10 Truths I Wish I’d Known Sooner

Her friends and family tried to guide her. But it was only through years of rich experience that she grasped the realities of life.

Photo by Monica Buck

Occasionally, being better informed leads to better decisions. Mostly, though, I think we make choices based on who we are, not what we know. The lessons here are things that people who knew and loved me tried to tell me. So thank you to my relatives who scolded me in four languages, and to my high school English teacher who watched over me like Cupid with a Ph.D., and to my best friend, who taught me patience. These people did their best to make me smarter in the ways that count. If I had been willing and able to understand them, their words might have tilted me more (and sooner) in the right direction. If I could have, they might have. Or, as my father often said, if your grandmother had balls, she would be your grandfather.

1. Events reveal people’s characters; they don’t determine them. Not everyone with divorced parents has terrible relationships. If two people are hit by a bus and crippled for life, one will become a bitter shut-in; the other, the kind of warm, outgoing person (cheerful despite everything) whom everyone loves to be with. It’s not about the bus, and a dreadful childhood is no excuse. You have the chance to be the person you wish to be, until you die.

2. Lying, by omission or commission, is a bad idea. I cannot shake my dependency on the white lie, because I was brought up to be nice. And I’ve never figured out the nice way to say, “I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than come to your house for dinner.” But the meaningful lie, the kind that involves being untruthful or deceitful about important stuff to those you love, is like poison. Telling the truth hurts, but it doesn’t kill. Lying kills love.

3. Sex always give you an answer, although not necessarily the one you want. It’s possible to have very good sex, a few times, with a person who shouldn’t be in your life at all. Have fun, and hide your wallet and your BlackBerry. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that a grown man, however nice, will become much, much better in bed than he was the first five times you slept with him. And if you sleep with a man who is unkind to you, there will be more of that; long after the sex is humdrum, the cruelty will be vivid.