By Emma Dooney
An astonishing number of women in Britain regret their choice of life partner, a new study finds.
A UK campaign has revealed some shocking insights into women's private thoughts, in the hope of transforming that pesky "should have" self-talk.
The Art of Regret invites women all over the country to submit their do-over wishes to be shared with the public, with the aim of converting regret anxiety into a productive life lesson. Its mission has led to an outpouring of truths about UK women's lamentations, many of which are linked to a romantic partner.
Launched by bestselling author Amanda Prowse to promote her new book, Waiting to Begin, the campaign has already splashed its bold messages on billboards and posters across five UK cities. The eye-catching signs divulge a variety of regrets from women of all ages, including missed travel opportunities and career stress. Perhaps most shocking, however, was the high rates of relationship regret.
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"I wasted years of my life in a destructive relationship," one poster in Edinburgh reads. This anonymous quote, unfortunately, resonates with plenty of other women.
In a survey conducted with 2,042 women, the campaign found that a whopping 31% of participants regret their choice of life partner.
Annie, a 43-year-old Londoner, is one of these individuals. Her desperation to become a mother blinded her from the reality of her partner's faults, trapping her into a dead-end relationship with a wholly unsuitable mate.
"My first partner turned out to be an extremely lazy man. While he played video games at home, I held down a full-time job, studied part-time for a Master’s degree, and did all the housework," she said.
After two more toxic relationships, she finally abandoned her "yearning" for children and embraced the freedom of singledom. She has since embarked on a life of solo traveling, swapping buggies and babies for backpacking and boats.
"If I could talk to 20-year-old me, I’d say: 'Live a happy life alone and prepare to be a single mother at 30. Do not waste time finding a husband. It’s a privilege to be a woman.”
Natalie, 44, also looks back at her relationship history with regret. After 4 and a half years with a "dishonest, emotionally unavailable" man, she was left with nothing but an STD and a broken heart. She eventually healed from the experience with the help of counseling, along with some good old-fashioned crying, and is now the proud owner of a body care business.
"My advice is to discover what makes you happy, what gives you peace in this world of madness, and don't be ashamed of who you are," she says.
Romantic relationships weren't the only sources of anguish found by the campaign. A particularly poignant regret was not spending more time with a loved one who had passed away, an issue that's all-too-common nowadays with modern society's high-pressure work culture.
And because regret is still a touchy subject, not all of these people were able to express their emotions out loud. The survey revealed that 27% of people secretly wished that they'd been there more for a family member or friend before their death, but believed they couldn't share this feeling with anyone.
By broadcasting these thoughts on a public platform, The Art of Regret hopes to combat this stigma—highlighting the collective experience of regret and inspiring others to view their experience as a learning curve.
"Every single human will, at some point in their lives, feel a sense of regret—and while this can evoke some strong and negative feelings, it can also provide positive, life-changing growth," says psychologist Emma Kenny.
According to the British TV personality, regret, while usually very painful, is not without its merits.
"The Art of Regret acknowledges there’s worth in every single action we take, even when those actions lead to consequences that, on reflection, we didn’t desire," she explains. "Often, it is during the most challenging times that we learn the most about who we are, and about what we want to achieve from life. Through these experiences, we grow in resilience, learn to take positive risks, avoid making the same mistakes again, and become aware of our self-power—all of which contribute to a highly empowering state from which we can truly thrive.”
The Art of Regret has invited women to submit their regret stories here for the campaign's second wave of posters, which will be released in late July/early August.
Emma is a news writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life. She covers the Royal Family and the entertainment world, as well as the occasional health or lifestyle story. When she's not reporting on the British monarchy and A-list celebs, you can find her whipping up vegan treats and running the roads to cheesy '90s pop music...but not at the same time, obviously.
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