younger self could have saved so much angst and sleepless nights had she known. I am accepted as I am, and I feel free.

    • A says...

      So happy for you :)

  84. Kelly says...

    oh boy! where to even start…probably my biggest surprise is I am an adoptive mama of 2! I never anticipated unexplained infertility in my early 30s…and, when I was in the midst of that, I never anticipated that I could ‘find my joy’ again…also never anticipated how very different a marriage could be over 22 years…some good, some really really bad parts, but still sticking with it.

    I could go on and on…but I truly believe we all create our own narrative out of the pieces that land on us, whether they were chosen or not.

  85. Wonderful, as always, Caroline! Enjoy this love. We had a baby girl when I was 45 and now I’m a mom to a six year old who is MUCH wiser and kinder than me and teaches me everyday that I don’t know much of anything other than to stop trying so hard and just lean into the hugs when they come along, sticky fingers and all! Surprise! Life is better (albeit messier) when you let love…and people in.

    • NN says...

      love this!

  86. sarah says...

    three years ago, i had just turned 27 and felt beyond content with life as it was. i remember sitting at dinner with a few of my very best friends on that birthday, thinking i had won the jackpot and couldn’t believe how very lucky i was, and at that moment–how i was content to be single. i had some big dreams of quitting my job in the fall, moving away from my sleepy mountain town, and traveling in south america before figuring out what i would do next. less than a month later, i met my (now) boyfriend at one of the three bars here. i told him all about these plans to leave our town within a few minutes of meeting him. when he got my number so he could see me again, i laughed out loud, thinking he’d never call me. three years later, here i am in this same sleepy town, with a job that’s infinitely more gratifying. i could never have imagined the way my life would surprise me, but i never could have imagined how much i’d fall in love with this new version of life as i know it. oh, and he called me. :)

  87. So much to ponder here. Anxious, post college me would be surprised by how nicely everything’s worked out. That I ended up in Chicago for grad school and stayed here as long as I have. That I always had various friends and acquaintances to live there. Who knew I’d be a medical writer and stumble upon this niche of technical scientific/medical writing. Just a few years ago, I was worried about meeting someone, anyone to date. And here I am 4.5 years later, on my 4th boyfriend, all guys who I unexpectedly met. My life changes so much every year. About to find out in a few months when my lease ends where I’ll live next in Chicago.

    • Hannah says...

      *meant to write always had ppl to live with! even got a good friend to move from out of state to Chicago

    • Ellen O. says...

      Hannah, can you share your website or email address? I work for a content agency with a lot of healthcare clients and have been struggling to find quality science/medical writers for the physician-facing content. Thanks!

    • Hannah says...

      Hi Ellen!
      Yeah sure. My email is hannahmoulthrop@gmail.com. You can find me on LinkedIn as well. I interned at a healthcare content agency briefly so I’d love to hear more about your agency.

  88. Carrie says...

    I studied history in undergrad, and as graduation approached, I couldn’t shake the “what next?” dread. I had applied to several history phd programs thinking I’d become a professor, but couldn’t decide on what area of history to focus on… do I do 20th century or Early Modern…maybe religious history…or socio-economic?? How do you even decide what you’ll do FOREVER?

    I eventually met with a professor I admired to ask him how he KNEW what he had wanted to do in his career. He told me that as he moved along his path in life, some of the most rewarding, most interesting, and most fulfilling things were the surprises and distractions he encountered along the way. He encouraged me to be open to those distractions instead of focusing so hard on the destination that I missed wonderful opportunities.

    Eleven years later, I am not a history professor, but I do work in archives. I get to see a side of history that few people get to witness and it’s been a rewarding and interesting career. Archives were never my plan, and I wouldn’t have ended up here had I not taken that professor’s advice and been open to distractions. He didn’t give me the answer I had wanted at the time, but he told me exactly what I needed to hear.

  89. Caroline says...

    I relate to this so much. Four years ago, I was single, living in NYC (where I was born and raised, and never expected to leave). Now, four years later, I am newly married and have lived in two other cities. As I am still struggling to adjust to my new environment, I often think to myself “how did I get here??” I feel homesick often, but am also aware of just how lucky I am that these are the changes I’ve faced. My hope is they’ve made my resilient and will prepare me for the many changes yet to come. I have a partner in life and love who is there for me and wants us to create a beautiful life together.

  90. M says...

    Life’s taken some strange, unanticipated turns over the past decade, not all good (in fact, most kind of bad and certainly stressful), and I’ve just found myself walking out on a very ‘predictable’ (ha!) future and razing certain expectations to the ground. Not sure I’ve made the right decision, so I’m kind of white-knuckling it right now; TERRIFIED about the future and currently in a very different place to all of my friends, which has been really isolating. This article and all the comments have given me some hope when I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and hopeless. Thank you Cup of Jo; you’ve been such a comforting, positive lighthouse in the storm of life over the last few years.

  91. Toni says...

    I am constantly surprised by my own secret strength and ability to find the humor in life. I suffered a miscarriage. It was awful and traumatic and sad. BUT my first reaction was to plan a super activity filled trip to Norway with my husband. If I’m not going to be a mom right now, I guess I’ll be Queen Elsa from Frozen.

    • Faith says...

      Love this, Toni!

  92. What a lovely read. Thank you Caroline! And congratulations on your fulfilling, happy-making romance :-)

  93. Mary Beth says...

    By middle age I came to the realization that I should never say ‘never’ because it felt like it made it more likely to happen. However, when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I said to myself, ‘I will never go to the grocery store with my hair in rollers’ and ‘I will never watch daytime TV’ – I’m 70 now and I have not done either of those things. You may notice that I did not say never.

    • Kelly says...

      i also believe in never saying never! after 25 years of city living lots of people still ask me when we’re moving to the burbs…and I just smile and say, it’s not in the cards for us right now but never say never!

      however when I was also 12 or 13, I said I would never change my last name when I got married. two of my cousins were aghast and didn’t believe me. We each wrote this statement down on a post it note and signed it. My cousin pulled it out of his wallet at my wedding…been married 22 years and still haven’t changed my name! but…never say never!

    • agnes says...

      ah ah ah! That comment totally made my day! Bravo Mary Beth! (I went to bakery many times in my pajamas, I find it so liberating! you might want to change your mind and try the grocery store with your hair in rollers!). I love that you sticked so many years to your resolution.

  94. AC says...

    I was 27 and had never had a boyfriend. I had my whole life ahead of me & was a week away from buying a camper and driving off with my dog to a life of question marks, spontaneity, and discovery.
    While searching the internet for the perfect mobile home, I saw a job opening at my dream company. I applied on a whim, thinking that if I didnt get it that this would further solidify my choice to hit the road.
    Well I got the job, and within a month (through a series of coincidences) was lucky to meet my now boyfriend of five years.
    Going from forever-single and wanting to escape, to being planted in a job and relationship was a crazy turn of events and something I’m still trying to grasp all this time later. I still have that desire to get up and go, but luckily so does he. So maybe the next surprise will be us in a camper traveling across the country :)

  95. Annie says...

    I’m typically not good with surprises–I read the spoilers for almost every suspenseful TV show I’ve ever watched, haha. But I’m going on the academic job market this year, which feels like it will inevitably be surprising in some way–will I end up taking a job abroad? Moving cross-country? Striking out altogether and going into a totally different field? I’m actually pretty excited about it.

  96. Heather D says...

    I had my life all planned: husband, three kids, white picket fence, big lumbering golden retriever sauntering towards my farmhouse at dusk while said children played with sparklers in the twilight, preferably all by age 25.
    Infertility had a different plan. Now, at 36, my husband and I and our (soon to be adopted) foster son live in a very small 850 sq ft house “in town” where we have a postage-stamped size yard. I can’t afford to be the stay at home mom I just knew I’d be. But you know, I’m happy. Dreams I didn’t know I had came true and I’m okay with that.

    • Andrea says...

      “Dreams I didn’t know I had came true” – this is giving me all the warm fuzzies. 🥰❤️

    • Sasha L says...

      “dreams I didn’t know I had came true” that’s so beautiful.

    • agnes says...

      “dreams I didn’t know i had”. So beautifully expressed. Congratulation for your family!

  97. JessicaD says...

    I think I’m a little older than your average reader. Reflecting on this post, I definitely had plenty of WELL, I WILL NEVER…s, (that of course I have broken!) but am now at the point in my life where age is defining/limiting me to: huh, I guess I will never… And it’s sad! But I guess that what middle age angst is all about — coming to accept that the branches of the tree aren’t limitless. And that that is ok.

  98. DCF says...

    The opening couplet of lyrics to the first song on the album ‘The Meadowlands’ by the Wrens goes like this:

    “I’m nowhere near what I dreamed I’d be/ I can’t believe what life’s done to me”

    I come back to this over and over again in the years since that record has come out. If you don’t know it, seriously go listen to the album right now. It’s so good I think the band is scared to follow it up. But anyways, I think this line perfectly encapsulates what you’re talking about, on it’s face it sounds really negative and disappointed, but it completely doesn’t have to be. There are so many unexpected turns through life that end up happy accidents.

    I don’t have a more serious answer to the question that that, or one more specific to my own experience, but I will say that I really agree with the line about Birkenstocks.

  99. Cynthia says...

    Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. However, 6 1/2 years ago, we adopted a dog, and I broke all my dog rules. I did not want a chihuahua, because I thought they were yappy ankle-biters, but I fell in love with him at the local SPCA. I said I never wanted a male dog, because I grew up with a female dog, and our dog is a male. I said I would never have a house dog, but chihuahuas have to be house dogs. I said I would never put clothes on a dog, but he is cold-natured and has a whole wardrobe of t-shirts, sweaters, and coats. I said I would never let a dog get on the furniture or sleep in our bed, but eventually, he did. We love him to pieces.

  100. HOW DIFFICULT RAISING A CHILD WOULD BE!!!

    • Cynthia says...

      Yes! There were days when I wished Mary Poppins would drop in!

    • Nadine Hughey says...

      Oh my gosh, yes. (And I have one of the “easy” ones.)

  101. MelTown says...

    My life is literally everything I set out to avoid. I didn’t want a life of domesticity, I did not want a corporate career (I thought I would be a surgeon), I did not want a dog, I swore I would NEVER have bangs again. Now I’m a happily married to a man I started dating at 19, and a mom of three who recently left her corporate career after fifteen years. My mini doxie is asleep on my lap and I have a bob with fringe. I drive a minivan, and LOVE it. There are absolutely parts of this life that feel stifling and I’ve been in a state of deep turmoil since leaving my career behind. Sometimes I long for the life I had imagined, but I also know that I am really damn lucky. If there is one thing I learned through the roller coaster years of 17-35 it’s that you can’t really plan for anything, so I’m hoping the next leg of my journey is as exciting as the last.

  102. Jillian says...

    My husband and I joke about this all the time; we both came from very turbulent homes and I swore after watching what my mother went through, I’d never be a mother. Now I have a 15 month old son I adore.

    My husband and I met in middle school and if you’d told me then that he would be one of my best friends and one of the best people in my life, not to mention my partner, I would have recoiled in horror because he had so much growing up to do (of course so did I!)

  103. Shannon says...

    This essay reminds me of a quote by Cheryl Strayed I often think of (when I get perplexed at the life I am now living that I never thought I would be):

    “I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

    • Megan says...

      YES! I was just thinking about this quote – truly one of her best and one that I come back to often.

    • M says...

      I love this! Thank you for sharing Shannon.

    • Nicole says...

      This resonates with me. Not all surprise life turns are easy or positive. As someone who never had a job not involving kids (and still don’t), I’m surprised and partly grieving that I will not have a family of my own. But I look for positive things that this new reality affords- more free time, money, and independence. But it’s not always feel-good

    • Loesie says...

      For all the (right) reasons, this brought tears to my eyes.
      Thanks for sharing!

    • Kristen says...

      Cheryl Strayed has such a gift for the inspirational gut punch. I also love this one:

      “The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”

    • MarieP says...

      The babies I never had are on that ship. I wave to them, sometimes, and to the me who is their mom. Cheryl’s letter, in its entirety, gave me permission to stop trying and let them go. My current life is beautiful in so many ways but the ghost ship is always visible from my shore.

    • S says...

      I’d love to hear more from those of you who see the ghost ship and are able to acknowledge it but still embrace your life on the shore.
      My personal ghost ship is also related to fertility (not by choice, in contrast to the wording in the original quote) and I can’t seem to find a way to not keep wanting to swim to the ghost ship even though my brain knows it’s not really there and also, I’d drown because I’m a terrible swimmer! My current strategy is to muffle the feelings by being a workaholic but it’s not a great way to live. I try to talk myself into seeing the good things but I know my true heart and those good things ring hollow. How do you get from “it’s just not ok” to true acceptance?

  104. Rachel says...

    Four years ago, my husband lost his job and I had no idea how to process all my emotions while supporting him, so I was anxious all the time and took it out on him. Well, three weeks ago, my husband quit his job to work on his start-up. I only feel 10% of the stress compared to last time, and I am way more supportive and encouraging to him. So much of marriage has been learning how to deal generously with another adult’s emotions, and I am amazed at times when I handle things like a mature adult instead of losing my cool.

    • Lisa says...

      Ah, yes – dealing generously with another adults emotions! Love this, and 100% believe that’s the secret to happy relationships. Be generous and learn to let things go.

    • Janet says...

      This: “So much of marriage has been learning how to deal generously with another adult’s emotions…”

      Thank you for articulating why I’m finding this season so tricky! Gosh I love the CoJ comments.

  105. Roxana says...

    Things I never thought I’d do:
    -Marry the man I actively disliked for almost a decade. Haha! He is THE BEST.
    -Live in a small condo with three kids. Always envisioned a nice house and a nice car. Oh well!
    -Mostly a SAHM who home schools.
    -Special needs mom.
    -Love to cook!
    -REALLY want Botox.

    • t says...

      I love botox. Do it. it is preventative and amazing. but also expensive and needs repeat visits (after time though not as many are required).

  106. Natalie says...

    I think what has surprised me are the two extremes of having children! Some days they bring me sooo much joy! And other days just utter exhaustion and frustration.! In one day, they can bring you to tears and a minute later you could be laughing with them on the floor .
    I also didn’t know that I would grow up to have a career in the insurance field. I am successful in it but it doesn’t provide me much joy at all. I am considering what else I could be doing instead. One day I am hoping I can stay at home with my children .

    • t says...

      Yes. so many people get uncomfortable when I say that parenting is simultaneously the most miserable and the most joyful thing i have ever done.

    • Natalie says...

      T , yes! In one day , you can feel like a superwoman and that you are winning at life and the next minute a total failure as a parent!

    • Sandra says...

      So true! I always tell my husband that our son (8) is my biggest joy and biggest challenge.

  107. Denise says...

    This is timely. Recently I was chatting with my girlfriends about all the solid proclamations we used to make: “I’ll never….” and sure enough, as soon as the firm position is taken you can count on that cropping up in the future to varying results. Now we’re saying, “I never thought I would, but ….”

  108. Tabby says...

    I am about to marry and start a family with the WOMAN of my dreams, my best friend, the love of my life. We’ve been together 5 years, met just as our 20s were ending. I had never been attracted to a woman before, and had you told 5-years-ago me that in two weeks you will meet the woman you’ll marry, you couldn’t have paid me to believe you. But within weeks of meeting her I knew for absolute certain that she was it. It was quite the transformative year. My 22-year-old self would laugh at the irony as she spent her time chasing those dopey skater boys all around campus.

    This is a curveball I did not see coming, but that I felt able to embrace it has enriched my life in ways I never expected.

    Except picking a sperm donor, that’s a hard one to call ‘enriching’, interesting maybe, but definitely not fun. Weren’t they working on same-sex reproduction?! Is that ready yet? :)

    • t says...

      I am sorry you feel that way about selecting a sperm donor. Although it was very challenging in terms of availability and consensus, my wife and I felt very lucky that we got to select several characteristics/qualities in a sperm donor that you often don’t have control over when you are in a hetero relationship (for example, my best friend has to come to terms with the fact that there are big mental health issues in her partner’s family because she is emotionally tied/in love with him). Also I am short so we picked a tall donor. To us we felt very fortunate!

    • Tabby says...

      I had meant that comment to be on the jokey side, but the underlying sentiment is that I have been struggling with it. But you know what, I hadn’t considered those benefits and you’re absolutely right, we are lucky to be able to pick what could be considered the ‘best’ possible characteristics for our future child, thank you for pointing that out!

  109. Ann says...

    This is such an insightful and wise post! I’m in the middle of struggling with this now. I feel like such a decisive person and I feel like the decisions (both internal and external) that I’ve made really define me. But life seems to be continually trying to teach me the lesson that you can’t control everything (or, heck, anything!), and that I should remain open to possibilities and the unforeseen instead of clamping down on what I thought was right. In everything: work, family, where I live, love, friendship. In fact, my goal for the year for myself is “Remain Open.” Thanks for the great writing!

  110. Amanda says...

    When I graduated college and broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years, all I wanted was to get out of Ohio and do exotic things; I expected to be single and definitely child-free forever. Now I’m back in Ohio- with a goofy husband, a toddler that walks around with my heart, a suburban house, a 9-5 job, even the stereo-typical book club- and I wouldn’t want anything different. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, or that I settled, because I spent time getting to know myself and doing ALL the THINGS between 22-29. That allowed me to realize who I am and what truly makes me happy.

  111. Lauren says...

    This is so hopeful to me, as I’m currently the year-ago version of you: “Just one year ago, I did not yet know this person. Moreover, I was in a place where I feared I never would. If one-year-ago-me could behold this scene, she would surely laugh. She would also be pleased to see how much can happen in a year — that one can go from not knowing someone to not being able to picture life without them. ”

    What has surprised me in life is often myself. Maybe my resilience, mostly. My younger sister died unexpectedly over four years ago, and that has been the biggest surprise turn my life, and the lives of the people I love the most, has taken. The unfolding of life after that loss continues to surprise. I often find myself wondering how our lives turned out this way.

    I’ve also changed…things that I once saw as black & white I generally now see as more complex and nuanced than that.

    • Anne says...

      This is so beautiful. My best friend’s younger brother died a few years ago when he was in his mid-20s. None of us has been the same since, especially my friend and her parents but also our broader community. It’s definitely been a shift from black & white to complex and nuanced, as you said. Thank you for articulating that so well.

    • J. says...

      I’m so sorry and so sad for your loss Lauren. I cannot begin to imagine how horrible that must have been and continue to be every day. I’m so impressed by the calm and grace of your comment and from what I can sense is a how-could-this-possibly-still-exist-but-somehow-it-does love for the beauty of life, which shines through somehow in your words. Sending you a big hug and all kinds of love xx.

    • C says...

      I too lost a younger sister – 17 years ago now, but it remains the biggest surprise of my life. That it could happen. That it is my story. That I am living my life without her. It just wasn’t meant to be like this and I often wonder how decisions that we’ve made since are influenced by her death. We emigrated from a country that we love, but which has significant problems, and I don’t think that I would have allowed that to happen if my sister was still there. I have so many regrets about the person that I am since her death – scared, a worrier. I’d like to go back to how things were before.

  112. Kate says...

    Early this year I realized I no longer “hold these truths self evident” – ‘these truths’ being so many things I used to always think I should do or believe or ways to act. I’ve fallen into a pit of questioning and wonderment and openness and it can be freeing but debilitating at the same time. There’s so much left to learn and I have so much to grow. I feel befuddled and bereft but content and terrified and sure in myself. It’s all very confusing.

    • AM says...

      I felt so bad about missing a professional opportunity and not taking that risk in my mid-20s. I really regretted that choice for a while…

      Passing up “Work Option A” led me to Work Option B…
      Not as ideal as A but not so bad either in itself

      But Work Option B is where I met my now husband…

      And the funny thing is he became such a source of support and love for me and he encouraged me so much that now I have the drive and courage to go back to pursuing Work Option A:)

      So on the end I feel I got the best of both worlds- a beautiful love story and life partner, and also the chance at having the fulfilling career I always wanted

  113. ale n. says...

    i grew up convinced of the fact that i did not want to get married (fine with just a committed relationship without the paperwork), or have children. i’d live in austin tx because i moved there after growing up in dallas, and just loved it so much, i knew i’d stay forever. and i would be in a job that had to do with travel, that much was for sure.
    i’m writing this as a wife of 8 years, a mother of two children, living in cleveland and from my desk where i am an instructional designer. who knew that i would love every. single. bit. of this unexpected stuff? i can’t imagine not being married to my infuriating and wonderful husband ;), not getting to mother my loud and wild 4 year old or my calm and beautiful 6 month old. i can’t imagine living anywhere but cleveland now – yes, for real. we love it SO MUCH. and, my job?! i actually adore my job!!! what on earth IS life, even?!

  114. Sule says...

    After years of grinding away at a career I loved in NYC, I now live in the south, am a stay at home wife/mom, and sell vintage home decor on the side! Total 180 and never would have seen myself here, but I’m happy and enjoy it so much. On the flip side- by the time I turned 35, I had lost both my parents. The young me never expected my children to not know their grandparents. Life is full of happy and not so happy twists and turns. Enjoy the ride.

  115. Abbe says...

    What a great question! In my teens I thought I would spend my life as a globe trotting journalist, never living in one place for more than a few months at a time. Fast forward ten years, and I could not imagine such a thing. After 18 months living the ex-pat lifestyle, I realized it was just not for me and that I’d never feel “rooted” the way I wanted to be. Also, I’m not cut out to be a journalist! I love writing but I hate deadlines, and I SUCK at interviewing people. :) Even though that childhood dream didn’t turn out, I love my life now — it is better than I ever could have imagined and I am so grateful for the things that have come my way.

  116. Kathryn says...

    Senior year in high school I wrote a letter to myself with all of my grand plans. Fast forward 20 years, and the teacher who had been holding them arranged for their arrival at a high school reunion. While my life has not been as grand as my plans dictated (I am sure the letter would make a great Mortified reading including fame, fortune, and an English boyfriend), it is so much richer and deeper than I could have imagined. Tossing the letter in the recycling bin was a wonderful act of acknowledging that it is not what you do, but the connections you nurture, the love you build, and what you fight for, that brings a deeper existence.

    • Andrea says...

      Not as grand, but so much richer and deeper. You’re resonating hard with me. ❤️

  117. Jess says...

    Life has kicked my ass in more ways than I care to count this past year. 2018 was a year of loss for me. I had to put my dog down of 14 years, I had a miscarriage and I lost my sister to brain cancer. 2019 is turning out to be on of unexpected joys. I found out last week that I am pregnant! It’s early but I am hopeful and excited and taking this as life’s way of throwing me a win!

    • Meredith says...

      Condolences on your losses and congratulations on your pregnancy! <3

    • KL says...

      “Funny” how life can be so polar opposite so quickly sometimes, huh? Wishing lots of health for you and your babe, and lots of good and funny memories of your sister.

    • Julie says...

      All the best to you and your baby!

  118. n says...

    Oh, Caroline, I adore your writing so much.

    Everything in my adult life has surprised me. I used to say I did not believe in soulmates. A decade ago I met someone a decade older than me through work and I pined for him, thinking we would never be. We’re now married with children. I work at a place that inspired my career shift/trajectory after college. Most surprising is that I have ended up the breadwinner in my family after my husband lost his job a couple of years ago. It’s been extremely challenging, to say the least. I never imagined myself in this position, worrying about bills, health insurance, and student loans *constantly.* At the same time, I never imagined being so wildly in love with my husband and children. I look at them and I’m beside myself. Things are so tough now financially (and mentally/emotionally sometimes), but I have won the effing life lotto with my three soulmates.

    A wise lady named Dolly Parton once said, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” Just waiting for the end of this two-year storm for our rainbow.

    • A says...

      🌈✨ I love this, loved hearing your story.

  119. S. says...

    Life threw a major curveball when my 30-year-old husband got really sick. And stayed sick for years. But the real surprise was how it both bonded us and completely changed the dynamic of our relationship— for the better. And I could have never imagined being so grateful just to wake up in a home where everyone is now healthy and joyful.

  120. Nikki P says...

    Love this post, because its wonderful that we can surprise ourselves. I was terrified of having kids and for a long time thought I wouldn’t have any. I also really love my work and feel it is important. Fast forward to life currently with a four month old and what has surprised me is not how real sleep deprivation is (IT’S REAL) but how so very much I love being a mother to our little guy; its been the happiest I’ve ever been and I feel I have lived a very full and adventurous life up to now… who even am I?

    • nora says...

      omg sleep deprivation is so real. i have a five year old and a one year old and have experienced levels of exhaustion i didn’t know existed. at the same time, i’m loving two humans at a level i didn’t know existed. so tired / so happy.

    • Julie says...

      Your post was really nice to read today. I’m back where you were… still terrified. We are discussing having getting pregnant soon and while most women around me have always been dying to have kids, I am very hesitant. It’s nice to hear that you were in the same boat and it worked out alright!

  121. Sarah says...

    The title of your incredibly well-written essay reminded me of an essay / poem I just came across in Lori Gottlieb’s new novel, “Maybe you Should Talk to Someone”. I’m not sure if you meant the Holland reference, but I think it’s a very suitable title. Here is the poem:

    Welcome to Holland
    by Emily Perl Kingsley

    I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

    When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

    After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

    “Holland?!” you say. “What do you mean, Holland?” I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.

    But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

    The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

    So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

    It’s just a different place. It’s slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts.

    But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

    The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss.

    But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland.

    • Tricia says...

      This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

    • Susie says...

      This is beautiful, thank you for sharing x

    • Roxana says...

      As the mama of a Holland Tour Guide ;), thank you for sharing this.

    • M says...

      This is so profound and so true. Many of us will never make it to ‘Italy’ and others will never fully understand our journeys or our destinations. There’s a beauty to be found in other unexplored places and experiences even if they’re on a less-travelled or more difficult path, taking you away from people you were once close to and dreams you may once have had. Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah.
      PS- I lived in Italy for a while IRL; even Italy isn’t ‘Italy’ ;-)

    • A says...

      What a gorgeous poem.

    • Abesha1 says...

      What bothers me about this analogy is that both Holland and Italy are privileged: free, safe, healthy. What if you end up in Yemen? Or Guatemala? Both of those places will certainly also have things to offer… but neither is a place a lot of people want to be.

      Sometimes your life journey takes you somewhere you truly don’t want to go, and it’s all right to say so.

    • Roxana says...

      Abesha1, this poem was written by a woman whose son was born with Down syndrome. It’s just an analogy. For parents with a child who has a disability, the poem highlights how life can take you where you weren’t planning to go. You were expecting one thing (a typical child) and got another (a child with a disability). I do see your point, but I think it’s helpful to know the background for the sentiments expressed in the poem.

    • Carissa says...

      Wow. Needed this. Cannot thank you enough, Caroline and Sarah! So incredibly touching and beautiful.

    • SN says...

      I’m pregnant with our first, and it looks like my flight is being re-routed to Holland based on genetic testing. I was scared when the flight changed course, but with weeks left — I truly can’t wait to land…

      Thanks for sharing this.

    • Lisa C. says...

      While I like the sentiment in the poem, it is hard to use those countries as examples both highly developed, stable government, and likely access to mental and physical healthcare. When you have experienced still birth or the death of a newly born (expected to be healthy) infant — where life takes you may never be filled with the stunning views/color/adventure that you had once envisioned. The profound change it causes you and your family you may never grown to like or appreciate. And that is perfectly okay — but with time you will learn to appreciate the every day beauty of a different (not necessarily wonderful or inspiring) life that may not include any living children. You will get “there” by continuing to get up, to attempt, to somewhat believe there is or could be more in store for you . You will feel just at tiny bit sure that even this very painful time period, in the future that might feel slightly less painful. Staring that uncertainty clear in the face, you will start to move (much changed) again on the unexpected path for your life. Incrementally realizing that life is worth still trying to live well — even if all you can do today is get up mustering all your “try”. It make take more than a year or 10 years or 50 years….but still trying has its own beauty. It is less about the country you arrive in — but how you have adapted to and chosen how you will live, cry, pray, play, enjoy and love in it.

    • Roxana says...

      SN, congratulations!!! I cried and grieved when we found out we were going to Holland (at birth), but 2 1/2 years into it I can confidently say it has been the best adventure I never knew I wanted and needed. The unknown is scary, but I would not change a single thing. Welcome to #theluckyfew :).

    • The Immigrant Girl says...

      Beautiful poem!

      @Abesha1, underrepresented people (I.e., disabled) also exist in places deemed as “privileged”.All around the world people are trying to do their best with what they have, and different cultures define privilege in different ways. We need to stop using the word privilege as an excuse to create a barrier. Guatemala is privileged in other ways. I would encourage you to visit and experience its beauty for yourself. There is so much more to Guatemala or Italy or Holland than the stereotypes people in the United States have been made to believe.

  122. Stef says...

    One year ago I was ending a lonely relationship with a man I did not want to marry or have children with. I don’t have children and I’ve never been married. On June 21 (three weeks!), my boyfriend/the love of my life and his two toddler girls will be moving in to my house. There is a baby gate installed on my stairs and a children’s picnic table in my backyard. This isn’t something I could have ever imagined for myself or my life one year ago.

    • A says...

      Wow! Life can move so quickly when we decide to leave behind what isn’t for us. So happy for you!

  123. Susie says...

    I never knew I would be so ill. My illness has brought with it so much sadness and pain and on bad days I wonder how I’ll get through it, or if I even want to. However, I’ve experienced friendship, love and care so deep that it has been the most profound thing I’ve ever known. It’s an unexpected life that I wouldn’t wish on anyone but I’m glad to know what such care feels like.

    • t says...

      i am sorry you are suffering susie. sending you thoughts of hope and peace and continued friendship, love and care.

    • Roxana says...

      Susie, I am sorry you are ill and struggle with pain and sadness. Ill health is not something any of us would ever want or envision for ourselves.

      Praying that you’ll experience the love and care of those around you in an even deeper way, and that you would experience healing. Sending love your way. . .

    • L8Blmr says...

      Susie…I’ve been where you are and alas, I have no magic words. Let me just say that, if you can, take one day at a time – possibly one hour or moment at a time. Never give up dreaming about the future, but for practical purposes, acknowledge even the slightest “win” when it happens and don’t think beyond that moment. For me, it was just making it down my very short hallway and back without having to stop to rest, or being able to eat a piece of plain toast within 30m that didn’t make me want to hurl. Most of my memories bring the pain right back, but the one I will cherish forever, is the sound of laughter coming from the living room full of people who where there to either give me love or help. It’s better than any medicine. I’m thankfully on the other side of my illness now, but will be dealing with it for the rest of my life and am still grateful for the smallest win. My heart goes out to you and I wish you strength and that one day, you are able to reply similarly to another person’s post.

  124. Sarah Hindle says...

    And now I’m crying at my desk. Beautiful.

  125. Katrina says...

    Over the past year, my life has become different than the one I imagined for myself, and honestly, I struggle with it daily:

    I swore I’d never move back to the place I live now; I have been back for a year. I still don’t love it.
    I wasn’t sure I’d ever get married; many days, I think it is the best decision I ever made. Some days, I still day dream about the single life I envisioned for myself.
    I told myself I’d never follow my husband’s career; but I did. To be fair, I do have a good job that allows me to work remotely (since his job requires us to live in a place with very limited professional job prospects), but it’s not in the field I pictured for myself. I am resentful that I’ve had to sacrifice.

    I wish I had the ability to simply accept the path my life is on because I am extremely fortunate in many ways, but I am not there yet. I want to be Caroline, happily sleeping in the Holland Tunnel, but I am me, and each day I wake up wishing I were happy in the Holland Tunnel, but mostly yearning a different life. Any suggestions for changing my perspective?

    • Denise says...

      I struggle with this too. My only suggestion is to take real note of the tiny joys. Discontent breeds, but so does joy so if the bigger things rankle, then I find it helpful to practice noticing the tiny joys in an amount bigger than the bigger things.

    • Jill says...

      No advise on changing your perspective, just advise on changing your life……
      If u can, absolutely do what u need and want. If it’s divorce, do it. If it’s job change, do it. Pack up and do it if u can.
      U said u r resentful. Resentfulness only grows as the years pass. Then u wake up one day realizing its too late.
      I know.

    • Allie says...

      This is me too.!

  126. Amy says...

    I swore up and down through my teens and 20s that I’d never, ever live with a guy until we were engaged. Then I met my boyfriend (and told him this same thing…only to backtrack a year later!) I realized there was no rush in getting engaged and paying for a wedding, but boy did I want to live with him! We’re going on two years living together and I’m so glad I moved in. I think setting rules for yourself can be useful, but it’s good to give yourself flexibility sometimes!

  127. Anu says...

    My life has turned out nothing like I expected. I thought by now I’d be a professor, having got my PhD from an Ivy League institution, but was always worried about not finding someone I liked enough to marry and have a kid with. I was fully prepared to remain single.

    As it turned out, I didn’t get the PhD (got a Masters instead), but met my husband in grad school. He is absolutely amazing, from an entirely different country from my home country (he’s from Belarus, I’m from India, we met in the US). We still sometimes are shocked at the way life brought us together. It was a whole bunch of random chances, from our individual decisions to go to that particular grad school, my going to a club meeting that he organized. In most universes, I have to imagine, we never got together. I now have a job and career that I love, my loving husband and the most amazing toddler together. Life has been full of surprises and I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.

  128. Kelley says...

    Three years ago I was happily living an “instagram perfect” life in Los Angeles that included 10am wake ups and many days spent at the beach. Then one day my dad died on his way home from work and a few weeks later I found out I was pregnant with twins who were born prematurely 8 months later. As they get ready to turn two next month I can’t help but think about all the crazy changes that have happened since they were conceived. A move back home across the country, buying our first house, a reorganization of our business and toddlers who definitely wake up earlier than 10! Just goes to show you, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s good to remember that sometimes the best turns come out of the worst circumstances.

  129. Kate says...

    OMG the sleeping thing! How do you do it??

    When I was little, I used to go to bed every night pretending to be a princess. Princesses sleep perfectly straight in their beds, and when they wake up everything is perfect: hair, bed coverage, etc.

    Needles to say, I never once woke up like that. To this day, there is usually drool coming out the side of my mouth, bed covers in total chaos, and usually a snoring dog at my feet.

  130. Grace says...

    As a kid and teenager I always thought I would live in a big city. I was obsessed with San Francisco. I still love to visit cities now, but in my day to day life I crave a slower lifestyle and being in nature. Now I live in a mountain community of 30,000 and it agrees with me.

    I’m also surprised by my lack of career ambitions. Maybe I haven’t found my true passion yet, but I just don’t want to work that much. I’m content with working hard at my current position, but I don’t feel the need to be promoted and take on more responsibility. My priority right now is traveling as much as possible, taking care of my mental/physical health and working on relationships.

    • Oh, wow… did I type this?!! This sums up my feelings 100%.

    • M says...

      “I just don’t want to work that much.” Grace, I love how you’re owning this; it feels like a radical statement in 2019! Your priorities are SO right! Here’s to lives that agree with us, however they may look.

    • E says...

      Yes! I really resonate with what you shared about career ambitions. I feel like I’m supposed to “want more” but I’m totally content in my flexible office job. It is low stress and I leave at 3p to pick up my son from school. I enjoy putting my energy towards planning vacations, going on little adventures with my husband and son, and trying new recipes.

    • Grace says...

      Thanks for the comments Cindy and M. It’s nice to know that other women resonate with this. I have many people in my life that support my desire to work less (I negotiated with my current employer to work a 32 hour week), but society as a whole still puts this huge emphasis on constant achievement and being “busy” as the only path to success.

    • Grace says...

      E: That flexible schedule and leaving at 3pm sounds perfect for your life goals. I also feel like I should be striving or wanting more, but at the end of the day I don’t. Keep doing what works for you!

    • C says...

      Grace — I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one. On the outside I’m ambitious and working towards promotion, but really I’d like to stay home more. I’d like to sew, pick the kids up from school, volunteer at the school canteen and have time to appreciate being in my home (that I don’t actually own). Our time in life doesn’t allow this at the moment – my husband gets to (unhappily) live this life. Maybe in the future???

  131. Katie says...

    Caroline, first, your essays are fabulous. They’re relatable because they’re true, and you speak to the simple things in life that we often overlook. Thank you for bringing them back to our attention. I looked for my not-so-stranger on my commute this morning and then daydreamed about reading Cup of Jo’s list of articles to be written. (I really did.)

    Next, this is best part about life! The unexpected twists and turns! Just one week ago I didn’t know that I was going to have to move to a new house, and yesterday I found one that’s somehow even more charming than my current space. It’s hard to trust that you will get past whatever plot twist life has offered you…but you do! And it’s often those little (or big!) surprises that make life so sweet.

  132. Almost ALL of my favorite parts of my life are things I NEVER would have predicted! Meeting my now-husband while in Morocco, opening a hotel in the *country* (the born and bred Brooklynite still in me still laughs that I could be so happy out here!), even winding up a dog owner just like you. It’s something I try to keep in mind when thinking about the future– to remind myself that it’s important to be purposeful and to have a goal you’re working towards, but to remember that the exact expression of that goal IS ALMOST CERTAINLY GOING TO CHANGE because of something/someone you can’t predict right now. And that THAT is the exciting part!

  133. Julie says...

    Honestly, I never thought that at 39 I would care so little about feeling like a career woman. I have a good job in publishing, which I enjoy, but I realized a few years ago that my work is not my life and that’s ok. My focus is my husband and my family and my friends, and the little joys in life that keep me sane. LIKE HOT PRIEST IN FLEABAG, FOR REAL, SOMEONE STOP ME FROM OBSESSING OVER THAT SHOW.

    • Tis says...

      OMG I YOUTUBED HIM LAST NIGHT. I watched clipped-together scenes of him kissing people. I have never done something so ludicrous in my entire life.

    • Anita says...

      Hot Priest brings me so much joy too, Julie! SO sad that that show will never come back but have started to rewatch Season 1 (and will, of course, rewatch Season 2) and it’s just as delightful as it was the first time!!

    • Julie says...

      If it makes you happy, it’s not ludicrous. YouTube til you can’t YouTube no more!

      I’m going to rewatch it all in a week or so. Hopefully with my husband, I think he’ll like the show, he LOVES Killing Eve.

    • Emily says...

      We could be sisters. I’m also 39 and in publishing with a decent job that I enjoy, but I too have realized that my work is not my life. Thank goodness! After all the stressing and obsessing over work in my 20s and early 30s, what really matters is my husband and daughter and our family and friends. And in our case, our nightly binge of “Parks and Rec” on Netflix (my husband could be Ben Wyatt’s brother–is it weird that a TV character makes me crush a bit more on my spouse?!).

  134. Marci says...

    yep, SO SO TRUE. My younger self thought I’d be so cosmopolitan and career focused. Not a MOTHER OF THREE. I guess I still have the career, but more and more often I choose family over career. I know my younger self would be aghast.

  135. Jenna Brown says...

    Once again, Caroline, you stop me in my tracks and made me think.

  136. Kat says...

    My totally-unforeseen life shift has been this: I grew up in northern arizona (as foreshadowing, no bodies of water), played volleyball in high school and college, but was never a standout by any means. After college I studied in Cambridge, UK for a year, and gave rowing a try. Fast forward just a few years, now I train twice a day (former self: what?!) with the goal of being competitive at the elite level. I love rowing so much, the feel of gliding across smooth water like a dragon flapping my wings, and can’t imagine what life was like without it, its such a part of me. Here’s to finding unexpected talents and joys!

  137. Eve says...

    Marrying the man I secretly pined for, becoming a Californian, and wearing skinny jeans

    • Roxana says...

      Haha! I never thought I’d wear skinny jeans, either :).

    • Erika says...

      Haha – yes, skinny jeans!

    • Amanda says...

      Oh geez yeah I remember insisting in 2007 that I would never, ever wear skinny jeans. That’s literally all I own except like one pair of boyfriend jeans.

      I also insisted that Facebook would never replace Myspace so I have a bad track record with this kind of thing.

  138. Wonderful! My life has been nothing but unexpected. A few years ago I was in a terrible marriage, now I am remarried and we have beautiful baby girl.

  139. Meredith says...

    This post speaks to me. It’s fun to occasionally look at e-mails a friend and I sent each other 5-10 years ago and contemplate how life has changed. I also like to look at things I wrote shortly before the major event occurred—my frustration with not getting pregnant the month before I did. We’re constantly evolving and life is long.

  140. Dee says...

    Ha, great post! If someone told me a couple of years ago that I would spot for the first time, some random British punk rocker’s photo online and as a result, discover his band is still around, and become such a fan that I would not only brave a mosh pit twice, but also travel from Houston to London for their gigs— I’d say there’s NO WAY in Hell, and yet it happened, it was perfect, and it changed my life! I also thought I’d only live in Houston for a year or two, but it’s been decades and I’m still here. As John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

  141. Absolutely love this. It’s so true how quickly life changes (for better or worse). Keep the surprises coming.

  142. Mari says...

    Oh, that’s such a good piece. Life told me, literally two hours ago, that I’m moving do Paris. I still can’t believe it, but yeah. I hope I’ll enjoy this particular dish hahaha And my husband always swore he couldn’t sleep touching another human being. Some years of marriage later, and now he only sleeps if he’s touching me somehow. Most nights he hugs me into his chest, like I’m a human sized pillow.

  143. Mouse says...

    Hated cats, loved dogs obsessively, until I fell in love with a cat and it was all downhill from there. Now I find myself strangely reluctant to get a dog, as my husband wants to do…..

    But more seriously, I was a performing artist for 30 years, plus many more years of training. I had always assumed that I would die a little when I wasn’t able to perform anymore, and I wasn’t sure what life would be like without that intense focus on making art. I was so happily surprised–and so were my closest friends–when I easily gave it up and didn’t miss it. I’m 59 now: teaching, have a house, a husband, a life, and yes, a cat, and I have never been happier. Go figure. All things have their natural duration and all things must change…..

  144. Jess says...

    COJ posts never cease to amaze me by always coming in RIGHT when I need them to.

    A year ago I was engaged to a man I had spent years with but wasn’t in love with. Today, I am living happily alone with my dog, and in love with the man I hope to marry one day.

    Love this Hunter S. Thompson Quote:

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

    • Ann says...

      That quote just made my day. Thanks for sharing!

  145. Lauren E. says...

    What a fantastic article.

    The thing that continues to surprise me (and sorry in advance for gushing) is the love I have for my husband. I barely ever liked a guy enough to go on a second date and now I’m married to someone (almost 3 years married, almost 10 years together) that I love more and more every day. Sometimes I look at him and say, “I cannot BELIEVE how much I still like you!”

    • Mari says...

      That’s so sweet!

    • CC says...

      Lauren, I think this too of my husband! I thought he was fun to hang out with but definitely not dateable, he was not going to be my boyfriend, I was not going to tell people we had gone out to dinner. Nope, not happening. Now we’ve been married almost 5 years and I constantly think how lucky I am to be with him, and that he is way too cool/handsome/amazing to be saddled with me! I just love being with him :)

  146. Becky says...

    Ten years ago at 24 I’d never thought I would get married. But here I am and I love it because I love him! I never had any good example of marriage as a kid so i was very put off by it. Now a little older and a little wiser at 34, I see that if you settle or pick the wrong person that is where misery is born.

    I never thought I would want to work for myself and I constantly feel the wheels moving in my mind towards that direction. I always wanted a stable job, still do, but I crave creativity in my life and not just as a hobby. And not creativity under someone else’s terms.

    I also never thought I would be a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fan. Seen every season. Tuesday those ladies take priority in the 9pm hour!

  147. I’m living in GERMANY (WTF!) says the girl who only made it through her foreign language classes in college by dating the tutor. My weakest trait (how to make my tongue do unnatural things it wasn’t meant to do) became my daily horror/adventure.

    • Grace says...

      This is a dream of mine too, but I definitely relate to you calling it your daily horror/adventure. Good for you!

  148. Katie says...

    I love this and relate so much. I told my parents I NEVER wanted a ford focus, I thought they were so ugly when I was younger. This ended up being the first car I got on my own. There was one Member of Congress I said I didn’t like and wouldn’t ever work for…I ended up working for him, loved every second, and miss him dearly. Growing up with dogs, hating cats, I have definitely said before “I am NOT a cat person.” Now own the most adorable rescue cat. Life is all sorts of weird, and I am so grateful I’ve been wrong. I’m sure I’ll be wrong many more times.

  149. Kristen says...

    Beautifully written Caroline. And I’ll be saving that Lemony Snicket quote!

  150. One year ago this Friday our lives got turned upside down with one late evening phone call containing a job offer we never expected to get. The next three months were spent selling a house, buying a house, finding myself a new job and moving our family across the state to a place we’d only visited once. It’s been really hard and each season I tentatively predict, “NOW it will feel better. We’ll feel more settled because it’s fall or or the holidays are over or it’s almost summer” but so far that hasn’t been the case. I’m fighting off some guilt and tension in hitting the ‘one year’ mark here and not having it all figured out. I appreciate your post because it’s a great reminder that there’s beauty in the unexpected and the unpredictable.

    • Kate says...

      Usually it takes at least two years to feel at all settled so be kind to yourself! The second year is easier because you have done most things at least once before in the new place, and you start to be able to be selective about what you do and where you go! The first two years you accept every invitation because you are trying to find your peeps! I can’t tell if you are a Mom in your posts, but if you are I bet you are feeling less settled than your partner and your children because you have been working so hard to support everybody else! Year two is the year to make your adjustment the priority seek out activities you enjoy and make an effort to find your own friends ! It gets better!

    • Sarah says...

      I’m a gardener by profession, and when we transplant something, the mantra is: sleep, creep and leap. Year one is recuperation, year two, roots set in and begin to grow (I call it finding their feet). Year three, the plant will be healthy, rooted and look terrific! Gardens take a lot of patience and care to grow, lives doubly so! Sounds like you’re right on schedule. Sending hugs!

    • Alison says...

      Those are such kind words. thank you both. Will be keeping them in mind.