Alternate Universes and Making Decisions


Ever since I was little, I have been obsessed with the idea of parallel universes. There’s this movie called “Sliding Doors,” I don’t know if you’ve seen it. (Heads up, this blog will contain heavy spoilers for the 1998 film “Sliding Doors,” so I guess click out if you don’t want that, but that movie is old enough to vote now so if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably weren’t going to, let’s just be honest here.) Anyway, the movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow and centers around the two diverging life paths a woman would have taken based on whether or not she makes it onto a subway train. In one life path, she gets home earlier, discovers that her boyfriend is cheating on her and breaks up with him and meets this great guy and gets this great job and then finds out she’s pregnant and then gets HIT BY A CAR AND DIES. And in the other version of her life, she doesn’t make it home early, never finds out her boyfriend was cheating on her and she stays with him and then her life kind of takes a horrible direction and she ends up working this crappy job and never meets that great guy and still gets pregnant and still gets hit by a car but doesn’t die and meets the great guy at the hospital but she loses her pregnancy in the accident. Which like, I think that second one is supposed to be better? But it’s still EXTREMELY TERRIBLE AND TRAUMATIC. But she doesn’t die, so I guess that’s technically preferable by a thin margin. Anyway, I saw this movie when I was very young and like many things that you watch when you are small and impressionable, it wormed its way into my consciousness and haunted me for like ten years. And after a decade’s worth of consideration, what I think is particularly horrifying is that Gwyneth had no way of knowing what could happen, no way of knowing the stakes. She doesn’t know that the whole course of her life depends upon this one subway train. She just tripped! Or didn’t! And it ruins her whole life! Or doesn’t! Fully at the mercy of the fates. It’s all very overwhelming when you’re fourteen and the whole world already feels like chaos and you just want some reassurance that there is some semblance of goodness and order to the world in general and your life in particular!

So ever since then, every time I am presented with a decision that could take me in one of two opposing directions, I am incapacitated with worry. Because look, I haven’t read the script to the end. I don’t know which plotline is which. No one sent me the final draft. How am I supposed to make decisions when no one will tell me which one leads to me getting pregnant and getting hit by a car? I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO GO ON HERE.

I think the weirdest thing about the whole idea of parallel universes is that it inevitably leads to this weird nostalgia for the life you don’t have but maybe you could have had if you’d gone to a different school or moved to a different city or never met a specific person or didn’t make it on that train. Would you have a different job? Would you have a different best friend? Would you be married or pregnant or already dead? Like, yeah, maybe, it’s entirely possible.

I don’t really have a solution to this vein of late night worry because I still get very nervous making decisions and frequently think about what Alternate Universe Kelly might be doing. Is she happier than me? Is she more successful than me? Has she figured out what to do about her eyebrows? And if all of that were true, would that make her happy?

I do find it strangely soothing, though, in a weird way, that both versions of Gwyneth Paltrow (not really Gwyneth, the character is named Helen, but you understand what I’m saying here) have absolutely terrible lives. Like yes, one of them is technically better insofar as she doesn’t literally die but that’s a pretty low bar for evaluating quality of life. So, I generally subscribe to the notion that if things are going to be terrible, they’re just going to be terrible no matter what, and if things are going to be okay, they’ll probably be okay no matter what. Life is chaos, you know? No sense trying to control it. Did that help at all?

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash