Lynnette and I got married 8 years ago today. So obviously, this:
No matter how awkward you are, you’ll probably never be as misunderstood as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Many view the fork in Frost’s famous poem as a metaphor for making a difficult decision. In the end, the speaker chooses the less conventional of the two routes, a decision that has supposedly “made all the difference.” The poem is a metaphor for decision-making, but it has nothing to do with the “right” or “non-traditional” choice. The poem is about how shitty it is to have to make choices at all. Making choices is the death of options. Frost wrote it in the title.
The speaker feels regret because what he really wants is to be able to travel both paths, but knows he can’t. While the last stanza of the poem has always intimated that there was some kind of fundamental difference between the two paths, this is not so:
…though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same, and both (paths) that morning equally lay in leaves no step had trodden black.
The paths are essentially the same. He does not want to choose because opting for one precludes the traveling of the other. This is the speaker’s true dilemma: he wants it both ways. In the present, he doesn’t know where either path will lead him, but knows in the future he can only experience one. That’s how he gets to the last stanza.
He already knows what’s going to happen in the future. Years from now, he’ll romanticize this decision and retroactively claim that it was absolutely critical when the truth is his decision-making process was terribly primitive. He’ll never truly know if his choice “made all the difference” because he’ll only have knowledge of the single path he chose (and all the subsequent ones). That’s how choices work: way leads on to way. There will be no chance for comparison: that’s the alternate universe everyone talks about. That’s the road not taken.
You’re in the woods, there’s fork in the road. You have to choose if you want to get out of the woods eventually, to take a bath, to eat, not get eaten by a bear, etc. In Frost’s scenario, the options are basically the same which means your decision is more or less arbitrary; you’re making a call based on the available information, then hoping for the best. No one wants to be wrong. We all want to look back and feel and say and tell others (but mostly ourselves) that we absolutely nailed all the key decisions in our lives, that we knew exactly what we were doing. But that’s why the sigh in the last stanza. That’s what he’ll tell everyone, only he’ll be lying.
Because I am the type of person for whom hypothetical situations are often much more fascinating than reality, I can relate to Frost’s wanderer. What If? was always one of my favorite games. What if I had married my college girlfriend? What if Lynnette and I broke up? I wasn’t necessarily wishing for a different life, I just wanted to know what that different life would have been like.
Five minutes before I asked Lynnette to marry me, my body got jittery. My hands started to sweat. My mouth got dry. The same thing happened as I stood in the courtyard of the Halekulani when I saw our seated guests rise for Lynnette. It was the fear of commitment, the fear of having to choose and therefore exhaust all other options. I would know Lynnette and only Lynnette. I would know this life and only this life. It was the same fear Frost’s hiker felt as he stood at that fork in the road. But I got lucky. I didn’t have to decide which path to take. Instead, I chose who I was going to walk the rest of my paths with. If you are in love, or have a wonderful family or amazing friends, then you know what I mean. Sometimes, the where, how, and when doesn’t matter all that much if you’re traveling with people you love.
Happy Anniversary, Lynnette. We shall be telling this with smiles and laughter somewhere ages and ages hence: we had no idea what the hell we were doing, but we decided to do it together, and that has made all the difference.