This is not a video game post. So, no, I won’t be talking about my regret for ever having played Myst or not placing higher in the 1994 Blockbuster World Video Game Championship regional finals. No, this is a post about plain ol’ regret. More specifically, I wanted to write about my own relationship with regret. Nothing too specific, so this is also not some kind of private journal entry, but I came to a realization about my history with regret recently and wanted to write it down for future reference. I’d hate to… regret not sharing it. Eh? Eh? No? Well, damn. Now I… regret making that joke okay okay I’m sorry, I’ll stop.
For much of my younger life, my teens and early twenties, I was the type of person who loved to proclaim that I wouldn’t change a thing about my past because, if I did, it would probably change who I was in the present and I didn’t want that. You know the type. “No regarts.” Which, looking back, was kind of weird, given that I was often deeply unhappy with certain aspects of my life. I think it might have been rooted in a fear of losing myself, of becoming someone unfamiliar. I clung to an authentic “me” that I was proud of, even if I’d wished I was better looking or smarter or more charming or whatever. I feel like many of us struggle to define ourselves in those years, trying new things and experimenting to find the “us” that we subconsciously want to be. So to imagine throwing all of that hard work away by hypothetically changing something in the past felt scary.
Later, during some of my most serious bouts with depression and anxiety, I regretted everything. I would find myself dwelling on the past often. What if I had asked that girl out? What if I had stood up for myself that one time? What if I’d actually tried to do well in high school? My regrets were both broad and specific. I might wish I had been more, I dunno, outgoing. Or I might wish that I had been more clear about my feelings when making a sad attempt at asking Amy out in my first semester of college. Either way, I’d wish something had been different. It makes sense, right? I was so unhappy with how things were that I would have gladly risked any changes to my present state by making changes, big or small, to the past. Any bit of happiness, even if just a brief moment years ago, seemed completely worth it.
I’ve been in therapy for a little over a year at this point, and one of the most useful aspects of the process, for me, is introspection. I “did the work,” as my therapist says. And when I thought about regret, and how my relationship with it has changed over the years, I realized that it used to be toxic (in both previously mentioned ways). But over this last year I think I’ve come to find a healthy balance to my regrets. I can’t change the past, of course, but while I may not dwell on it and actively wish I could change it, I can still look back at my regrets and admit to myself that maybe I do wish I’d done things differently. Instead of wallowing in sadness and anger about it, though, and wishing I actually did do things differently, I ask myself what I would do if that thing happened today. I can’t fumble my way through a relationship proposition with Amy from college again, but if I happen to be attracted to a woman now, instead of being indirect and coy about my feelings, I would be direct and open. If someone does something that makes me uncomfortable or crosses a clear boundary, instead of avoiding the subject and just hoping that they’ll “get” why I’m upset, I’ll tell them. I still allow myself to regret things, but only if I learn from them. I did something I didn’t like? Don’t do it again. I wish I would have done that one thing? Do it next time.
I’m not deluding myself by believing that my relationship with regret is perfect, even now. I’ll continue to make mistakes, even some of the same I’ve made in the past, and I’m sure I’ll find myself in a position where I dwell on a particular regret for too long. But I feel much better about my past, my present, and my regrets than I used to.