My brother once told me that he doesn’t regret any decision he’s made. This was about a decade ago, and it blew my mind. I pushed a bit, and he said there was no point in regret as he couldn’t change anything he’d done in the past. He’s not wrong. Regret in and of itself is useless and can be harming if it causes shame. Shame keeps you stuck in bad behavior more often than not. On the other hand, it’s hard to learn from the past if you refuse to study it at all. I think there *may* be a truism about that floating around the interwebs. Since then, he’s made indications that there are things he might have changed or that he wished had gone a different way, but in general, he is an eyes-forward kind of guy.
I admire that about him. I also envy that about him because I regret almost every decision I’ve made in my life. Where I want to college. Going back to a certain boyfriend twice. Not questioning the narrative he laid out for me because I thought he was trustworthy.
Side Note: I recently talked to my mom about this ex of mine, let’s call him Todd because that’s most definitely not his name. I always held a slight grudge because she and my father had dinner with us once, and they both did not like him at all. I attributed it to my father not liking anyone who wasn’t properly effusive/deferential/in awe of how amazing he is plus a shitload of other unspoken expectations and my mother deferring to him. I found out during our recent talk that the reason she didn’t like him was because he took my love for granted (ironic given her own marriage) and because he caused me so much pain. She said he was using me and he was selfish.
We discussed a bit about how he dumped me three times and came back to me twice and how he lied to me in our relationship about having dumped his ex before she went abroad for a semester. In reality, they were in an open relationship, but only because he insisted. I found out by reading a letter from him to her. Yes, a physical letter. I was looking for something else on his desk, and when I saw a letter from her, I read it. When I brought it up to him, he got mad that I read it. Which, yes, invasion of privacy, but it allowed him to neatly sidestep the fact that he fucking lied to me. Why? Probably because he knew I wouldn’t have agreed to going out with him if he told me the truth. I was very straight and narrow at that time, and I would not have agreed to be in an open relationship. Funnily enough, though, when the girlfriend came back the next semester, he was ‘dating’ both of us at the same time to figure out what he wanted. I started dating someone else, and Todd couldn’t take it after a few weeks.
There were so many red flags that I couldn’t see because I was desperate to be in a relationship. I had been told all my life that my only worth was in getting a man* and holding onto him. Once I found out he had lied to me, I should have been done with him. Once he dumped me, I should have been done with him. Same with the second time. After the third time, I should have not had any contact with him because I most emphatically could not be friends. When he told me he could never say he loved me or marry me because of his family, I should have been done with him.
My mom said she did not like him because he treated me really poorly. That made something shift in my mind. See, up until that moment, I thought of him as a good guy who wasn’t good at relationships. The latter was definitely true, but I had to reassess the former. I mean, in retrospect, it’s clear he wasn’t a good guy to me, but I had stubbornly clung to that in my brain. Why? I don’t know. I think it was easier for my brain to accept that he was a good guy doing not-so-great things than to acknowledge that he was a bad guy–to me. I’m not speaking about his goodness in general, but, to be quite blunt, he treated me like shit.
My mom also said that she thought he really hurt me because he was my first true adult love, and he set the tone for what a relationship should be. She wasn’t wrong about that, either, though I never really thought about it in that way.
I bring this up because it’s so difficult to see how early experiences shape the way we view things, even on an unconscious level. What I didn’t say to my mother was that her own marriage is another huge impediment to me being in a healthy romantic relationship. Many of the things wrong with my relationship with Todd directly correlate with the issues within my mother’s marriage (of which I know way too much). The cheating, the lying, the constant loss of self-esteem. It’s way too hauntingly familiar.
It’s also interesting how much I’ve changed in terms of relationships from that time–twenty-eight years ago. At that time, I assumed I would graduate from college, get a job, maybe go to grad school, get married to a man, and have kids. While I was dating Todd, I realized that I was bi, but I kept that to myself for several years because I didn’t want to deal with the biphobia–external and internal. I also realized that I didn’t want children. At all. That is one decision I have never regretted–not for a single moment. It’s the best goddamn decision I’ve made in my life, and I’m so glad I didn’t give in to my mom’s intense pressure to get me pregnant.
Since I was raised fundamental Christian, I was saving myself until marriage. Ugh. That is such a problematic statement, but I held true to it. By the time I was with Todd, however, I was a TV–a technical virgin. I had done everything except full penetrative sex, so it was a matter of literal inches. It’s one reason the idea of virgin is so ridiculous–you shouldn’t be able to rules lawyer your way out of it. Or into it. When I started dating Todd, he was a virgin as well (or so he told me). He declared himself ready to have sex three months into the relationship, but we didn’t actually have sex until several months and one breakup later (for many reasons). When we did, I thought, “This is what’s sending me to hell?”
That was the minute I explicitly gave up Christianity. Everything I’d been told had been a complete and utter lie, and it was as if all the scales had fallen from my eyes. I never truly believed in God with a capital G, but I so desperately tried. When I first had penetrative sex, it was goddamn amazing. It felt so good, and it moved me (physically and emotionally) in a way I hadn’t experienced up until that point. I felt incredibly betrayed that something so natural and wonderful had been portrayed as evil to me (until marriage, of course) by the church.
I spent many years after that being incredibly angry at Christianity. How the hell could I trust anything if one of the basic tenets of Christianity (as practiced in my church) was such a fucking lie? One of the worst arguments my mom and I had was when we were driving somewhere (I was in my mid-twenties), and she was blathering on and on about God this and God that. I tried to change the subject, but she ignored me (as was her wont) and continued blathering. I got angrier and angrier until I finally blurted out, “I don’t give a FUCK about your God!” She stopped the car and told me to get out. I did, and I walked home. It was less than a mile from the house, but I don’t think it would have mattered if it was twenty miles–she still would have kicked me out.
Back to Todd. It’s been really weird to shift from ‘good guy with relationship issues’ to ‘bad guy to me’. Why was I so invested in making sure I thought of him a good guy? Partly because that’s what we women are trained to do. Partly because I didn’t want to admit I had made a bad choice or more to the point, a series of bad choices. Partly because he was a decent guy in general. Partly because it wasn’t malicious on his part, but that almost makes it worse. My mom is right. It was so goddamn selfish of him to decide to do the easier thing (for him) and lie to me about breaking up with his girlfriend instead of telling me the truth. It also smacks of wishful thinking. “I’ll just tell Minna we’re broken up because I want to date her, and she probably won’t be ok with an open relationship.” No thought as to how I would feel about being lied to or how his girlfriend would feel about it or what he was going to do when she returned.
It’s funny because if a friend had told me her boyfriend was doing this to her, I would have rightly call him out on it (in a diplomatic way). Because it happened to me, though, I didn’t put the pieces together. Also, him being mad at me for reading the letter instead of owning up to his lies–yeah. I really wish I could go back in time and redo that entire section of my life, but I can’t. I also wish I had learned the correct lessons from it earlier, but I can’t change that, either.
That’s the problem with having regrets. Even when I learn from them, I often feel it’s too late to really make a difference. I can’t imagine myself in a romantic relationship because of all the issues I still have that would be exacerbated in a romantic relationship, monogamous or non. Then again, I sometimes wonder if I’m just making excuses not to try. I do that a lot, and it’s not restricted to the romantic realm.
*Definitely a MAN and not just any old person.