Regret: defined in the Urban Dictionary as “A feeling often accompanied by sadness, shame, and guilt; regret is when you wish you had done things differently in your past.”
Other dictionaries talk about regret as wishing things had turned out differently—whether or not you had any choice in the matter–but to me, regret is looking back on a choice you made and wishing you had made a different choice. You said yes when you should have said no. You bought spiky shoes when flats would have been a lot less painful. You decided to paint the house green, and now it looks like a leprechaun lives there.
The word “regret” comes up a lot at Childless by Marriage. Mostly we’re worried about future regret. Will we regret our choice if we never have children? Will we regret staying with this person? Will we regret leaving him? Of course, we have no way of knowing. We can list the pros and cons and know how we feel about it today, but who knows what’s going to happen in the future?
In her book How to Be Childless, which I mentioned last week, Rachel Chrastil cautions readers to be wary of the “fear of regret.” It may cause us to focus too much on what we lack instead of what we have. It may cause us to think that having children is the only way to be happy. It may cause us to miss the good things we have in our lives right now.
On page 113, she writes, “Fear of future regret suggests that we will not figure out how to cope with life’s disappointments, that our older selves will not be wiser than we are now, or that the wisdom of age entails a rejection of the person we are today rather than compassion for our present selves.” No matter what choices we make, she adds, there will be regrets. “Our decisions bear consequences, and some of them will carry sadness.”
“Instead of worrying about making the right choice, we ought to make the most of our choices,” she concludes.
I thought about this in the hot tub last night as the clouds gathered to hide the full moon. What do I regret in life? Do I regret marrying Fred and staying with him? Definitely not. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. I do regret not putting more effort into getting closer to his kids.
Do I regret marrying my first husband? No. It was probably a dumb thing to do. We had troubles from the start, but we also had a lot of fun. Do I regret divorcing him? No. The marriage was over. Do I regret dating the abusive guy I spent three years with between marriages? Yes. I knew he was bad news. I should have dumped him.
Do I regret that when the magazine option at my college was canceled, I wound up shunted into a career in newspapers? No. It wasn’t what I thought I wanted, but I was damned good at it, and it prepared me well for the writing I do now. It also gave me a way to earn a living when my first marriage ended. If I hadn’t gotten that degree, and if I’d had a child or two, I’d have wound up still divorced, working for minimum wage and living at my parents’ house.
Do I regret not having children? I feel bad about it, but I don’t regret my choices. I’m shocked as I write this. Do I really believe this? I’m pretty sure I do. My life is full of so many other things that I barely have time for my dog. So maybe this is the way it was supposed to be. Don’t get me wrong. I really would love to have children and grandchildren, but you can’t everything. Chrastil makes that point, too, although I should note she is childless by choice, a choice made firmly and at a very young age.
Will you regret your choice? I don’t know. We’re different people. If all you ever wanted to be was a mother or father, then by God you should be one, if at all possible. But if you’re also sure that you will never find another partner as good as the one you have, I don’t know what you should do. I want to say go for the kids, but I didn’t, and it turned out all right.
Did you hope I’d have an answer? I wish I did. What do you think about regret? Have you already made choices that you regret? Are you afraid you will regret the choices you’re making now? Can we live our lives in the present without worrying about future regrets? Let’s talk about it in the comments.