Hindsight’s 20/20, and The Truth Will Set You Free
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I can’t stop thinking about past decisions that in the present turned out less-than-good. I wish I had the money that I spent on cars and some vacations. I regret having bought a boat years ago when I could have used that money differently now. These things prey on me, though I know there’s nothing I can do about them. I understand that I need to look at this differently, but I don’t know how.
Dr. Hurd replies:
Regrets are pointless. You can’t change what’s past. You’re thinking, “If I had this or that to do over again, I’d do it differently.” Do you regret that you might have made a mistake? If so, then it’s an error that you’ve since corrected. To regret making an error is like expecting yourself to be infallible.
People sometimes regret things that made perfect sense at the time. A good example involves relationships. “I wish I hadn’t been in that relationship.” I then ask, “OK, what was bad about it?” “Well, it wasn’t bad at the time. We were in love and had good times. But it didn’t last.”
What’s the point of regretting what you admit was right for you then? If the partner had died, you wouldn’t conclude, “We had 20 fantastic years but he died prematurely. I wish we had never met.” That’s no different than, “We had 20 fantastic years until one (or both) of us changed. So I wish we’d never met.”
People regret lesser things too. “I spent thousands of dollars on vacations ten years ago. I wish I had that money now.” OK, but could you afford the vacations at the time? Did you enjoy them? “Yes, and yes.” Short of Googling, “time machine, cheap,” there’s nothing you can do about any of it. So let it go!
Our emotions are good at projecting our current needs or desires onto ten or twenty years ago. If what we wanted then isn’t what we want today, we automatically assume that what we did back then was wrong. Things can only be right for their time; that’s all we have to work with.
None of this denies the fact that people make mistakes. But don’t assume something was an error just because you wouldn’t do it now. And if something was indeed a mistake, then use that knowledge in the present. Yesterday’s errors are today’s power! Thinking people are not doomed to make the same mistake over and over again.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My wife and I got married many years ago. Since that time, I have admitted to myself that I am certainly gay. I feel guilty about it, but I simply cannot come to terms with leaving my wife, who has health problems. I explore my feelings secretly through the Internet or by confiding in a few close friends. She and I have never discussed this, and I’d like to think that she isn’t aware of it, but I feel like I’m being held hostage by whatever she may or may not know. I’m not a young person, and I keep thinking that I’m probably better off in this relationship than in none. I’m sending this to you anonymously, but that doesn’t make my fantasies, frustration, and growing resentment any less real.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Nobody can hold you hostage other than with physical force. You say you feel trapped. That’s totally understandable. But you made a choice. I’m not talking about being gay; I’m talking about how you choose to handle your wife. One option is to not discuss any of this with her. You’re doing that already, and you’re increasingly unhappy. Of course, nobody can guarantee that opening up to her would make things better. But it might.
The point remains that you do have a choice. It sounds like you’re more and more uncomfortable shouldering this huge secret. Living a lie can make one feel like a hostage. Maybe that’s your biggest problem.
For whatever reason, your wife is important to you. Otherwise, you could easily leave her. Keeping something so important from someone so important creates a level of frustration and unhappiness that can pervade and taint your entire existence. So what if you do tell her? She might react badly—at first. But if she truly loves you, wouldn’t she eventually accept the truth? Assuming she does (and this is a big test of her love for you), you might feel more free to pursue a life that honors your true identity. And with some care, discretion, and maybe even a bit of humor, it can be more respectful to her as well.
Yes, the truth can hurt. But living a lie does more damage than the truth can ever do. Ignorance may be bliss, but, tired cliché that it is, only the truth can set you free.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr Hurd.