Whether they’re the 'One That Got Away', or the 'One That You Should Have Let Get Away A Lot Sooner Than You Did', our dating expert offers tips on managing your regrets.
Oh, Edith Piaf. It was all so easy for you. But while you were proudly warbling “Je Ne Regrette Rien” (I regret nothing), the rest of us were racking up so many forehead-slaps that we almost lost the power of rational thought.
In fact, most of us will have regrets in our lives, and the most powerful of those regrets will be around relationships. A survey by online-dating site OurTime revealed that 75 per cent of singles aged 50+ have dating regrets. And an American study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science showed that 18 per cent of the people surveyed had regrets about romance: specifically, a lost love. That was more than for career, education, health, family or even parenting.
If you’re someone whose relationship status seems eternally set to “If only…” here are my tips for beating regret, rather than beating yourself up.
First, find out if it's fixable
The regrets that haunt you the most will be categorised under “missed opportunity”. Specifically, things that you feel can’t be fixed. For example, feeling you spent too much time investing in a relationship that wasn’t worth it, or messed up a chance to be with someone who was.
In either case, the first thing to do is ask yourself: Is this fixable? And if there’s the smallest chance that it is, take some positive, practical action right away.
If you feel you wasted too much time with an ex, what do you wish you’d done with that time instead? And could you still do those things now?
"Often, taking action is the antidote to regret"
If you feel that relationship stopped you travelling, meeting a better person or having a family, is there still a way you could make those things happen for yourself? Could you book a holiday today, sign up for a singles group, or find ways to spend more time with other children, like your nieces and nephews, or adoption?
Often, taking action is the antidote to regret. Or you’ll find out you don’t really, truly want those things anymore, and can let go with a feeling of peace. Or at least with less of an urge to kill.
If you regret a relationship finishing, could you find ways to get back in touch? Don’t ever assume all hope is lost.
Remember the recent story of KT Robbins, the 97-year-old American WWII veteran who was reunited with the woman he fell in love with in France, back in 1944? If their love can survive a world war and 75 years, I think you could summon the strength to send a text.
Don't romanticise the past
If your situation can’t be fixed, then you have my blessing to wallow as you read this section. But there’s a caveat: you're only allowed to mourn what is true, and not what you’d have liked to be true.
When we’re on our own, it’s very easy to think back on past relationships and believe that they were our only chance at love. Before I met my husband I used to do it all the time. Coming home after a bad date, I’d find myself looking my exes up on LinkedIn and wondering how I could’ve ever let them slip through my fingers. Then I’d meet them for a coffee, and remember.
If you regret dumping an ex, think about what caused you to take that step. Why would you have let a perfect person go?
Ask the friends you had at that time for their recollection of events. It might be that the script you’ve been rewriting in your head entitled: Susan and Michael, Whose Love Was So Passionate It Caused Them To Push Each Other Away would more accurately be titled, Susan and Michael: Two Perfectly Nice People Who Simply Had Nothing In Common.
"One way to know if you’re romanticising things is to notice what you daydream about when you’re moping"
Or, if someone finished with you, don’t assume it was your fault! They might not have been a faultless partner who was just pushed to breaking point by your mood swings/jealousy/insecurity. (Unless that’s how all your relationships finish, which might suggest a pattern.) Perhaps they were, in reality, a flighty or non-committal partner who caused you to feel unsure and emotional.
One way to know if you’re romanticising things is to notice what you daydream about when you’re moping. If your ex is doing things they never did in reality (like, taking you on lovely dates, charming your family, or accompanying you to your favourite activities), you’re rewriting history.
Try visualising them doing things they actually did, like watching football for hours, ignoring the housework, or forgetting your birthday. Do you feel less like moping?
The sting of regret tends to get sharper as we get older because we feel that time is running out to correct things.
So, knowing that the pain will only get worse if you don’t do anything, seize the day! If you can’t fix your past, focus on making your future more positive. Replacing a regret with a more hopeful, enjoyable life gives you a path to a happier future. Start now, this moment, by taking tangible steps to move forward.
If you’ve been torturing yourself looking at old photos of you and your ex, Cartridge Save's website has clever ways to edit your pictures to lessen the pain.
If you’ve been following your exes on social media, cut right back. If you’ve been trying to stay friends—or even more destructively, friends with benefits—stop. Friendship only works when you’re not secretly hoping for more.
"Friendship only works when you’re not secretly hoping for more"
But finally, trust in the decisions that were made by an earlier version of you, and believe that there is something better, more positive, on the way. Even if you have to start from scratch.
In the words of Desiderata:
“…Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Or in the words of Edith:
“No! I don't feel sorry about anything
It's paid for, removed, forgotten; I'm happy of the past..
Swept away my love stories and all their tremble
Swept away for always, I start again from zero.”
Read more dating advice by Kate Taylor on her website.
If you are looking for a new partner, try Reader's Digest dating to find your perfect companion.
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