Mid Life Regret

Mental Emotional Cycles

For many, regrets can be compelling. The treadmill of the mind repeats and recycles whatever painful feelings and thoughts we have about life. It says: “I should have thought more about saving for retirement; I should have taken that job; I should have moved away from home; I should have listened to my father or mother; I should have changed my major; I should have gone to college, or grad school, or not gone to college. It sings in our ears over and over again. It is, in reality, too late to make any of these changes. The time for choosing has past.

We don’t know if this other option would have improved things in life now or not. All that we do know, is that we made the choices we made. Maybe you know the reason for it, and maybe you don’t. I don’t deny there can be value in learning what happened and why you reacted as you did. Sometimes this knowledge can make it easier to let go. But, ultimately, it  matters most to move on from the tyranny of this mental and emotional cycle.

Sinking In

For example, Paul, a man in his mid 30′s, became an alcoholic after college. Upon graduation, he worked as a bartender at an exclusive New York Italian Restaurant.  He had the prestige and status of working in a wonderful place and he could maintain his habit. In the short run, it looked like the perfect solution to his problem of making enough money to survive and drink. He could have gone on forever, except fate had other plans. When he was notified that his 25 year college reunion was approaching, he decided to go.  It was held at a ballroom near his small rent-controlled studio apartment in downtown Manhattan. People arrived from Long Island and even as far away as California. But when Paul walked in, he was confronted with how young everybody looked. The women and men were generally athletic and healthy looking. Then, he bumped into a guy he’d roomed with for three of his four years in college. It was sobering to discover that Jeff had become a successful real estate agent, who earned well over six figures. Jeff was all excited about his recent trip to France with his wife and kids. The comparison was too much. Paul had no wife, no children, no house. He was just paying his bills.

Paul’s mid life crisis bloomed as he sank into regret. He replayed “the waste of his life”, as he called it. He recycled his bad decisions over and over again in his mind. His daily litany became, ” I should have gotten a profession. I should have become a banker or financial planner, like my father. I should have stayed in contact with my family. I shouldn’t have moved away from Long Island.” It just made him feel hopeless and depressed. He drank even more.

Breaking Out

A year later, the owner of the restaurant, brought his daughter in to waitress. She had just gotten her degree in counseling and couldn’t help listening as he talked about his hopeless life. Eventually, she got him to an AA meeting. It was a rough internal shift, but a little over a year later he quit the restaurant and started a program to be certified as a financial planner. He still regrets his lost time. But, he’s moved on. He is starting over again

What About You ?

Are you regretting some of your important decisions? What happens when you start thinking about them? What have you learned form them?

4 comments on “Mid Life Regret

  1. Susan Ingle on said:

    My husand is in the middle of a midlife crisis…and is running from everything….his family and every resposibility… he has gone to Legal Zoom to fill out divorce paperwork and given it to me to sign…he insists that I sign it the way he has spelled things to be according his wishes….if I do no, he has made threats….so unlike the man I married so many years ago…I miss my husband, I have no idea who this person is in my husbands body….it is so sad for our daughters and myself, we all love him with everything….we admire him, and just think the world of him, well who he once was….will he ever come close to returning?

    • newjoy on said:

      Things like this are often about his need to rebalance his life. He has probably suppressed some part of himself that he needs to explore. It sounds like you are sad to lose the relationship you two shared. If he sees your sadness and hurt, instead of your anger, he might be able to get in touch with his own loss. He may just be running from facing some aspect of the aging process. It would be useful to discover what he is so fearful about. What scares him should he not chose to change everything? I know this is late and much has happened since you wrote it. I have not been writing for this site. I’ve been writing a book. If per chance you are still together, therapy would be helpful.

  2. Adrian on said:

    My husband has been going through this really weird time for about 4 months. We were laying in bed one night and he sat up with a confused sad look on his face telling me that he felt empty inside and alone. He felt like he didn’t love me anymore. He wanted space and he told me he knew he had a problem he didn’t understand what was going on with him. I was devastated. As the months went on things got worse. He wanted to go out with his friends and couldn’t even come home. He said he couldn’t stand to be around me. We went to counseling and he told the counselor it was all me and I was the reason why our marriage wasn’t the way it used to be. He started bring up the past things I did back when we used to party. We have been together for 17 years with two children. He left me 7 weeks ago said he needed some space and he was only supposed to be gone for 2 weeks and still hasn’t returned home. It makes no sense to me because 2 days before Christmas he told my bestfriend how he loved me more now then he did when we first met. He couldn’t be without me and the kids in this life. Two weeks later he snapped into this funk he is in and he still to this day says its all me I cheated on him which I never did all I did when we were younger was pull my shirt up when we where drinking and I was in my early 20′s then. The counselor told him to look at my maturity level and my age and not to live in the past but he is still living in the past. Things are getting alittle better, he can stand to be around me now and we have decided to be friends build on our relationship from there. Right now we are just at the friend level doing things as a family with the kids and living apart.

    • newjoy on said:

      I understand how frustrating it is to learn he never expressed his feelings about all that happened in the past. Withholding issues because one is been too uncomfortable to express the upset, means he had to work to not share. He had to develop a separate world filled with feelings and resentments. In midlife, those hidden issues often surface. But there might be a silver lining to all this. Clearing out those past angers can free him to appreciate you. It can free him to really see you as you are now, unclouded by the past. Yes, no one can do anything about the past. But he can do a great deal about expressing himself. Apparently, he’s mulled over, harbored and relived those past thoughts and feeling in his imagination. What we don’t express or let go of from the past will explode into the present with the force of reality. But, it isn’t real. Human beings tend to bend the present based on their expectations and feelings from the past. This hides and deforms our perceptions. No matter what happens with your husband, I invite you to have compassion for him. It sounds like he is growing.

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