The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Decisions, decisions: Rethinking the choices we made long ago

Was there a time when you said no instead of yes, chose A instead of B, picked stay instead of go?
Was there a time when you said no instead of yes, chose A instead of B, picked stay instead of go? (iStock)
Placeholder while article actions load

You’ve probably heard the expression “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” What each of those words has in common is the unspoken sentiment that comes next: “But didn’t.”

Sometimes, we can’t help thinking, “I coulda. But didn’t. But what if I did?”

I recently asked readers to share examples of times they made a decision that they wonder about to this day, a time when they said no instead of yes, chose A instead of B, picked stay instead of go.

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you took the path not taken?

John Mansy was 28 when he began dating a woman he met on a cruise. She lived in Los Angeles and he lived in Alexandria, Va., so for the first year of their relationship, John racked up United Airlines mileage points flying coast to coast. Sometimes he entertained himself in L.A. by standing outside the studios of Twentieth Century Fox and watching as movie stars drove in.

“One day, I casually strolled past the guard, waved hello and strode confidently into the lot,” John wrote.

John found his way to the set of “M.A.S.H.,” which he visited for the next week, watching the TV series being filmed.

“One day, the director yelled in my direction asking me to fix a light,” he wrote. “I ’fessed up and, liking my moxie, and looks, he told me to report at 6 a.m. the following Saturday to a location in Malibu. I could be in the TV show as an extra!” It was the stuff of dreams!”

The hitch? John and his girlfriend were scheduled for a cruise out of San Pedro, 40 miles in the opposite direction.

“No way could I do both,” John wrote. “My girlfriend told me to make a choice.”

When the alarm rang that Saturday, John shut it off and went back to snuggling with Gayle, the woman he has been married to now for 40 years.

Wrote John: “Eventually we opened a cruise specialty travel agency and traveled the globe. However, I do wonder . . .”

In the summer of 1975, Charlotte Crystal was a Sweet Briar College student eager to improve her French. She looked for a job in France as an au pair.

“As luck would have it, I was hired by the family of Jean-Jacques Annaud, a French filmmaker,” wrote Charlotte, of Charlottesville.

It was early in Annaud’s career, before he earned fame for such films as “Quest for Fire” and “The Name of the Rose,” but he had directed a well-received commercial for Orangina, the carbonated drink, that featured oranges raining from the sky in a Moroccan market.

During her au pair summer, Charlotte traveled with the family back and forth between their apartment in Paris and their home in Fontainebleau.

“Annaud asked me if I would like to be in a toothpaste commercial he was making,” she wrote. “He thought it would be fun, I guess, to cast an American college girl in a French toothpaste commercial. (My mother had gifted me a good set of straight, white teeth.) But I was super introverted at the time and self-conscious about the freshman 13 that I was still carrying around after my sophomore year.”

Charlotte said, “Non.”

Ever since, she has wondered what her life would be like if she had answered, “Oui.”

Wrote Charlotte: “Might I have gone on to a career in French film? Begun a lifetime of endorsing French personal hygiene products? Alas, we’ll never know.”

Casey Angelova did make it into TV, working behind the scenes in New York City on such shows as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” In 2006, Casey and her husband, Angel, flew to Los Angeles to suss out a move there to further her career.

“During our trip, my husband’s father called and asked him to come back home to Bulgaria and help run the family business,” Casey wrote. “In the end, we moved to Bulgaria in November 2006.”

In 2012, Casey’s life took another turn when she and Angel started a truffle orchard. They purchased 600 trees from France and planted them on land outside Kyustendil. In 2019, their specially trained truffle-hunting dog discovered their first truffle.

It must be harder to find a truffle than create a hit TV show. Even so, Casey sometimes thinks about the choice she made.

“I think about the ABC job offer from time to time, especially as I see former colleagues moving up the ladder,” she wrote. “I wonder if I would be still working in the entertainment industry, had I taken that job . . . would I have been a successful television producer in New York or L.A.?”

You know, a Bulgarian truffle orchard might make a good show.

Next: Choosing sides in the game of love.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit