Probably the most hurtful thing I’ve ever said to my husband was along the lines of “Maybe I would have made a different choice 10 years ago.”
I like to pride myself for not saying things I don’t mean when we are fighting, even in anger, so this comment didn’t stick out as being particularly awful when I said it. When I realized, analyzing the fight later, just what a shitty thing to say that was, my initial reaction was a knee-jerk apology; of course, I didn’t mean that! But then I wondered: was this a time when I forgot myself and said something untrue in anger, or was it yet another time when I did something worse – accidentally speak a terrible truth?
So I forced myself to consider it. Knowing everything that would happen between us, would I tell my college self to run, or to stay? At first I wasn’t sure; things were that rocky. But a lot of good happens in a relationship, and the more I thought the more I realized, no, I would not make a different choice, even in the midst of a rough patch. Even, perhaps, when everything is in splinters.
I read a memoir once (Kingbird Highway) in which the man wrote, about meeting his ex-wife while hitchhiking, that even if he could have looked down the tunnel of years to their divorce, he’d have gotten in the car with her anyway. Even if I don’t make it to 80 on the porch with my husband, I believe I will always answer the question the same way.
Re-watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind reminded me of that moment, and I realized – that is what it means to love someone: to choose them again anyway.
Joel’s answer to her is, “Okay.” Okay, I’ll take the chance that things will unravel the same way they did the first time. Okay, I’ll take the chance that I will come to regret this choice. Okay, I’ll take the chance that you will hurt me. Okay.
It’s the most beautiful scene in the film, to me. And it’s absolutely what it means to love someone – to choose them again, no matter what.