5 Women’s Regrets About Former Flames
They say that all's fair in love and war, and in both, mistakes are bound to happen sometime. Below, experts weigh in on how to handle the biggest relationship mistakes these women shared with us.
h, romance! It's the source of some of life's greatest joys — and biggest disappointments. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, love gone wrong tops the list of regrets for women
(about 44 percent), compared to just 19 percent for men.
|Maybe I pushed too hard, too soon for a commitment.|
So, researchers have learned that women typically have more romantic disappointments than their male counterparts? Surprise, surprise! I know some of you must be saying to yourselves, "Wow, that's groundbreaking. In other news, the sun rises every morning in the east."
But what, specifically, are their most common regrets? I asked several women to share their real-life experiences with me to learn the answer to this very question. Below are their stories; each one comes with tips from experts on what you should do now to make peace with past regrets and motivate yourself to avoid future mistakes.
"I pushed too hard, too soon for a commitment"
"I was in such a rush to get married and have kids that I think I scared a good guy off two years ago," says Floridian Jeannie, 34. "After a few weeks together, I shared my goal of marriage and kids, and he knew I was on the traditional track. Maybe I pushed too hard, too soon for a commitment."
Tip: Speak your truth, but do so carefully. Maybe it was all about the timing and execution of what you said and not the content of your discussion that caused the issue. I agree that it's important not to ruin a relationship's potential by turning into a baby-hungry bridezilla on your first few dates. But on the other hand, why shouldn't the guy know what you want — especially when you run the risk of your biological clock ticking past the point of no return?
"I think the biggest way to avoid post relationship regrets is to make sure you're as honest with yourself as possible about why you really want to be with someone," says Dr. Ish Major, psychiatrist and author of Little White Whys: A Woman's Guide through the Lies Men Tell and Why. "Know that it's OK to share up front with your partner what exactly it is you are (and are not) looking for in a relationship. And know that it doesn't make either of you a bad person to walk away when it's time... it just makes you honest."
"I wonder about what might have been with my old boyfriend"
"When I was 19 and in college, I fell hard for my classmate, Jeff," says Washingtonian Lisa, who's now 42. "We met in English Lit class and used to spend hours in the park reading to each other and making out. We dated for several months, but then he transferred to another school closer to his home. We drifted apart and he started dating someone else. I'm married now, but I still think about him and what might have been."
Tip: Carefully consider whether that guy you're reminiscing about was really so great. Could you be allowing your memory to become a shrine to love struck down in its prime? It's common to over-romanticize an experience with someone you cared about long ago, and it's hard for a current (and imperfect) partner to compete with an apparently ideal ghost from your past. Who knows if you'd have had that much in common after the initial bliss of wine and literature on the lawn wore off — or if you'd have grown together as a couple after graduation?
"If you are the one who's left behind, you tend to over-romanticize as you lament the love that you lost," explains Major. "We don't want to admit to ourselves that things may not have been all that great."
"I wish I had better memories of our time together"
"I dated Billy for five years and tried to change him," says New Yorker Ally, 34. "I wanted him to get a higher-paying job and quit hanging with the guys so much. He got tired of listening to me complain. I know there were good times, too, but so many of my memories are painful. I regret that I don't have better memories of our time together. We shared five years of our lives [with each other]. That's a lot."
Tip: Focus on your memories of the good times, too. Keep a mental list of what went right as well as the things that went wrong. "While some people tend to over-romanticize a past dating experience (i.e., maybe it wasn't as good as you thought), I have found that others tend to under-romanticize those experiences (i.e., maybe it was better than you remember)," says
Marc Muchnick, Ph.D., author of No More Regrets! 30 Ways to Greater Happiness and Meaning in Your Life. "Just because a relationship doesn't work out doesn't mean that the entire dating experience was bad, wrong, or meaningless. Cherishing the positive memories you and that person made together is a productive way to find closure with past relationships and validate that the connection you felt was real."
|It would be wonderful if people learned from their mistakes.|
Also, in reference specifically to Ally's case, "don't try to change people into someone they're not," warns Muchnick. "And give each other space! Don't micromanage your relationship."
"I thought I could do better, but now I want us to have a second chance"
"I think I had an inflated sense of self-worth in my twenties," says North Carolinian Mary, 34. "I always thought I could do better, and I left behind a few well-meaning good guys. I found one of them again through social media and am considering seeing him again. I can't remember now why he didn't float my boat back then. Maybe I can get it right this time."
Tip: Don't be too hard on yourself. You might be lonely now, and your memories could have grown a little hazy over time. But there were likely some solid reasons why he didn't float your boat the first time around. Before you reunite with a former flame, make sure you understand what didn't work before, and how those problems could be fixed going forward.
Yes, Peaches & Herb's hit song, "Reunited," has a point — but that hopeful sentiment should come with a warning label. "Being a relationship therapist for more than 40 years, I know that endings are never written in stone," says Randi Gunther, psychologist and author of Relationship Saboteurs: Overcoming the Ten Behaviors that Undermine Love. "People leave each other, see other people, and then find each other again. Reunions are really dangerous. It would be wonderful if people learned from their mistakes, but often, they don't."
It's also wise to consider the paradoxical role that more romantic opportunities bring to the table. For someone like Mary, sometimes the more options you have in terms of the sheer number of prospects you can meet — as well as constantly evaluating each one by thinking, "Could I do better?" — then the more frustrated you are likely to become with dating. "Opportunity can fuel the regret experience," says Neal Roese, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University who coauthored the study mentioned in this article.
"I stayed in the relationship too long because I thought I could fix him"
"We were together 10 years, but I started thinking about leaving him after two," says Virginian Katy, 37, about her ex. "I kept thinking I was doing something wrong, and I needed to fix us. In the end, I couldn't. Why didn't I trust my instincts early on?"
Tip: "Listen to your gut feelings," says Roese. "If something doesn't feel quite right, try to change it sooner rather than letting it fester."
But also understand that it's a hard thing to do when you're fighting against years of ingrained cultural training. "A very common relationship regret amongst women was to have ended [things] sooner," says Roese. "Women are typically charged with the role of maintaining and preserving relationships, so when things do go wrong, it's very spontaneous for women to think, 'I should have done it some other way.' It's how men and women are raised in this culture."
"It's common for women to regret the time lost with 'Mr. Wrong,'" agrees Major. "They become acutely aware of the hands ticking on their biological clock at the end of a relationship. They regret the emotional energy expended on him instead of themselves, or their close friends or family." But you can actually use that regret to motivate yourself to better understand your own actions in the relationship. Whether fear, cultural conditioning, or some other reason kept you trapped in a bad romance in your past, you can choose not to let it happen ever again.
Bottom line: In a culture where women tend to harbor regrets and blame themselves for their failed relationships, it's important to keep a healthy perspective. "Regrets and mistakes, they're memories made," Adele sings in her song, "Someone Like You" — and memories matter, even if some of them are bittersweet. Going forward, learn the lessons that will make the next relationship better than the last. Transfer all that energy you spend kicking yourself over what you should have done to focusing on what you can — and will — do differently next time.
To learn how men approach their own regrets about failed relationships in their past, read Men Reflect On Past Romantic Regrets.
Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.