When I was at university, I had a lovely boyfriend. He was kind and clever, and we had a blast. One day, I cheated on him.
During several weeks of moping around in my dressing gown, refusing to eat and sobbing, I thought I could never learn to like myself again. I had always been judgmental of infidelity, and had a ‘no excuses’ regard for people who’d cheat on their partners. I no longer regret what I did, because it taught me some of the most important things that I’ve learned on the roller-coaster that no-one told us growing up would be.
- Appreciate the lessons learned
Like I explained above, being unfaithful to my boyfriend was the ‘worst’ thing I’ve ever done. I broke a social convention big time, and I hurt someone that I care about. But you know what? I will never do it again. The experience has shown me that it is never worth it, and I’m glad I learned it when I was 20 and not when I’m married and have kids. Clearly, I needed to learn that temptation isn’t worth the consequences, and better sooner, in a uni relationship, than later. Besides, the fact it happened clearly shows that I wasn’t happy in the relationship. Looking back, as kind my ex boyfriend is I don’t think we were very well suited. I had been unhappy for a while but in complete denial because I was scared of acknowledging it, and then in the end it all kind of exploded. I’m glad that it happened because it forced us to confront the problems in our relationship and sit down and talk about whether we really wanted to be together… it turned out that the answer was no and it meant we could stop wasting each other’s time and focus on ourselves.
Finally, it taught me not to judge other people. Previously I had been quite up on my high horse about some things… including infidelity. I really looked down on people who had cheated on others. But you know what? To hell with that. I have no right to judge others and being in the same position I’d previously looked down on just showed me that you never know the details of anyone’s situation or feelings, and that looking down on others is ugly and small.
- Put it into perspective
My second piece of advice when you’re feeling regretful of something is to put it into perspective. Close your eyes, take a breath and ask yourself ‘Am I going to care about this in 10 years’ time?’ If the answer is no, let it go right now and save yourself unnecessary pain that won’t even be a concern to you later on in life.
- Give yourself a break
Have a bit of self-understanding! It’s very unlikely you purposefully intended to harm anyone, we all make mistakes. Sometimes, things go wrong. Be glad you feel bad, it’s your body’s natural way of adapting and changing to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. The most anxious and regretful people that I know are in their teens and early twenties… sometimes you do just have to put things down to youth. Sadly, there is no ‘how to life’ manual that comes flying out with the placenta after you’re born. We are all just doing our best to navigate the world on the experiences that each of us have had. You don’t get to judge or look down on anyone, and that includes yourself.
Recently I was crying my eyes out to my parents. I was really struggling to come to terms with the fact I’d upset one of my friends by being a bit thoughtless and I couldn’t stop punishing myself. Mum and Dad gave me cracking advice as ever:
Mum: ‘Oh Rach, I was unbearable to be around until I was at least 25’
Dad: ‘I’m pretty sure I was an obnoxious twat until I was 30.’
You see?! We are just learning, and that’s ok.
- Get it together
My final bit of advice is to take a nice deep breath, and get your shit together. If you don’t reign in your overreaction to something that probably wont matter in the grand scheme of things, you are going to spiral into a bad place.
Example. I’m a vegetarian. A few months ago I got absolutely sloshed on overpriced, sickly sweet cocktails. Where did I end up? With a 6 pack of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. I woke up the next day feeling RUBBISH. My tummy was cramping because I wasn’t used to meat, I had a ratty hangover and I felt like such an idiot for letting a greasy Mcdonalds get in between me and my lifestyle choices. But I had another choice to make. I could despair and say, ‘OH WOE IS ME I’M SO BAD, I SHOULD JUST GIVE UP AND EAT MEAT ALL THE TIME.’ Or I could say ‘oops, my bad, let’s get back on track.’
Life is so so short and you can’t waste your precious time beating yourself up or hurting for the mistakes you make. The past is over, and the future is uncertain. Cringe aside, you only have the present to live and enjoy. Please don’t ruin the most important thing you have by giving yourself a hard time.