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Why Regret Might Not Always Be A Bad Thing

Regret is simply another word for remorse. Now do you see the word differently?

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Even before I went to look up the word to make sure I understood what it meant, a statement that has always made me wince in my mind is "I don't have any regrets" (or some variation of that).


Although I know it's a popular thing that folks like to say, to me, it always came off as a mixture of arrogance and thou doth protest too much. It would cause me to say (usually also in my mind), "So, hold up. With all of the stuff that you've done over the course of your entire life, there is nothing that you regret?" Nothing at all?

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Shoot. I have a ton of stuff I regret.

I regret starting my freelancing career without hiring a tax accountant. I regret spending more time in the university center than in the library in college. I regret dating a guy for years who I knew I wasn't in love with. I regret all of my abortions but especially my fourth one.

Shoot, just this week, I regretted ordering something from a merchant on Etsy who lost my merchandise. So yeah, I don't get how anyone on the planet can get out of a seven-day cycle, let alone an entire lifetime without having any regrets.

Still, I've heard people say it so much, with so much boldness and confidence, that I decided to do some further investigating. After having a conversation with about 20 people about them "having no regrets", more times than not, they would get into how, no matter what happened to them or even what they've chosen to do that may not have been the wisest thing at the time, it all played a role in where they are and who they are. And that is why they have no regrets.

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I hear that. I get it even. But to me, that sounds more like being in a state of acceptance than not regretting anything. It's the definition of regret that brings me to that conclusion.

Regret: to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.)

And remorse?

Remorse: deep and painful regret for wrongdoing; compunction

Now take a moment and think back over the course of your life. Is there nothing, not one thing, that you are remorseful about? Really?

If you still stand firm on your point, you're not alone. There's a guy that I know who basically makes it a hobby to leave women in shambles. Whenever I've asked him if he regrets it, he looks me dead in the eye, doesn't blink, and says "no". (Yeah, I hope he doesn't "regret" that karma that's coming his way too!)

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Help me out here. When you see not having remorse (which is regret) in that kind of context, doesn't it creep you out a bit? If it doesn't, it should. In fact, if you do some Googling around about what it means to not be a remorseful individual, don't be surprised if the word "psychopath" pops up (that's not a compliment, by the way).

For me, I get that my good and bad choices have made me the woman I am today—and yes, I love her. That's why whenever I do interviews on Christian radio stations and they ask me if I "regret" not being a virgin, the answer is along the lines of some of Column A and some of Column B.

On one hand, the more information I get on how much sex affects a person, I understand how much simpler (and healthier) life would've been if I had chosen to have one partner for life (if you want your mind to be blown, check out this YouTube video on the physical effects of multiple partners). On the other, those 14 dudes and the experiences that came from "knowing" them? They are priceless.

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Still, I can't say that just because I like who I am that there aren't some regrets. I regret getting chlamydia. I regret hurting other women by sleeping with their boyfriends. I regret faking orgasms to boost certain guys' egos. I regret getting date raped and not calling the cops. The list goes on.

And here's the thing about regret. For me, it's the act of regretting—it's humbling myself enough to acknowledge wrongdoing on my part, even if it was nothing more than pure recklessness—that broke a lot of patterns, healed a lot of issues and, in some instances, even mended certain relationships.

In other words, living with regrets has made me better, not worse.

I already know some people will forever be on the tip of, "I don't regret nothin' and I'm stickin' to it!" I get that. I'm just hoping that knowing—or revisiting—the definition of the word will provide a little food for thought.

Personally, I feel safer—yes safer—around those who live with regrets than those who don't have any.

But maybe that's just me.

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Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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