“What if?” It’s a question that can either uncover unlimited possibility or leave you lingering in regret. When it comes to relationships, the latter is often the case. For if there’s a person you find yourself trailing off into hypothetical scenarios of happy ever after endings with, you may have a case of the ‘What Ifs?’ — also known as, relationship regret. It’s the inability to let go of the possibility of rekindling an old flame or igniting one that never quite got started. If you’re in this predicament, it may be time to reflect. Can we deal with these whispers of curiosity as we try to move on, or do they ultimately hold us back from doing so?

I remember reading Wale’s Honey Mag column on ‘the pursuit of love and the thrill of the chase’; he made a statement that stuck with me: no one is ever truly single. His reasoning was that there is always someone we are crushing on, missing, or emotional attached to. As he put it:

To be 100% real, I don’t believe there is such a thing as being single. Like single, single. There is always someone your mind or heart is with, whether it be an ex or a friend who doesn’t know it yet. There is always somebody else.

Adding to that, even if we’re in a relationship, I believe many of us have someone who we ponder about time-to-time. What if he’s the one that got away? What if we met at different times in our lives? What if it would’ve worked?

I was there. I did that. And I decided to stop.

Although we were never together, there was someone I’d been toying with in the back of my mind. He was my “friend who didn’t know it yet.” It was as if I kept him in my back pocket, reserved in case I didn’t find anyone better — which I didn’t think I would — so I kind of thought it was inevitable we’d end up together. I continued to compare others to him, only to check them off the list . He was my ideal. The friend that I’d hope would one day no longer be in the friend zone. In some ways we flirted with the idea, talked around it, waiting for the other person to take the first step.

But then, I met someone who was interested, sincere, and comparable. I had no valid reason not to give him a chance. I was single right? When I reasoned over what was holding me back, I found nothing else besides my hesitancy to let go of the idea that no one would measure up to my “friend.”

“Girl, you need to go ahead and figure out that chapter before you can give someone a real chance,” one of my friends advised. And so, I did. I had to make an attempt at the unknown potential or lack thereof with him in order to give myself a chance to let go of the “What ifs?” I never wanted to regret not exploring the possibility of things working out — which is TBD as I write.

Luckily, my situation was not so emotionally intense. I know many women, however, who have had on-again, off-again relationships and can’t seem to keep the past from hindering the present. We enter into new territory, knowing we haven’t made amends with the past. Regretting how a relationship ended and contemplating how it could still be. This isn’t fair to ourselves or fair to those we are with. There’s nothing wrong with taking a trip down memory lane every so often, and of course there may always be love there, but if we’re not truly over a situation it’s better to be upfront and make amends with things before pursuing a new relationship.

Through my personal experience I concluded that unless your previous relationship was abusive or extremely toxic — (in that case, let it go girl!) — it’s either better to explore the options with that person, reason with yourself and each other on the likelihood of things working out, or if all else fails, simply let the past be the past and move on. It will keep you from the slippery slope of stringing someone else along, all the while pondering about how things could have turned out with another person. And if you’re “single” it will allow you to be emotionally available to new beginnings.

So to any of us dealing with a case of the “What Ifs?”, when it comes to a previous relationship or the one that never quite happened, challenge yourself to get to the root of your curiosity. If you find that it’s worthwhile to explore the possibilities with that person, go for it. But also be prepared to let it remain a figment of your imagination if the answer to your questions turns out to be better left unsaid.

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  • The Patient One

    “There is always someone your mind or heart is with, whether it be an ex or a friend who doesn’t know it yet. There is always somebody else” – Wale

    Naw, not true for me.

  • “What if” reminds me of living in a fantasy world. We all do it, from time to time, but it doesn’t help to move you forward if you really want that thing, that man, that job, that family. Can’t live too long in the past so either explore it (if you can) or leave it where it is.

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