“‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say. I know that… that love is supposed to be transformative.’ Now she’d used the word she felt her tongue loosen. ‘And that’s how I’m trying to look at it. There. Bang. I’ve been transformed, and however it happened it doesn’t matter. You can go or stay, and it will still have happened. So I’ve been trying to look at you as a metaphor or something. But it doesn’t work. The terribly inconvenient fact is that, without you around, everything slides back to how it was before. It can’t do otherwise. And I have to say, books haven’t helped much with all this. Because whenever you read anything about love, whenever anyone tries to define it, there’s always a state or an abstract noun, and I try to think of it like that. But actually, love is… Well, it’s just you. And when you go, it’s gone. Nothing abstract about it.'”
Excerpt from Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.
While trying to muster the courage to address her feelings and urges, Annie is confided the story of a lustful encounter that didn’t come to fruition. She sees this as an example and reminder that it is the things we do not do that we come to regret. So Annie goes on to say what she wants, despite her mind being riddled with self-questioning, undermining and slightly neurotic thoughts. And she gets what she wants, apparently.
I’m sorry, Annie. As you have later realised, it is both the things we do and do not do that we come to regret. That is especially true when it comes to love. These are possibly regrets – plural – with slightly different qualities, in that they tell different stories about us. Are we impulsive and lustful or timid and self-censoring? Probably neither; likely both. It depends on the occasion and who the other person decides to be as much as who we decide to be there and then.
In any case, when you’re a romantic and tend to expect from life more than casual encounters even when the events could be used as the dictionary example of what a casual encounter could be described as, you are going to inflict misery upon yourself. There is no avoiding it. You see someone who appears to be the person you have been looking for for years (‘appear’ being a keyword of paramount importance that you choose to ignore) and suddenly you find yourself building sand castles, much against your will.
You have instantly developed a split personality, not of the clinical kind. You debate with yourself – or amongst your selves. You try to reason with the less logically-inclined and definitely over-infatuated part of you who wants to leave everything behind for someone you have barely met. Remember, you have spent more hours filling in the gaps than actual time together.
You win the argument, but not the war. You know the logically sound thing to do and you force yourself through it, but regret it and cry about it for much longer than you think a logical and sound person should. You know it will get better, but not much; get easier, as soon as your brain’s chemistry is rebalanced; get something, but unregretful it will be not.
Because that is the nature of life. We regret not doing the things we think would make us happy and we regret that the things that did make us happy are no longer. And then we turn to movies and songs and books and try to find consolation in the fictional lives that we desperately need to focus on so that we can not think about our own. Only to realise that those fictionals are as much we as we are they. Annie, I can feel your regret and understand your despair. And yes, time can feel like it has been wasted when relationships end; or when life goals change. But whatever we choose to do next, let’s not live in fear of regret. Whatever happens, if someone is worthy of being wanted, there lurks sorrow and regret. It is not because we failed. It is because we felt.