Yes, every guy has a mental list of what he should have done before getting married. Aaron Traister shares his with the world. By Aaron Traister, REDBOOK.
No man gets to everything on his single-life bucket list by the time he marries. So what's hanging around, causing pangs of regret? You're probably expecting me to say something about Hangover-inspired bachelor-party weekends in Vegas or fistfights with a circus clown, but the reality is--and I think many guys feel this way--I had my fair share of all-nighters, benders, strip clubs, and brawls. I spent my 20s, my single years, doing what I thought a guy in his 20s was supposed to do (see: strip clubs, benders, brawls)--not that I enjoyed it much. And if you're bracing yourself for a rundown of sex acts I missed out on, you can relax. That would be gross and creepy, and I'm deeper than that. Really, I am. Still, you might be surprised by my woulda-coulda-shoulda's, and by your guy's, too. Ask and he may tell you...
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"I wish I'd had a man-versus-nature experience." Every guy secretly wants to be the one who escapes from the urban zombie apocalypse and retreats to the harsh wilderness, where he survives on nothing more than his wits and biceps. I actually had the opportunity to go off-grid, and I didn't take advantage of it. My mom's family is from northern Maine, and we still have a farm there. Growing up, her neighbors were moose and bears; the bears lived at the dump. After I dropped out of college, I imagined selling all of my worldly possessions and moving up there to test my mettle with the garbage bears and the harsh realities of a Maine winter, but the number of women on the Canadian border versus the number of women in New York City kept me living guess-where longer than was probably good for me. After I met my now-wife, Karel, we realized that just trying to make it on the grid was hard enough. To this day, I'm convinced that if I had given it a shot up there for a few years, I would have discovered my inner Viking. I would have acquired a stoicism that I'm currently lacking, like when I freaked out the other night over my son's bloody nose. (In my own defense, it is sort of horrifying to wake up and see your kid with blood smeared all over his face.)
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"I wish I'd gotten smart about my money." When I was single, I basically managed my money like a drug dealer. No, I didn't sell drugs, but I strongly preferred cash and had no bank account; a nice person sitting behind two feet of bulletproof glass cashed my paychecks at a place around the corner from my apartment. I even kept my money stashed in different hiding spots around the house. I didn't run up huge credit card debt, but I also didn't establish any credit history, which meant that when it was time to buy a house, the mortgage company had trouble believing I existed. Had I learned to manage my money like a responsible person, it would have made buying our home a much easier process, and our first few lean years of marriage would've been less of a death-defying financial balancing act. The fallout? Karel has prematurely gray hair. The upside? My terror of credit cards (still!) means I never rack up a scary bill. Ever.
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"I wish I'd learned to take care of myself before I turned 25." I grew up with a mom who did all the cooking and cleaning. Consequently, I didn't know the difference between a washing machine and a dryer when I left her house. I went through life believing that no matter what the mess was, it would either clean itself or someone else would assume responsibility for it. Had I learned sooner that this is, in fact, magical thinking, I would have received fewer death threats from Karel over the years. The truth is, I'm a lot happier since she put her foot down and insisted that I do my share of the cooking and cleaning. I'm not dependent on her in the same way my dad is dependent on my mom. I can, for instance, make my own toast without setting something on fire or flying into a frustrated rage. Some people call them chores; I call them life skills.
"I wish I'd apprenticed with a contractor." I am proud of my aforementioned life skills, but I regret to say that at 34, I have no real, useful area of expertise. Sure, making a living as a writer is great. It's fun, and it has allowed me to stay at home raising the kids while Karel goes to work. But as a career, writing is about as impractical as you can get. If a ceiling fan shorts out, it's not like I can write an essay to fix it. If a toilet backs up and covers my bathroom floor in human waste, I can't read Whys Guy to make it stop. Had I spent those early single years learning general contracting, maybe I wouldn't be hemorrhaging money on troubleshooting my creaky house. I'd be a hero, the dad who saves our family $5K by replacing the kitchen floor myself. The man who can fix a leaky pipe without it taking two days, four trips to the hardware store, and 10,000 swear words. Look, I won't say my single days of drunken irresponsibility were a total wash, but I could have squeezed in some personal growth back then. Maybe that's why I feel so behind the curve now that I'm in my mid-30s. Maybe if my 21-year-old self had taken my future more seriously, my kids would regard me with awe, instead of the plumber who snaked a chunk of a Lego X-wing fighter from the toilet drain. Seriously, my kids don't look at me like that when a new issue of REDBOOK comes out.
REDBOOK columnist Aaron Traister lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two kids. Read his blog at redbookmag.com/whysguy.
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