Regret — the negative emotion associated with realizing a different past decision may have brought a better outcome than what actually transpired — accompanies a lot of failed marriages. And with a divorce rate of around 50 percent (although, this stat is a little misleading once you break it down into subgroups), there may be a lot of romantic regret going on in America.
According to a study published in 2011, the biggest regret on America’s mind is actually a romantic one. University of Illinois’ Mike Morrison and Northwestern University’s Neal Roese led a nationally representative phone survey of 370 adults who were asked to detail their biggest regret. Almost 20 percent of those surveyed cited romantic regret as their primary regret, the largest of all categories.
Women cited a romantic regret more than twice as often as men (44 percent versus 19 percent, respectively), and men cited more work-oriented regret than women (34 percent versus 27 percent, respectively). The most interesting finding in this study to me, was that those who regretted inactions (they didn’t do something but they wish they would have) held on to the regret longer than those who felt the regret was based on action (they did something but wish they wouldn’t have).
When women were asked to submit their biggest romantic regrets to HuffPost Women via Twitter, themes of holding on to a relationship for too long, choosing the wrong type of partner, and not taking certain advice were big ones. Similarly, the descriptions of the romantic regrets in Morrison and Roese’s study focused around lost chances at potential romance and relationships that didn’t live up to their potential.
As noted above, taking action is better than sitting back and not doing anything about it. Although romantic regret is difficult, it lingers more when we regret not doing something than it does when we regret doing something.
In the Morrison and Roese study, the participants who were the most likely to have romantic regrets were the ones who were not currently in a relationship. The famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is particularly relevant.
Although romantic regret can be difficult to handle, it also serves an important purpose: it shapes the way you handle future relationships. Learning from the regret and using it for a positive course of action (e.g., learning what qualities you should avoid or approach in a romantic partner, avoiding situations that may have led to infidelity in the past, etc.) can help to make the mistakes you’ve made in the past worth it. It’s how we learn our life lessons.
Tell the truth. Express your feelings. If you like someone, tell them. If you don’t, leave or at least be upfront with them about. Life should be that simple. This research on romantic regret sheds light on the importance of taking chances, especially when it comes to love.
Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? My answer is an absolute yes.
This post was originally on The Huffington Post.