The one that got away. Mr. What If? The missed connection.
We all have regrets, but new research suggests the most common regret among American women involves a lost chance with an ex.
Recently, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign collected data from several hundred U.S. adults through a telephone survey, asking respondents to describe one memorable regret: what it was, how it happened, and whether their regret was rooted in something they either did or didn’t do.
Among the 370 adults surveyed, almost 20 percent said their biggest regret involved romance, most often citing a missed opportunity with a long-lost love.
Interestingly, the women surveyed were far more likely to have romantic regrets, with 44 percent talking about a past relationship. In comparison, just 19 percent of the men surveyed claimed the same. Single respondents were also the most likely to cite a romantic regret.
“People did mention high school romances, the things that got away from them,” said Neal J. Roese, the head researcher of the study. “[But] the key finding was that romance was the number one regret,” said Roese. Roese is a psychologist and professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.
Regrets tended to follow traditional gender roles, with female respondents expressing more relationship-based regrets revolving around their romantic or familial lives, whereas men tended to focus on issues involving their education, career, and money. A third of male respondents had regrets about work and career, in comparison to the quarter of female respondents who responded shared similar regrets.
The survey also found that the second most common regret among respondents involved family issues, with 16 percent of respondents expressing regret about a family squabble or having been unkind to a sibling as a child.
Participants in the newest study ranged in age from 19 to 103 years-old and came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The results also revealed the strong influence of gender, age, and education level on the types of regrets people feel. But other than these findings, no strong patterns emerged on the reasons for regret.
The second most common regret among respondents involved family issues, with 16 percent of respondents expressing regret about a family fight or having been unkind to a sibling during childhood.
The same amount of respondents who expressed regret for something they had done was equivalent to the number of respondents who felt regret for something they had not done. However, people whose regrets involved something they didn’t do or a missed opportunity were more likely to hold on to the regret over time.
“The longer-ago regrets tend to focus on lost opportunities, things you could have done or should have done different,” said Dr. Roese. “More recent regrets tend to focus on things you did do that you wish you could take back.”