How many times have you heard that slick little slogan? In upper-middle-class America, forestalling regret is a preoccupation that verges on obsession. We are everywhere encouraged to take risks, to say yes, to seize the day and squeeze it like a pie-bound key lime. If we don't -if we stay home from the party, keep mum about our crush, refuse to ride the mechanical bull- we will receive divine punishment in the form of that most insidious, most incapacitating of plagues, regret.
I've been mulling regret ever since I purchased an issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine in an ill-advised attempt to lull all thinking parts of my brain into stuporous submission. Unfortunately, all I got was riled.
Well, riled and a little hysterical: Cosmo turns out to be a mildly hilarious, severely scrofulous instructional tract on how to become the kind of woman I never want to meet, ever. Its premiere accomplishment -and it is an accomplishment- is managing to be both raunchy and officious, a combination I have not heretofore encountered outside of sexy-librarian porn.
The important tense, for Cosmo, is the imperative tense: At a party, "arrange the chairs so that people's butts are touching. That small amount of physical contact will make the vibe much more intimate." (Or, um, creepy.) "Switch your regular light bulbs for peach colored ones." (For that bordello-meets-sweet-sixteen vibe!) "Pick up a pair of PJs that make you feel hot." (Because sleep is where all the sexy guys are!) "Scoop out the white bread inside of your plain bagel." (Really? REALLY?)
There was mountains of this stuff. Do this! Think that! Eat this! Touch that! Instead of reviewing beach books, Cosmo offered excerpts printed on tear-off cards. Excerpts that contained -you guessed it- additional instructions, on looking pretty at the beach or how not to scare off "guys," a skittish, possibly mythical race of beings the Cosmo girl hunts with the intensity of Dick Cheney pursuing no-bid government contracts.
Still, in that vast haystack of hooey, what needled me the most was the line about regrets: "Just do it! People are much more likely to regret not going after a goal than trying something that doesn't pan out."
First of all, show me the data! Second of all, show me the data! And finally: what is so terrible, ultimately, about regrets? I've got a truckload Sure, I tried not to: I went to prom, took the internship, chose the more difficult road. But there's only so many roads you can take, difficult or superhighway. There are only so many careers you can have -though I maintain that one is stingy- and only so many people you can marry outside of the FLDS.
Inevitably -profoundly- I regret. The trick is learning to make room for it, to let it dwell peacefully in some bottom drawer of my brain.
To co-opt the Cosmo imperative: Live with it.