Preemptive apology for the length of this post; I think it’s worth reading.
So I had an interesting, unexpected, and extremely surreal encounter while on vacation Sunday night. Without getting into details, since they’re not germane to the advice I’m seeking in this thread (PM me if you want a synopsis), the events comprising the encounter can be broken down into two situations. The first situation was excellent and enjoyable and memorable and awesome. The second situation had the potential to be twenty times as excellent and enjoyable and et cetera, but ultimately was disappointing and unremarkable. At the time, the fact that the second situation disappointed, while too bad in its own right, did not in any significant way serve to diminish the luster of the first; I was happy enough that the first situation had happened at all.
With a little distance, though – and I mean that literally, since I’m now back home – and having understandably looked back on that night with fondness and mild regret over the last two days, I realize that there were a number of pretty simple things that I could have done or said near the end of the first situation, any one of which would (as far as I can see) have made it much more likely that the second situation would have unfolded completely differently in an unmitigatedly positive way. And the realization that I didn’t do or say any of those things at the time is something that’s begun to linger.
I’ve always been someone who looks back and wonders about paths not taken, particularly when the choices are the kind that you can’t readily (if at all) go back and make again. This is my personality, and I’m okay with that; I think it gives me a broader perspective on life, and hopefully helps to inform decisions I make in the future. But a natural consequence of this kind of reflection is that I tend to dwell pretty deeply on stuff that could have been,* which I’m less okay with.
Which means that right now I find myself feeling sadder about what didn’t happen on Sunday night than excited about what did. I felt much better about it all when I chalked up the disappointment of the second situation to random and various factors beyond my control. But now that I’ve realized that I really did miss several opportunities to change the ultimate course of things, that’s all I can think about when I think about that night.
Obviously nobody makes the right choices all the time, and it’s tough when you’re in the thick of things to see what you can see with the benefit of hindsight. At the same time, though, I think it’s legitimate to realize that you could have done things differently and achieved a better outcome. It’s just that I’m stuck in that gear.
So: anyone have any tips for how I can stop dwelling? I don’t want to forget about the night altogether; I just want to keep it as happy a memory as it was (or, failing that, as happy a memory as I can). I’m sure other people go through similar things…what do you do to get over it?
When coming up with advice, I guess you should take into account a couple of underlying assumptions: (a) that the second situation really could have been even more amazing than the first; and (b) that I’ve accurately identified things that I could/should have said or done, but didn’t, that would have been very likely to change the second situation for the better. It would be hard to convince me that either of these things is not true…I’m just hoping that there’s a way to accept their truth but not be overly bothered by it.
And thus do I turn to my fellow Dopers for their words of wisdom.
*Even/especially when the stuff is trivial, since that usually means that the point of decision, and the potentially positive consequences of that decision, are more starkly identifiable. As an example, a few years back I met this girl who was smart and gorgeous, with whom I had knock-out chemistry. She was also casually dating someone. The second time we ever hung out, we were in my dorm room after a sort of friend-y, sort of date-y evening, and there was a tangible moment when I very nearly kissed her. I didn’t do it; she’d indicated that she would be breaking it off with this guy soon, and I felt like it would be better to wait until she wasn’t in any sort of relationship, however loosely committed, before doing anything physical. She told me on the phone later that night that she wished I had kissed her, and she wavered as to whether or not to invite me over to spend the night. She decided not to, and the chemistry between us was never the same. I don’t believe that by failing to kiss her that night, I missed out on the love of my life; chances are we wouldn’t have lasted. But I did miss out on the kiss itself, and, although ephemeral, that’s something very valuable in its own right. There’s still a sharp poignancy to that memory, even though I haven’t seen her for years.