On Regret

I was going to write about the potential differences between mistake and regret; when you should feel one over the other, why you feel one over the other, etc. Instead, I figured I should forget all the hypotheticals and just dive right into it: the mistake is how you fuck up. The regret, on the other hand, is the unnecessary feeling we seem to convince ourselves we need afterwards.

We regret things because we have a conscience. If you do something that you know is bad but you don’t regret it, you might feel like a total asshole. So we use regret as a mechanism of self-torture which, paradoxically, makes us feel better about ourselves. Leave it to us to make ourselves feel shitty about not feeling shitty. People say that you shouldn’t regret anything you do because there’s no way to change the past. There’s no point in trying to convince ourselves that we can.

The scariest thing about time is its uncanny ephemerality in that every second we spend we will never get back. Unfortunately, you will not realize the value of its currency until you spend it all in the wrong place, like how you feel after you buy that ridiculously overpriced but cheaply made Urban Outfitters sweater. You just wish it didn’t happen. But it did, so we have to give it to the Salvation Army and watch hard-earned babysitting money go down the drain. I just wasted both time and calories by eating peanut butter straight from the jar with my pointer finger. There is nothing in life more vicious than that.

Although I am neither old nor wise, I would like to say that I have made many more mistakes than I have regrets–a pretty desirable ratio. I know I regret something when I think back to something I’ve done and immediately feel my cheeks burn. I get embarrassed for myself, and my embarrassing moments don’t even resurface themselves anywhere besides the comfort of my own memory. Mistakes we can always create and sometimes, although it doesn’t seem like often, control.

Today, we are obsessed with the way the world views us. Everything is everywhere, privacy is a sacred gift, and we tend to invest ourselves in other people emotionally and vicariously. Your favorite sports team affects you as much as your best friend does. Miley Cyrus has the ability to make you cry of deep concern (or maybe she only has that impact on me). Regardless, when you make a mistake, it’s likely going to have an aftermath that involves other people. Maybe these people were rooting for you, and maybe they simply saw a photo of you on Facebook or heard about it through the grapevine. Others are going to view you, and maybe if they didn’t, we wouldn’t regret things as much as we usually do.

I really think that everything happens for a reason. If you screwed up, then you screwed up because you screwed up. There’s no clear answer as to why you did it, and there never will be. The most important thing is to realize why you feel the way you do after the fact. There definitely is a reason for that. And just because you figure out what it is, the speckled rosiness in your cheeks might not fade and the increase in heart rate at the slightest recollection of your world-crashing mistake might not, either. But instead, you will hopefully learn something.

Once, I really wanted something that I thought I deserved. I am very hard headed, and because of this (not because I was spoiled as a child and not because I have an endless flow of resources, which I absolutely do not) I was used to getting things that I worked for. When, for what felt like the first time, I didn’t get this “thing,” I was crushed. I didn’t get it because I was told I needed to learn a lesson; that I needed a character build. I didn’t get it because I needed to learn what it felt like not to get it. I pretended that I learned something from this experience, and that I changed for the better. I think that in some respects, I definitely did. But in others, I am still sour because I know–or, at least I think–I deserved it. And I always will.

Recently, I made another mistake. I did something I knew I didn’t want to do. My friends all told me that I shouldn’t stress over it, that it isn’t a big deal at all, and that if I didn’t want it to happen again it wouldn’t. I said the same thing to myself after the first time. If it happens for a third, which I’ll make sure it doesn’t, then I’ll regret it. I just know it.