A recent article in the Chicago Sun Times — “Study: Regrets? Women have a few, particularly in romance“ by Stefano Esposito — examines a new study by a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Apparently, women’s biggest regrets in life are related to romance; it’s common for a lady to believe that she let the right one slip away, either by missing an opportunity to hook up or not working hard enough in a previous relationship.
According to study chief Professor Neil Roese, regret doesn’t have to be bad: “Regret is something that can push people into better success in the future…It’s a motivator….It’s a benefit if you take a lesson and move on quickly. It’s a problem if you keep [re-living] that same regret over and over again.”
I suffer from short- rather than long-term romantic regret. In the immediate hours following a break-up — even if I was previously completely convinced that breaking up was the absolute right and necessary thing to do — I panic. Sometimes, I even panic to the point where I have made 4am attempts at reconciliation, only to then regret that move if he accepts and invites me over. But I’ve since realized that my reaction is temporary and that I just need to wait out the panic. (A good friend has volunteered his baby brother to come and sit on me for several days following any future break-ups — phone and laptop out of reach while we watch romantic comedies, drink gin martinis and go over all of the reasons it wasn’t working.)
Another friend once told me, rather sagely I thought, why he thinks people have such a hard time breaking up — and sticking with that resolution — even with partners who make them unhappy. If happiness is measured on a scale of 10, he said, let’s say the not-so-hot relationship is putting you at around a five. Even though a five isn’t nearly good enough, you know that breaking up will temporarily drag you down to a two or three. So you avoid breaking up because the short-term pain is so hard to face. That’s definitely my problem. But eventually, as the sharp pains of immediate heartbreak begin to dull, I generally regain my good sense and I realize that the right decision was made.
Long-term regret is a different story altogether. After a few years go by, I can understand how a questionable fog begins to set in. Even if you were sure about the break-up then, maybe you’re rethinking it now? When you reach a certain age, and your priorities have shifted a little and you have a better idea in what you want in a longer-term partner — plus it seems like you’ve already dated every available dude in town — it makes sense that you start to receive visits from the ghosts of relationships past.