Fifteen years ago [...] Daniela was a comer to Chicago's art scene. [...] Then came life. Me. Charlie. A bout of crippling postpartum depression (1.29)
Daniela is happy as a wife, mother, and art teacher, but she'd be lying if she said she had no disappointments about her life. She had a real dream—to become the greatest artist of her generation—but she gave it all up after life took her in a wildly different direction.
"He said, 'Daniela, on my deathbed I would rather have memories of you than of a cold, sterile lab." (1.51)
Jason's dad had been a research scientist, so what he says here directly applies to our hero, as well. Although Jason might sometimes be disappointed when he sees lesser talents like Ryan Holder find success, he should be happy with the strong family he has.
"Jason, you would've changed the world if you'd decided to go to that path. If you'd stuck with it. Instead, you're teaching undergrad physics to future doctors and patent lawyers." (1.139)
Ryan Holder is a legit scientist, but even he has to admit that Jason would have beaten the pants off of him if he had stuck with it. But he didn't. As we've said, Jason is pretty happy with the life he's chosen, but hearing this praise from Ryan makes the disappointment rise up again: he doesn't like thinking about what could have been.
I say, "My life is great. It's just not exceptional. And there was a time when it could have been." (1.539)
This is the root of Jason's disappointment—that he's become content to live a small life rather than a big one. It's a valid fear. Still, based on Jason2's disposition, we don't really think he has anything to regret.
My Daniela carries a weight and a distance in her eyes that scares me sometimes.
This Daniela is an inch off the ground. (5.283-284)
Jason's mind is bent 360 degrees when he meets Daniela2. She has none of the "weight" that his Daniela carries with her, and she seems genuinely happy to be a successful artist. So does that mean Daniela would have been happier as an artist than as a wife and mother? It's tough to say.
And Jason looks as happy as she's seen him in years. Weightless is the word that comes to mind. (6.11)
In a similar way, Jason2 doesn't carry that tinge of regret that's always simmering beneath our Jason's surface. Of course, as we know, Jason2 is disappointed with his life, but in this case, the disappointment just so happens to be aimed in the complete opposite direction.
In this moment, my world seems so safe and perfect. I see now—I took all that comfort for granted. It was so good, and there were so many ways it could've all gone to pieces. (10.358)
Although Jason sometimes gets caught up feeling bad about his wasted potential, he eventually realizes that he should treasure the life he's built for himself. So much could have gone wrong: Daniela could have left him; Charlie could have been born with a disease. Heck, Jason could have sprouted a third arm out of the middle of his forehead. The possibilities are infinite.
And maybe I can let go of the sting and resentment of the path not taken, because the path not taken isn't just the inverse of who I am. It's an infinitely branching system. (11.218)
This is a key realization. There isn't some either-or proposition between being a famous scientist and a good father—there's an infinite range of possibilities between those two poles, some good, some bad, and some downright weird. Like, there's probably one universe where Daniela turns out to be an alien who hatches her eggs inside Jason's body. Hey—it could happen.
I tell her about the Plexiglas labyrinth. [...]
It makes her eyes light up.
And it makes her sad. (14.323-325)
Our Daniela has mixed feelings when Jason tells her about Daniela2's art exhibit. On a certain level, it heightens the feelings of disappointment she works hard to keep under wraps. It's proof, in a way, that she really could have made it if she had chosen to.
"I don't know. I was with this woman for forty-eight hours. I think, like you, like me, like everyone, she had regrets." (14.329)
Here's the truth about Daniela2—she has her fair share of regrets too. Everyone does. It might seem from Daniela's perspective that Daniela2 is living the high life as an artist, but Daniela2 looks back at her past choices with just as much disappointment as anyone else. Does the particular flavor of disappointment matter? Maybe, and maybe not.