If only…

The saddest words in the English language. If only.

If only I’d known what I know now, if only I had done this or that, if only…

Regret comes in all shapes and sizes. And time passes and heals wounds, and, in the end, regret is the only thing that ties us to our past. Or to a better version of it.

That’s the thing about being human. You don’t only dream of a better future, but you also work really hard to imagine a better past. A different past. One that would provide all kinds of alternate outcomes and new meanings to who and where you are right now.

We change. The world changes around us. The people in our lives change as well. Nothing really stays the same, and that’s why we regret.

As a reminder that we used to be different. That our lives used to be different. And we play with this new version of who we are and we pretend that our present self could travel back in time and correct our mistakes.

“If only…”

And we call this regret.

And it hurts.

The awful truth about life is that it goes on. Whether you want it to or not; it just goes on.

But regret keeps us trapped in the past, trapped in this bizarre world that never even existed in the first place. A world of illusions, of impossible dreams, a world that’s never coming back.

In a way, if we beat ourselves up with problems from the past for long enough we end up missing a version of the past that only exists inside our head.

Kierkegaard believed that life can be understood backwards. We analyze the past and we understand life. But, sadly, it can only be lived forwards. Nothing that happened can ever be changed. It can be fixed, but it’s never the same.

And, in the end, the future is much more interesting. We never know what might happen, and that makes it infinitely more fascinating than what already happened.


54 comments on “If only…

  1. Lizzie-Beth says:

    Deep. I love it.

  2. Mira says:

    ‘You don’t only dream of a better future, but you also work really hard to imagine a better past. A different past. One that would provide all kinds of alternate outcomes and new meanings to who and where you are right now.” Well put :) I love the way you engage with deep philosophical questions and writers. I also love your way with words. You seem to have so much writing in you. It’s really exciting. I wish you all the best!

    • Thank you, Mira. I’m still… young. So I guess I’ve got a lot of stuff to do and write about.

      • Mira says:

        Indeed. You are getting a lot of practice though. It seems at times that you write as if in a fury. At other times, your scenes are so well described, so visual, so literary but not overworked . . . that I’m thinking you have everything good writing needs: both passion and patience — besides a flair for words and imagination and everything else :). I think you have them all!

  3. Louise says:

    When I was young – in my teens I if only-d. I got over it, though it took some years, If I’m honest, I still have my moments but those are more wistful reflections on correct life decisions. I’m now more a ‘this is now’ person. – that’s where I am. I love it, and I love R. who share’s my life with me.

  4. Jean-Jacques says:

    I agree, and here is a sample…

    “ If Only Then ”
    ~ I’d found words ~

    If only then
    I’d found words,
    That got around
    Be too soon,
    To find sure ground,
    That spoke of feelings
    Which might imply
    Embrace said meaning,
    Would in time aspire
    We’d so desire,
    Sadly till now
    Failed to empathize
    There’d come a point
    Need recognize,
    The birth of this affair
    Thus sadly so,
    Had started at the end!

    © Jean-Jacques Fournier

  5. Laura says:

    It has been said we regret the things we didn’t do, far more than the things we did. Part of this is, most likely, because we can’t know how those undone things would have turned out, how they would have affected our lives, and where we would be now had we only taken the risk and done them. You can now hold your head up and check one regret off the list, knowing you wrote this blog… and inspired me. :)

    • Indeed, we regret the things we didn’t do. But we also regret the words we didn’t say, or the words we could have said differently. Sometimes we regret the way we fought a certain battle, which, of course, was the reason for us being defeated.

  6. Very nice post! So true!

  7. “The past cannot be changed, the present is what we make of it, the future is the past yet to be – unchangeable unless we change the present.”

  8. socialbridge says:

    I agree that ‘If only…’ are sad, sad words. But I think I’d identify for ‘never loved’ as the saddest.

    • Never loved? Never being loved?

      I don’t know. Is there anyone out there who never loved? Is there anyone who was never loved back?

      • Jeanne Shook says:

        “Never loved” IS sad; however, I think unrequited love–going through life, never expressing your feelings to that special person is sadder still. But then, it all falls under the “what if” category doesn’t it? You may be young, Cristian, but you are wise beyond your years!

  9. jbhawkins017 says:

    Amazing post! I truly enjoyed reading this. I found it to be as uplifting as it was touching. Everyone must remember the one thing that it seems many of us forget all to often, and that is We only get one life and one chance at it. Live it to the fullest and live each day as if it were your last. None of us know our higher beings plan, and for that reason live with no regrets. If only we lived that way….

  10. stefankeys1997 says:

    Your post kind of reminded me of The Great Gatsby.

    • Well, that’s my favorite novel. And, yes, Jay Gatsby was trapped by these two words: “if only.”

    • srcreese says:

      Likewise. Fondly reminiscent of Gatsby for me and FSF’s rather timeless quote (oh, the irony!): “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Row, row, row your boat has a lot to answer for!

  11. blottoed says:

    I lost years to regret and living in the past. I don’t regret anything anymore, it made me who I am today.

  12. A lovely post, thank you for this.

  13. Very well said. Life is full of decisions. Full of choices both made and not made. All of them guide us along our road.


  14. rainsharmin says:

    I love the meaning of this piece, and especially the way it ends off on a hopeful note. Thank you for writing this.

  15. robynbird says:

    Thank you, sir, for a beautifully poignant post. I do so love your words.

  16. swamiyesudas says:

    My Dear C-M, even by the law of averages, being MUCH older than You, You would have to accept that I have a LOT to be Sorry and Ashamed about. But now I have learnt not even to keep looking at the Future. I have learnt to Blank out Negativities, and to ENJOY the Present. Regards.

  17. damedo says:

    I wouldn’t call it sad that we can live our lives only forward. I would call it a new opporturnity. I have my own regrets, indeed, but (usually) I find it comforting that every day is a new one. It would be painful to only be able to live in the past or do the same thing again and again. It’s painful to do it in our minds, it would be hidious if we had no chance to change.

    • Well, to some, if no most, routines bring comfort to their lives. They do the same things, at the same hours, over and over again, and it gives them the illusion of certainty. Tomorrow will come, simply because tomorrow is just the same as today and yesterday. Yet, it’s just an illusion.

  18. robin taylor says:

    Touching, Christian. Truly touching.

  19. conmaldita says:

    awww. So true. So so true.

  20. lncdubai says:

    Beautifully written piece. Really makes you look back and think about what you would have changed…

  21. pharo001 says:

    This hit home for me tonight. I liked it a lot.

  22. quirkyshine says:

    wonderful post!!! :-)

  23. rolltidejen says:

    Very true, and very poignantly put.

  24. vgf521990 says:

    This was very touching Cristian.. Very well written and beautifully put.. I also enjoyed the verse quoted by Mira above.. Definitely going in my quote collection Cristian.. You also reminded me of two movies I have watched If Only and Letters from Juliet.. The first movie’s story is similar to what you have posted.. While the other one.. WHAT IF instead of IF ONLY.. Below is one of the quotes I love from the movie..

    “Dear Claire,

    What and If are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why wouldn’t it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will.

    All my love, Juliet”

    Thank you Cristian and may you have a beautiful day ahead.. God bless..

    • I haven’t seen those two movies, but I like the letter. I guess regret is, in part, the belief that it’s never too late. In a way, it’s not. But… you’ll never be sure.

  25. Wow… It’s amazing how that’s exactly what I needed to hear. I have personally been trying to “relive” my past in a different way, but you’re so right. I can’t change the past. Thank you! Your words really spoke to me.

  26. rumadak says:

    Written beautifully!!
    Its so true that:
    “You don’t only dream of a better future, but you also work really hard to imagine a better past. A different past.”

    I struggle with it all the time!

  27. girlwiththehankie says:

    If only.. An echo from the past still hearing at the present.

    Nice post. :-)

  28. jenanita01 says:

    I gave up saying ‘if only’ a long time ago. It changes nothing and makes you sadder than ever I feel. Look forward I say, nothing can ever come of looking back…
    Good post by the way…

  29. lruthnum says:

    Great post. I hate regret – it is the one thing that can ruin people’s lives if they let it, far worse than anyone else’s actions can hurt us. This is an inner demon to battle. I dread ending my life with regrets more than anything else.

  30. Vasequise says:

    An absolutely breathtaking post. Again I think there are some things in this world, one of them is this thing called regret that roots all problems ever existed to its origin, which is regret. Regret itself is a very self-torturing word to be said. And I truly believe that the powerful people are the ones who are able to use their past as a stepping stone to build their future, without completely drowning in regrets. Two thumbs up!

    • I agree. Use your past as a ladder, if you have to. Learn from it, use it to shape a better self. But that’s the most you can do. To regret is to miss something that’s not coming back.

  31. ujuh says:

    Gives a better meaning to YOLO: you only live once so make the most every minute. As much as we want our future to be awesome, we can’t help but reminesce about the past–the steps, flaws victories…the journey in totality.
    Thank you Cristian

  32. Best thing one can do about not-so-great past is to learn something from it. No matter how bad it was or how much we think we failed, there is always some hidden lesson in all of it. Find it, learn it well and move on. Try to live in present, not yesterday or tomorrow…

  33. pastedreams says:

    You paraphrased my favorite philosopher! Well done :)

  34. Knowing our past is essential to give answers to how we have become our present. It is as important as the present and as the future. Who we used to be led to what we are now, no matter the difference between who you were and who you are. But to have regrets about the past is a different thing. It means you are dwelling in the things that cannot be undone and thus you are wasting the precious ‘present’. A better choice is to know the past, learn, then forgive yourself and let go so you can live the present and make a better future.

  35. Great post!!! Love this.

  36. bag-a-poncho says:

    Good post. I don’t usually say what if I did this or that, but instead what if my situation was different in the past, It does not bother me a lot because what happened is over now. Just sometimes (usually when I feel sorry for myself) I ask What if. It is better to do the best I can now – to dwell on the past will not make anything better.

  37. pxoppy says:

    I love this, you got it spot on!

  38. srishti says:

    Love this post. It’s so true. Regrets keep holding us back in the past. But time moves on, and so does our life. And we learn to live with it.

  39. bobbysame says:

    Whoa this is heavy, Doc! I hope these words will help me move on with life, that is, until I manage to obtain a flux capacitor…

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