In a 2016 Songfacts interview with Paula Cole, she talked about the meaning behind "I Don't Want To Wait." Said Cole: "It's a very personal song that's looking at my grandparents, specifically my grandfather, Everett, who fought in World War II, his unhappy marriage to my grandmother - the firecracker, Helen - their influence on my father and then that influence on me.
When you grow up with your grandparents you can really see the generations and the energy of the parenting. I was looking at it and thinking, 'I don't want to make some of these mistakes. I really hope I don't.' Wanting to take that Atlas globe off of my shoulders that felt like each female generation was passing, like you have to just stay married, you can't be happy, you can't have a career. I just wanted to shrug it off and I wanted happiness for my life, my generation.
Of course, I go about making all kinds of different mistakes in reaction to that and ironically I come back to my hometown and full circle of living by my parents now, with my daughter. So, that song follows me. It's a song from my life. I think about my family in it, I think about generations, the way they've informed my dad and me, but really I wrote it for my grandfather and I feel like his spirit is still in that song. The song has wings - the spirit is in that song."
Cole's debut album Harbinger was released in 1994 and did fairly well, earning her a spot opening for Sarah McLachlan. This Fire was her second album; it took off when radio stations started playing the first single, "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?," which reached #8 in May 1997. That summer, McLachlan brought Cole along on the Lilith Fair, which gave her a lot more exposure. "I Don't Want To Wait" was her second single; it slowly climbed the chart and reached #11 in January 1998, shortly before it was chosen as the theme song for the new TV series Dawson's Creek. The show drew solid ratings and attracted a fervent fan base of teenage girls. It stayed on the air for six years, with about 40 seconds of this song playing before every episode.
The song got on Dawson's Creek because the show's creator, Kevin Williamson, was a fan of Cole's and asked to use it. "We had no idea that it would be such a hit that it would usurp the brand name that was Paula Cole. We had no idea it was going to be so huge," she told Songfacts. "It was unusual at the time for a show to use an existing hit, and it just took over. It gave it a new life for another younger generation and that generation wasn't aware of the fact that I had had a career before that, really. So, it's been up to them to discover it via the internet, I guess."
In the chorus, Cole sings, "Will it be yes or will it be... sorry." She explained in her Songfacts interview: "Do you say yes to life? Do you embrace the things that give you joy? Or do you cower back in fear or by culture's machinations keeping you small? That's what it really means to me."
A rather odd video was made for this song where Cole plays an immortal woman who kills off her lovers. She hated making videos and had to conquer her fears to complete it. "I needed to embrace my reality at that time," she told Songfacts. "I knew I had to do it. I had to suck it up and get over myself, my fear and my introversion."
This was Cole's last entry on the Hot 100. Her next album, Amen, was released in 1999 and got a poor reception. At odds with her record company, she didn't release another album until 2007, at which point she had faded from the public eye. Three more albums of original material followed, and in 2016 she released a live album called This Bright Red Feeling, which also included a new version of this song and "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" That same year, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an album of standards - Cole started off as a jazz singer and studied that form at Berklee College of Music.
Cole produced this song, and the rest of the This Fire album, on her own. Her first album was produced by Kevin Killen and was a very positive experience, but she wanted a female perspective on her next one. Unable to find a female producer to her liking, she did it herself. This earned her a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year, making her the first woman nominated in that category on her own. It was one of her seven nominations in 1998; she won the award for Best New Artist.
Alanis Morissette's "Hand In My Pocket" was originally chosen as the Dawson's Creek theme, but the singer pulled out at the last minute. The network had already licensed Cole's song for the promos, but Paul Stupin, the executive producer who oversaw the show's music selection, hadn't considered it for the main theme. He explained in a 2018 Billboard interview: "I love that Paula Cole song, and it came out of a little bit of chaos, because we were getting closer and closer to an air date, and we did not have the song. And then when the network suggested, what about Paula Cole? It's working so well in our promos. It just seemed like the right suggestion and the right idea at the right time."
Fans who watch the show on DVD or stream it on Netflix won't get to hear the iconic theme song. In a bid to save money, Sony asked Stupin to replace the song - he chose Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad."