Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

If Only …

on August 1, 2014

(Excerpted from my upcoming book, Spinstered: Finding Hope in Singleness After 40.)

As I wrote and researched and thought about all that single over forty was and is and could be, it became clear that regret is the king of grief. “You should have tried harder, dreamed bigger, risked more.” Regret crouches like a devil on my shoulder. And if we’re going to tackle grief, we need to charge head-on into regret.

My mom succumbed to breast cancer when I was a senior in high school, something you never forget and never stop grieving. In this grief process, I am often, even more than thirty years later, overwhelmed by regret. I should have spent more time with her, asked her more questions and sat by her bed, holding her hand, listening to her share her life story . . . slow enough for me to write down every word. I regret everything I lost the day she died.

Piano Girl

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

A few months before her cancer took its final turn for the worse, Mom came into our sunroom and sat down next to me as I played the piano. I don’t remember what we talked about, but at some point she started crying.

“I’ll never see you get married,” she said. “I’ll never meet my grandchildren.”

To this day, I can only imagine how those remarks affected my life. At the time I didn’t know she was dying — and wouldn’t have believed it could happen if someone had told me it was possible — so I just thought she was being melodramatic. On that sunny, summer day, scented by fresh-flower breezes drifting through open windows, I assured her she was wrong. Everything would be fine. Then I changed the subject.

But she was right and by Christmas she was gone. Regret ate at me for years, often manifesting itself into dreams where I would have one more chance to talk to her, just a few more days to be a girl with her mom. In the midst of the grief, though, I had hope and still do. My mom loved her Savior and I know I will see her again.

Is It Too Late?

The regrets I’ve had as a single woman aren’t much different in that they focus on what I didn’t do. Could I have flirted more? Should I have dated the cabinet maker longer? Taken a chance on the unemployed guy ten years my junior that I met on a plane? What about the one who said he would go out with me if I ever asked him? (Boy, that’s just what a girl wants to hear.) It’s hard, if not impossible, to know if I could have done anything to change my current situation and what that should have been. All I can do is speculate. And what would be the point in that? It’s in the past. I could live with the frustration . . . or choose to let it go and move on.

I can also learn from this and change my approach. Say “yes” more, regardless of age or occupation, and be open to any Guy With Potential, as I like to call them, even when I don’t feel a spark or am uncertain about any possible compatibility. I can take those risks, while still having a clear idea of what I’m looking for and what would be good for me.

Here’s the thing, though: I’m fifty, my looks are fading, and single, available men even remotely close to my age are almost impossible to come across. At this time, I don’t have any Guys With Potential — or GWPs —  in my social circle. A circle that is, sadly, pretty small. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t come into my life tomorrow, but I’m trying to be realistic. It’s very possible I “waited” too long and missed my chance. This is why I tell my story. Maybe someone could learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones. Call me a cautionary tale.

Of course, I’d much rather be the girl people point to and whisper, “She didn’t meet the love of her life until later but, if you ask, she’ll tell you she’s glad she waited.”

To get past regret is to remember and learn and change and never stop hoping. That’s been a big answer to prayer for me — I can be content single and still hope God has marriage in my future.

I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, I used to hate it when people would throw the Philippians contentment verse* at me, as if that was supposed to make everything better and magically take away the pain. They didn’t understand . . . and neither did I. All I knew was it hurt and demanding I just “be content” wouldn’t change that.

I needed to find a way to hope again. Not in a man or a husband or even a great job, but in something more. And though I knew that “more” had everything to do with my relationship with God, it still took time for me to put it all together.

So, what about you — how do you handle regret?

* “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11 ESV).

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