Dear Ann Cannon • I once met a girl at Zion National Park. She was a college student on her summer break cleaning cabins at the lodge. She was a singing talent. She and others on her staff entertained lodge guests with musical numbers after dinner. The beautiful Zion Canyon provided the perfect backdrop for our brief summer romance.
In the fall when I was back at my university, an opportunity arose to continue our romance. She had found a job on my campus. However, I had just broken up with my college girlfriend and was not ready for another steady relationship. I have long harbored regrets on how I ended the relationship with the girl from Zion. I was not mature enough to face her and tell her my feelings. In today’s terms, I “ghosted” her. Now I think even more often about my childish behavior and how I must have disappointed her. I’m now in my late 70s. Is this normal to suffer regrets from so long ago?
— A Regretful Californian
Dear Californian • Oh, regrets. I don’t know about you, but I don’t quite believe the person who says he or she has no regrets about anything. I know that I have a lot of regrets. Some of them are small. Like, I regret having cut my own bangs recently while my hairdresser’s salon has been closed. I mean, I watched a tutorial on YouTube and everything to pick up some tips. But it didn’t help. My bangs look like a kindergartener with a pair of scissors (dull ones) did the job. I keep checking the mirror every five minutes to see if their appearance has improved and the answer is a big, fat nope.
Other regrets are larger, of course, and I personally have a lot of those, too. One of my biggest regrets is that the last time I saw my maternal grandmother alive on this earth, I was impatient with her. My family and I were loading up the U-Haul, preparing to move to New York state, when she showed up to help out— a generous act in and of itself. But when she started bossing me around (we had a long history of her being the boss and me being the unwilling bossee), I started to bristle. Didn’t she think I was capable of making decisions on my own? Why was she treating me like I was still a child — and not a very bright one at that? Bottom line? I was ungracious and sharp with her. Little did I know that a few months later, she would pass quietly in the night.
The reason I tell you all this is that I don’t think it’s unusual to have regrets — some of which may become even more pronounced with age as we reflect on what has been, as well as what might have been. Regrets are a little bit like seashells that wash up on the beach. We pick them up from the sand, study their shapes and their colors, and toss them back into the ocean until they reappear again from time to time.
My advice? Accept the way you feel, while understanding at the same time that feeling regretful is a very human emotion. You’re not alone. Then sit with your regret for a while, try to be kind to yourself, and then throw it back in the ocean.
I hope this helps.