Do you have curiosities about a former flame? Someone you thought it could have gone further with but maybe the timing just wasn’t right? I certainly have…and we’re not alone. In fact, a large portion of Americans report feeling regret about these curiosities.
An interesting study was recently released from researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. It isn’t often that I cite studies that come from a business school…but this is an exception. This business professor, Neal Roese, wanted to know what the typical American regretted the most in life. He unexpectedly found that the biggest regret had to do with love and relationships.
It was a nationally representative phone survey of 370 adults who were asked to describe one regret in detail including the time in which the regret happened and whether the regret was based on action or inaction.
- Overall, 18.1% of respondents cited romantic regret as their primary regret. This is followed by family (15.9%), education (13.1%), and career (12.2%)
- Women reported more romantic regret than men (44% versus 19% respectively)
- Men reported more work-oriented regret than women (34% versus 27% respectively)
Asking yourself “what could have been?”can be a useful exercise but it is important to ensure there is a limit to how much you dwell on it. Participants who had regrets about something they didn’t act on (inaction regrets) tended to hold on to the regret for longer time. I’ve written a little more about the psychological implications of this on Kinsey Confidential, so check it out here.
I think the age of these respondents is important. In speaking with some friends about this issue, we decided that in a few years, perhaps regrets would be more prominent for “the one who got away” depending on whether we end up finding some version of “the one” or not. Perhaps the older you get, you might compare what you’ve got (or don’t have) with what you think you could have had.
You’re making a decision based on risks and benefits by passing up someone who you might consider to have “gotten away”. For some of us, that risk is quite calculated. I guess in a few years if I haven’t found someone, I might look back at the few men who I think of as “the ones who [might have] got away” with a bit of regret. But right now, it is more with intrigue. It will be interesting to revisit this post when I get to my “scary age” to see how I feel about it then.