In high school, I stayed at home quite a lot, avoiding intense social situations where I might be asked to flirt, or be funny. Instead, I watched a boatload of television. You might say I’m the cautionary tale every modern mom fears (and look! I’m a contributing member of society now!) – I’d watch TV in the morning before school, then again when I came home.

Television was a fourth honorary member of our family, and one I grew to know pretty intimately over my eighteen years under my parents’ roof. But it’s not like my family didn’t spend time together; on Friday nights, my dad picked up a twelve pack of Taco Bell tacos on his way home from work and when my mom came home, we’d binge watch cable TV movies– classics like The Godfather series and Star Wars.

That’s how I discovered Sixteen Candles. It was the storyline I hoped to live out in high school, and Jake (the hot senior to Ringwald’s bumbling freshman) became my ultimate handsome prince. All through high school (and even beyond), my mom held out hope I’d “find my Jake,” my own personal Ken doll with looks, talent, and a sparkly personality. “Jake” became the ideal man, my soulmate, my destiny.

The problem is, destiny is a fickle beast. The glorious future we imagine for ourselves at eighteen often looks incredibly different from the actual future we find in our twenties and thirties. And that’s a good thing. You see, after all those years my mom and I gushed about finding my Jake, I actually found him. Like, for real. My junior year of college, I took on the role of Resident Assistant in a freshman dorm, and that’s where we met. He was funny, outgoing, upbeat, and my tummy did flips every time I saw him. And that name… it had to be fate.

Within months of meeting each other, we began dating. I felt so relieved! In an age where finding one’s soulmate is a murky proposition at best, and everybody is searching for cosmic signs and clear direction, mine fell into my lap just like that. There was no missing it, because his name made it crystal clear: we were meant to be. We were both only children, both fiercely independent, and we both wore contact lenses. I mean, couldn’t find a more fitting pair.

Which is why you’d be shocked to find us, just two years later, sitting in a parked car at the beach one evening, staring out at the water as the sun set, watching our relationship plummet into mass destruction. I’ve learned since then that romantic relationships require a specific, intentional guardianship against naysayers and negative influences, and I didn’t put up much of a fight for our partnership.

I was still very young and overly susceptible to caring far too much about what others thought of my relationship, rather than standing bravely by my own choices. But I also hadn’t “sowed my oats,” as they say. I’d lived a particularly sheltered life and I needed to know what it felt like to get sloshed on blueberry vodka and gin, and regurgitate Cheerios (that I didn’t recall consuming) in the bathroom at work. I needed to pay an entire paycheck’s worth of rent to live without roommates, subsisting on strawberries and crackers (or whatever my measly tip money could buy). Mostly, I needed to live into my prescribed “destiny,” and feel for myself that it doesn’t always live up to the long-awaited hype.

See, I don’t look back on that relationship with regret. I don’t sit here today wondering what might have been (although sometimes I do involuntarily dream I’m searching for Jake at a party, but that’s a topic for another day). I believe we’re free to make our own choices, and I made mine. I chose to marry a man not named Jake, move to Montana, and have 2.5 kids and a dog. Maybe I missed my Ultimate Happy Ending. I suppose I’ll never know for sure.

But regardless of where I was meant to be, or what I was meant to do, I’m sincerely happy with my life right now. I’ve come to believe there are a million possible lives we could live, with a million potential choices of jobs, mates, and locations. It doesn’t really matter which path we choose, because there isn’t necessarily a “wrong” door. Happiness and destiny aren’t things we magically find, as much as feelings we choose to cultivate. If I chose differently, I’m certain I’d have found happiness sitting somewhere on a beach with Jake. But I chose this partner, this location, and this life, and you know what? It’s a pretty good one.

Lauren Gonzalez

Lauren Gonzalez is a writer/philosopher hustling every day to survive the Montana elements, learn life's hard lessons the first time around, and make new friends along the way.