Most Americans Still Miss The One Who Got Away

According to a recent study by researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 370 people from the ages of 19 to 103 reportedly had more regrets regarding their personal relationships than any other decision or life event.

About 18 percent cited regrets involving romance. That was followed closely by regrets about family (16 percent), education (13 percent) and career (12 percent), finance (10 percent) and parenting (9 percent).

Women were more likely than men to have regrets about romantic or family relationships. About 44 percent of the regrets described by women were about relationship mistakes compared to 19 percent of men's.

But if men aren't fretting over past "relationship mistakes," what are they regretting? And why do women seem to be the ones who are more concerned with that specifically?

"It speaks to something psychologists have known for a long time. 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,'" said senior study author Neal Roese, a psychologist and professor of marketing at Northwestern. "It's how men and women are raised in this culture."

Men, on the other hand, were more likely to have regrets about work or education — 34 percent compared to women's 26 percent, the study found.

Still, the results of this study state that Americans — not women specifically — are having difficulty getting over all of the things they didn't tell a loved one or the choices they made and now wish they hadn't.

So apart from beating the "women value personal relationships, men value professional relationships" dead horse, why is it that we can't let go of lost love?

"When people reflect on the past, which is what regret does, we ruminate about the things that didn't go well but we don't savor the good times," said Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago. "We are much more impacted by the negative stuff."

And though regret can be painful, a life without regret isn't only near impossible, it would lack a fundamental emotion that spurs people to avoid future mistakes.

"Regret is an essential part of the human experience," Roese said. "You should listen to the lessons your regrets tell you, which is quite often how you could have done things differently or how you could change things."

Everyone makes mistakes, Ferrari added. "It's how you get up, and how you rebound, that matters," he said. "Instead of letting regret dominate life, savor what you do have, and what did go right . . . We need to look more in terms of our strengths, and not our weaknesses."

Obviously, it'd be great if banishing romantic regret were this easy.

Imagine if every time you lost someone you cared for or had your heart broken, you were able to quickly remind yourself that it's for the best and that something better will come along. It's age-old advice as well as common sense to a degree, but it's not always easy to set these things aside as quickly as we'd like.

As someone who is pretty good at playing "what if" from time to time, I know the answer to "Why can't we just accept it and let it go?" isn't easy to locate, nor is there one specific universal answer.

If you'll allow me to get a little High Fidelity on you, do we love movies/songs/books about love working out in the end because we feel we didn't have the "happy ending" we thought we saw coming?

Or do we have a hard time seeing our endings as happy because we've seen too many movies — and as a result, some small part of us still hopes for an extra scene just after the credits where everything works out somehow, some way.

Study: When Americans think of regrets, love tops list [USAToday]