You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. Michael Jordan
To err is human-but it feels divine. Mae West
Regret is basically a sorrow over a past alternative that was available to us, but that we missed. Regret is an emotion that, by use of our vivid imagination, bridges the past and present with an eye to the future. Two types of regret may be distinguished: short- and long-term regret . As a short-term emotion, regret is concerned with a loss caused by a specific, recent action; the long-term sentiment of regret is concerned with loss in the past, which has repercussions on the general course of life. In the short term, people regret their actions more than their inactions, but when people look back on their lives, those things that they have not done are the ones that produce the most regret. Short-term regret is concerned more with lost of actual gains, whereas long-term regret with lost opportunities. Accordingly, the fear of short-term regret encourages inaction, whereas the fear of long-term regret encourages actions. (see The Subtlety of Emotions).
Although long-term regret is typically concerned with missed opportunities which we could have had if we had taken a different road, sometimes such regret is concerned with missed opportunities which have nothing to do with our behavior or choices. Thus, when Eleanor Roosevelt was asked if she had any regrets, her response was that she wished she had been prettier. Her regret is concerned with long-term missed opportunities, which she considered to be consequent upon her lack of beauty, but not with a road she failed to take.
A crucial element in emotions is the imagined condition of "it could have been otherwise." Accordingly, "almost" situations or "near misses" come to have intense emotional effects, as it is so easy to imagine the alternative. These days, people are living in constant "almost romantic" situations; their environment is so enticing-many people are perceived as romantically attractive and, what is more important, as being available and wanting to be so. Ignoring potential alternatives generates the feeling of a missed opportunity, which is associated with regret. The more available the opportunity is, the more intense is the regret. Since our lives are full of missed opportunities, regret is inevitable. Failed actions and roads not taken are part and parcel of human existence. We are condemned to feel regret, a feeling which will be enhanced in the future as modern life is characterized by a significant increase in possible alternatives.
The hard times that modern lovers face consist not only of constant doubts about which road to take, but also of constant regret of the many roads not taken. The abundance of alternatives and the perpetual possibility of getting something "better" undermine commitment. The gap between the present and the potentially possible can never be bridged, although it seems to be so easy to do so. In this manner, the realm of infinite possibilities becomes a tyrannical force, keeping one from enjoying the present (see In the Name of Love). People are often tormented by what they imagine to be the consequences of the road not taken. Indeed, one survey of 48 women found that only one regretted having pursued a life dream, while almost all the women who had not pursued their life dream regretted it. Likewise, one woman wrote: "most of us don't regret what we have done so much as what we haven't. ... I'm sorry there aren't more of me to marry some of the men I've cared about. And there are cities I wanted to live in but haven't, and babies I didn't have, and careers I would have liked to explore" (cited in Landman, Regret).
Romantic affairs are deeply connected with both types of regret. In the short term, people often regret their brief sexual affairs-this is "the-morning-after affect"; in the long term, people typically regret romantic and sexual affairs they did not have. Initiating romantic and sexual affairs involves various risks and regrets-especially if one of the partners is already within a committed relationship.
Online affairs may make it easier to deal with the problem of regret, as it facilitates low-risk affairs. Such affairs provide the excitement associated with romantic affairs, hence avoiding romantic dissatisfaction in the short term and regret in the long term. The lesser degree of risk and moral criticism associated with such affairs also enables participants to avoid short-term regret and actual harm. Avoiding romantically exciting affairs may succeed in preventing short-term regret concerning the harmful consequences of our actions. As time goes by, however, regret over inaction is stronger, and avoiding pleasant actions becomes more and more difficult.
In a way, cyberspace forces people to face reality-a reality that often contains one's actual, disappointing romantic relationship. One cannot avoid unpleasant reality by leading oneself to believe that better alternatives are not available. Cyberspace takes an intermediate position between reality and sheer fantasy. The escape into cyberspace is not essentially an escape into fantasy; it is often an escape to a semi-reality that presents our everyday life in a more realistic manner. Sometimes, offline relationships may benefit from such a presentation. Indeed, people testify that their online affair has been a beneficial, learning experience and has revealed many aspects of their offline relationship to them.
Consider, for instance, the following account written by a married woman: "A cybersexual affair was a real wake-up call in my life. I had been married for 20 years, happily I thought, but was lonely in my life. I made friends on the Net and rapidly found the sexual undercurrent to be intriguing. Within a year I was having some of the most exciting sex I'd ever experienced. It really is true what they say about the mind being the most powerful sex organ. I learned that there were things in my marriage that I needed badly and didn't know it till I experienced them elsewhere. All of this was learning and it helped my marriage in the long run" (cited in Love Online). There are, of course, many other cases in which the excitement of an online affair resulted in the breakup of the offline relationship.
One way to prevent long-term regret is to encourage people to act on their impulses more often; people should focus less on the short-term consequences of their action and more often "just do it." However, acting on this advice may be dangerous as the status quo is usually safer than trying something new. Awarding greater significance to unwise actions may promote risky behavior and decrease chances of surviving. Cyberspace provides a way to cope with this dilemma: it lets people act on their impulses, hence reducing long-term regret, and it significantly reduces the risks involved in such activity, thus reducing the prospects of short-term regret.
Various surveys on regret have found that people's single most common regret centered on their education. This is true of all types of people including the relatively well-educated. The other most common categories are work-related regrets and regrets concerning marriage and parenthood. Such regrets are prominent because they prematurely close off an enchanting world of great alternatives.