The 3 Types of Regret That Can Destroy You
In my experience, the funniest people in the world can be the most profound. Am I one of the funniest people in the world? God, no. I grasp desperately at guffaws like a spider monkey grasping at small, rotten berries. I would love to be in the league with some of comedy's greatest minds, those hilarious people I admire like Rob Delaney, Louis CK, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks ... I could spend the rest of the article listing them. But I am certainly not at their level of comedy, and likely not in profundity either. But I do feel that, like those people, my own sense of humor, my ability to draw humor from this or that, is tainted by a kind of deep regret and sadness. Maybe that's because my older sister told me that every time I masturbated it was spinal fluid coming out of me and eventually I'd be a cripple if I kept doing it.
Whatever the cause and fuel for comedy, I feel that the negative experiences in life help mold and nourish it. There is no light without darkness and no laughter without pain. I'm probably wrong in that assessment, but not as it applies to me at least. And in that regard, I thought maybe it would be a fun thing to pick apart those regrets that mold us into who we are and that can, if we let them, just tear us the hell apart. Doesn't that sound fun?
Regret for What You Did
A lot of people pretend to live by a philosophy of "no regrets," and it's as adorable as a slow loris being tickled in the armpits. I like to think the only time you can even move toward that pseudo-philosophy is by regretting a whole shit-ton of stuff first. Then you get a tattoo that says "no regrets" and it's like irony wiping a poop-encrusted finger across your flesh.
Everyone regrets something; there's no shame in it. You're more of a monster if you truly live free of regrets, because the moment you accidentally back over someone's Corgi, only a super dick smiles and yells "YOLO" before driving off.
In the grand scheme of things, you can really be consumed by regretting your past actions. It's a slap in your own face, because no one wants to blame themselves for something that went terribly wrong, but we all have those harrowing moments of honesty when we're forced to realize that shit went wrong and no one else caused it but us.
Now maybe I'm blessed, because I don't think I have ever caused anyone serious harm in my life, which I count as a karmic positive. But I do have regrets, and the one that eats me the most to this day is the time I very nearly got married. In my manlier moments when I'm eating ribs and drinking hard liquor, I wish my regrets were things like allowing my buddy to get shot as we fought off enemy forces in a Costa Rican jungle, but nah, it was almost getting married.
"I will feast on your bones! Or this poopy stick!"
I didn't want to get married. I suppose that's the key to understanding why this pains me. And of course I didn't. But I was engaged for about a year to someone I didn't even like by that point. If I'm being honest, the reason I proposed was to stop the constant harassment of her and her family asking why I hadn't yet. I thought, in my addled brain, maybe if we get married she'll stop being an awful person and her family will follow suit and I will inexplicably run afoul of happiness and all will be well. Can you guess how many of those things happened? Exactly jack shit of those things happened.
My would-be wife was the sort of girl who expected to have nicer, prettier things than anyone we spent time with, or we simply couldn't spend time with those people. Likewise, if they were women, we would not be spending time with them either. Also, if they were my family, we would not be spending time with them. Also all of my stuff was something we didn't need to spend time with. And also maybe I could get a better job and better friends and stop doing anything without her.
Diagnosis: Acute twattery and unbridled bitchiness.
I regret wasting years of my life with her. I regret the missed opportunities and the emotional turmoil I endured, the friends I lost and the time that can never be mine again. Why was I with her? Why is anyone in a bad relationship? At the time, I honestly didn't think I would ever find anyone else who wanted to be with me. It was shameful and lame, but it's how I felt. I thought I had to take what I could get.
These days, I realize I'm pretty much the physical embodiment of awesome. Like if sex and fried chicken became a person and that person had a best friend, I'd be that guy. But hey, it takes a pile of regrets to get there. I take some solace in the knowledge that everything I did I had to do to be right here right now. If I had taken another path, who knows where I'd be? I could be Adam Brown's bathroom attendant. Fuck.
Regret for What You Didn't Do
It's much harder to reconcile yourself with these regrets than ones you have for things you did do. At least regretting something you did feels firm and real. Regretting what you didn't do can always eat at you, as you'll convince yourself endlessly how damn near everything could have been better. If only you'd done something else.
I spend each and every day of my life regretting what I didn't and continue to not do, to a greater or lesser degree. What if you'd asked that girl for her number? What if you'd told someone what you really felt? What if you'd spoken up for what you believe in? What if you'd made a scene?
Deep inside of me, I am man overflowing with passion and desire and a need to love, be loved, help others, save the world, right wrongs, lead others toward great and wonderful things, and every day that idiot drinks a beer and watches Maury Povich instead. Or he decides maybe she'll give me her number if I just sit here and stare with my mouth open a little, girls like that, right? Plus, if I make a scene, maybe I'll be late getting home; I'm expecting some important mail today. Better just quietly do nothing.
"Yay! It's the latest issue of Hot Buttered Asses!"
I think we can all lead satisfactory and even fulfilled lives this way; you don't see heroes on every street corner putting things right, you don't see every nerd with an ounce of charm schmoozing hot models and sexy Aussie Twitter followers left and right (hey ladies, @felix_clay), so I think we all get by alright, but we could do those things. And don't you want to?
I remember once leaving a bar late one night with a friend, and on the street outside, this pulsating meathead of a neckless twat was just tearing into a girl. They were apparently a couple, but meathead was angry about something, and his girlfriend, easily 100 pounds less than him, was bearing the brunt of his rage. The street was full of people, and no one said anything. My friend and I watched for a moment to get the lay of the land, and as Snausage dick pushed his girlfriend to the ground, my friend sprang into action, just walking out into traffic and yelling at this guy to reconsider his actions lest he get a circle booting from the two of us. It was at this point, with a call to action on my doorstep, that I joined him. I'd absolutely get my ass kicked by that man, but what the hell, it was for a good cause. But I hadn't thought of it myself. I should have. I feel bad that I didn't. I hesitated with the knowledge that I so would get my ass kicked. My friend (who it should be noted is much larger than me) just leaped into the fray like Captain America, and once I had that motivation, I was all for becoming a statistic.
For what it's worth, the guy shut his trap real quick after that, but the girl, oddly enough, went on a foul-mouthed rant telling us to mind our own fucking business and to go blow each other. So we didn't save anyone from anything, really, but I like to think it's the thought that counts. That just always stands out as a time in my mind when I wish the thought had been mine.
Regret for What You Can Never Do
This kind of regret can lay waste to your psyche if you let it. And the worst part is that you don't want to let it, but it will weasel its way in, if the circumstances are right. I hope they're not, for your sake. I hope none of you have ever or will ever have an occasion to feel powerless in the face of an overwhelming despair about which you simply cannot do a thing. You get this kind of regret when someone you care for is dying. Maybe it's cancer. Maybe diabetes. AIDS. And medical science has taken you so far, and then it says, "This is all we can do," and so you, whoever you are, a cashier, a waiter, a comedy writer, you take that in. You take a big bite. You swallow. You let it burn down deep inside. Because there's nothing you can do. You're a CBS executive trying to develop a sitcom that doesn't make babies cry and dogs howl in despair.
Watching a person die is probably the worst thing I can think of. I can think of a ton of bad things, but man, that one thing is fucking awful. One person who, above all others, needs to be here, and they can't be, and they get pulled away so goddamn slowly while you do what? Not a fucking thing. Because you can't. Because you're a cashier. Or a waiter. Or a fucking comedy writer. You don't get to save lives. You just get to watch them pass through your own.
"You ever notice that white people save lives like this? And black people save lives like this?"
I think you come across people who can't handle this a lot, especially in dealing with animals. I think this might be the root of animal hoarding. You have a person who suffers some kind of serious mental fracture and decides they can't do for themselves, but surely they can do for a dog or a cat. So they get one. Then they get 40 more. And their goal is really to deprive the universe of the terrible fate that befalls thousands of uncared for little lives every year. They will defy the very process of nature and save these unwanted animals and give them good lives. And then the crazy person gets crazier, they're up to their ankles in poo, cats are being mummified under couches left and right, and the whole situation is worse than if the cats were living on the streets eating the shoes off of hobos. You can't change nature, ask Dr. Malcolm.
Combating what is essentially a total and cosmic sense of powerlessness is no easy task. You need balls made of pure hope and sunshine dribbling out of your ass to even come close to making it work. You need to focus your hopes on those crazy long shots and be willing to dust yourself off and move forward if they don't pan out, rooting yourself in the here and now and understanding and appreciating that life is and always will be fucked right out of your hands. You're just along for the ride. It doesn't necessarily make things better or easier to deal with, but it gives some perspective to keep your ass grounded.