I was chatting with a friend the other day about past relationships. An event is coming up where she may see her ex – someone that she dated for a while, and was very serious with. And, to be quite honest, it has awkward-potential. But in our conversation, she said, “I wish we could erase parts of our past,” and it got me thinking. I asked her if she really regretted the relationship, or just feared the awkward.
“I think I regret it,” she replied.
I used to say that even if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change a thing, because I’m happy with who I’ve become. I took the position that even the smallest change of the past could alter my current state (not that I could prove it). But as I’ve gotten older, I wonder if that philosophy was just an easy-ish way to gloss over regret.
See if this makes sense: if you’re happy with who you are, and you believe that everything you’ve done in the past has shaped the you today, then you shouldn’t regret anything, right? At least that (if you could follow it) was what I believed. It’s how I essentially let myself off the hook.
To a large degree, I still feel it’s true. Regrets are tricky. Beating yourself up for past mistakes will get you nowhere; learning from them is a different story. Figuring out which mistakes were worth learning from, and which ones added no value to your life experience – well, that’s even trickier.
By my newer philosophy, I can easily identify some of the no-value-added experiences from my list – many of them from specific time periods of my life. But my true regrets are still few. Because those big things – relationships, events, general experiences – that may have caused the most pain, or blown up in my face the most, those are the ones that I learned the most from.
For better or worse.
You ask me about regret? Let me tell you a few things about regret, my darling. There is no end to it. You cannot find the beginning of the chain that brought us from there to here. Should you regret the whole chain, and the air in between, or each link separately, as if you could uncouple them? Do you regret the beginning which ended so badly, or just the ending itself? — White Oleander