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Mourning Breath

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I was engaged to a woman 20 years ago. We were in college and in our mid-20s. I realized that I wasn't ready to get married and called off the engagement. I loved her and wanted to stay with her, but she broke off the relationship. I've had relationships since then, but I still regret not marrying her. She's married now, and I shouldn't even be thinking about her so many years later, but I can't seem to shake the loss of her. How do I get her — and, moreover, the regret — out of my head? — Stuck

 

The reality is, you're the envy of a number of people — like those who ran up $80,000 in legal fees battling for joint custody of the suede sectional and are now working as a manservant for their divorce lawyer while living in a tent in his backyard.

You've got a bad case of the "coulda shouldas," which, in psychology, is called "counterfactual thinking," as in thinking "counter" to the actual "facts" of what happened. It's basically a mental redo of the past — imagining what could have been. There's healthy counterfactual thinking — using how things turned out as a reminder to act differently in the future. Also healthy is recognizing that things could have turned out worse, like with all the divorcey fun above, plus having to borrow your kids like library books on alternate weekends.

The unhealthy kind of counterfactual thinking is what you're doing — setting aside the now to obsess over how great things surely would have been, "if only..." Never mind how pointless this is, considering that the closest thing you own to a working time machine is probably a battery-operated cuckoo clock your grandma gave you. And never mind how this woman is forever 24 in your head — preserved like a bug in amber at the peak of her hotitude — and never does things those pesky real women do, like nagging you to fix that broken thingie until your head is about to explode all over the kitchen wallpaper.

You can get out of Regretsville. You just need to have a funeral for your relationship. And yes, I know this sounds like a ridiculously hokey stunt, but more and more, researchers are finding that the physical is tied to the psychological — like that physical acts of "closure" lead to psychological closure and that treating thoughts as physical objects makes them as disposable as objects. In a study by psychologist Pablo Brinol, participants who wrote down troubling thoughts and then ripped them up were found to have "mentally discarded them" and actually experienced relief. Following their lead, put this behind you psychologically by doing it physically: Write down what happened. Burn the paper in a dish. Maybe do a little ceremony. And then scatter the ashes as you would those from Fluffy's urn.

And, finally, have a little compassion for yourself.

Okay, so it's best not to follow up "Will you marry me?" with "Uh...take-back!" But you were young and probably immature, and you realized that you'd gotten yourself in over your head. And to your credit, you had the guts to admit that you weren't ready, unlike all the people who come to the realization that they aren't but go through with the wedding anyway. ("Who'll join me in a toast to 'miserably ever after!'?")

 

Jerk du Soleil

 

A good male friend (going back 20 years) is a great guy — fiercely ethical and very kind — and is irate about the jerks I've been out with recently. He has two guy friends he thinks I'd like. Is it safe to assume that they'll be cool/respectful because this is coming through our mutual friend? (I figure it can't be worse than truly blind dating online.) — Jerk Magnet

 

A friend who cares about you wouldn't knowingly put you together with jerks — which would be like recommending a prospective tenant to his landlord with "He just wants a quiet, safe place..." and neglecting to mention "...where he can pursue his hobby of balcony chicken farming."

And the good news is that a good guy is likely to have friends "of a feather." Studies by psychologist J. Philippe Rushton suggest that we have a genetically driven preference for both mates and friends who are similar to us — especially in age, ethnicity, and educational level but also in opinions and attitudes. So, if this guy likes and respects women, there's a good chance his friends do, too. But a "good chance" is not the same thing as an "ironclad guarantee." In other words, go in with your eyes wide open, because it's still largely a gamble; it's just less likely that your friend will be all "Found the perfect guy for you. We all call him 'B' — because it's easier than saying 'Beelzebub.'"

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com). Her latest book is "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck."

COPYRIGHT 2015 AMY ALKON

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

It's Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio! "Nerd your way to a better life," with the best brains in science solving your love, dating, sex, and relationship problems. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. The call-in number during the show is 347-326-9761. This week, Amy Alkon and Dr. Jennifer Verdolin on the science on mean girls and why “lean in” is advice that can backfire.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon/2015/07/13/amy-alkon-dr-verdolin-the-evolution-of-mean-girls-how-to-beat-their-system



Comments

6 Comments | Post Comment
LW1 - Once again, I have to bow down to Amy... she totally nailed it, and said what needed to be said much better than I could. LW, you are sooooo lucky in so many ways! All of us have people we "could" have been with... but if you look back on it, we had reasons at the time to take our lives in other directions. And we've no way of knowing what would have happened if we'd gone a different route. You might be one of the 50 percent or so of married couples who'd lost everything in a divorce, and be writing in to say you wish you'd never married the witch.

The one thing I would add to Amy's excellent advice is that you have an opportunity now to look ahead, not back... to think about what you want in your life now (not 20 years ago) and begin moving toward it. Now's your chance to live. There may not be another. Who knows how many years any of us have left? You don't want to write in to another advice columnist twenty years down to the road complaining that two additional decades were wasted blaming yourself for wasting the previous two. It's time to realize your infatuation with the past is at least partly imaginary, add up your blessings, have the ritual ceremony Amy recommends, then move on.
Comment: #1
Posted by: sarah morrow
Tue Jul 28, 2015 1:07 PM
So what is this? The entire discussion is erased - or did I just imagine that we were discussing whether or not the state of virginity should be discussed. Or am I confused? Or did Amy get jealous that we'd gone off and had a discussion without her?

BTW, I lost my true love 38 years ago. I ditched him for someone else. It didn't work. I came back. He was with someone else. I was heartbroken. Had an awful 13 year marriage after that. Found true love again, we've been together for 22 years. Sometimes it really WAS the right person.

Comment: #2
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:04 PM
Maggie, a column from several years ago was posted here earlier this morning by mistake, under today's date. I think it may have had a letter about "when to tell him I'm a virgin." It's been deleted now, to make room for the one that should have been here all along.
Comment: #3
Posted by: sarah morrow
Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:40 PM
Maggie, the first column posted this morning, on which you commented, was from July 10, 2012. That column was also titled "Mourning Breath." Creators' column links point to titles rather than dates, so when two columns have identical titles the link will point to the oldest one. I'm sure you've noticed this on Annie's Mailbox, where it's a fairly common occurrence on holidays.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mouse Whiskers
Tue Jul 28, 2015 3:42 PM
Thanks for the explanation. I really didn't notice the 2012 date or remember the discussion. One of the cool things about getting old - everything is new!
Comment: #5
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Tue Jul 28, 2015 6:13 PM
LW1: You get over it by accepting reality. You didn't want to marry her. PERIOD. Marriage is not romantic - it's a legal contract.

LW2: It's never safe to assume anything. If you're attracting jerks then you are a commitment phobe. You only date men you have no future with. Fix yourself. Only you can do it.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Diana
Tue Jul 28, 2015 6:33 PM
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