I’ve been asked several times whether I regret getting married. It’s a pretty punchy question. The implication is there that, because of the divorce, it was a potentially wrong or bad decision, and that I might wish I’d never met and married the man. And it’s quite a tricky one to answer. Do I wish those twelve years of my life from dating to divorce looked different? Do I regret saying yes to the ‘will you go out with me?’, let alone the ‘will you marry me?’ questions.
Now mostly the question is asked in interest not judgement. Essentially what I was being asked is did I wish I’d done things differently knowing what I know now? Would I do things differently to avoid getting divorced? Do I regret the decisions I made? Do I regret being separated for so long while my life was in many ways on hold? With hindsight, would I make different decisions?
It would be very easy to regret these things. It’s time in my life I will never get back. From 25-28 I was separated, divorcing, and now I’m divorced. Perhaps I wasted those mythical ‘best years’ by marrying someone I would later split up from. Wouldn’t my twenties have been better spent living for myself, or meeting someone else? Wouldn’t it have been better to cut and run rather than wait and pray?
These questions are symptoms of regret; a looking back and thinking that maybe things should have been done differently. Regret as its core is wishing the past was different but it also seems twofold to me. On one side, it is about looking back at the choices others made and the impact they had on me, and on the other looking at the decisions I made and wishing I could change them. Both are ultimately impossible, but the distinction between them seems important.
The latter is easier to comprehend in some ways because it relied entirely on me. Decisions I made mostly seemed like the best ones at the time: they might not have been (and sometimes definitely weren’t) but they were made with the best of knowledge at the time. That said, self forgiveness can be the hardest of all. The grace we exude to others, we often neglect to give to ourselves. Regret is “sadness, repentance or disappointment” over something. It’s not a place we should stay. Sadness needs to pass, apologies can be offered and not living up to our own high standards has to become something we are allowed to do. None of us live an impeccable life. I could have been a better wife yes, and he could have been a better husband, but regretting not meeting the standard I’d set myself will only lead me to bitterness and loathing, either towards him or myself.
The best benchmark I set was at each juncture to ask myself whether I might regret the decision I was making. Would I wish I’d fought a little bit harder, just in case, or walked away a little bit sooner? If I thought I might regret it, look back and wish I’d chosen to endure, then I stayed. The moment I knew to stop came like an audible voice from God: the clarity, the ‘enough now’. Asking myself this question has helped me not to regret – I made the decision I felt was best at the time, based on the knowledge I had.
And to answer the former, I simply can’t change the decisions he made. Are they regrettable? Yes. But I can’t regret them because I can’t change them. It’s unfortunate and sad that he chose to leave our marriage, yet there’s part of me that knows I would never be doing what I am now without it. To regret this would also feel like I somehow regret the life I have now: a life that I love and embrace.
With the benefit of hindsight we might all do things differently. Those letters to our 16, 18, 25 year old selves would be littered with advice. But if – as a question I explored yesterday suggested – I had mentored my younger self, would I have learnt all I did, or would the knowledge of what was to come have made the road less rocky but also not taught me as much as it needed to?
I can’t change the past.
I can’t change the decisions he made, or the fact I married him.
And I don’t really want to. Over the last five years, I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself, about marriage, about what I want from life. I’ve grown and changed and shaped who I am, for better or worse, through the experiences divorce has brought me and from the experiences and choices I made without him as well as with him. To regret all that’s gone before would be to say there were never good times and that there aren’t good times now. It’s crafted who I am today and that in turn has put me where I am now; and that’s something I definitely don’t regret.