More Potential Regret from Missed Romantic Opportunities than from Rejection

More Potential Regret from Missed Romantic Opportunities than from Rejection

As humans we have a natural desire to feel that we belong, and we find social acceptance to be significantly rewarding and social rejection to be considerably threatening. I think this is especially true for emerging adults (18-29 years-old). In my experience, emerging adults are especially sensitive to need to fit in with their peers and be accepted by those around them. Although parents still have a strong influence during developmental period (Padilla-Walker, Nelson, & Knapp, 2014), emerging adults crave autonomy and are strongly influenced by their peers and the media (especially social media in recent years) when making decisions (Coyne, Padilla-Walker, & Howard, 2013). While living in the age of smart phones and social media can certainly have advantages, it can also make things more confusing when trying to find a potential romantic partner enter a committed relationship.

Being an emerging adult myself, I have seen and felt the frustration of finding a “perfect partner.” There are so many avenues now to meet potential partners, and it really just seems to complicate things. It’s hard when there are 15 Tinder matches within 5 mile radius of me and the fact I am surrounded by thousands of single individuals who may be a “good match” for me does not make it easy to find the “perfect partner”. This reminds me of Dr. Scott Stanley who discussed in his 2016 article Waiting for the Train: Searching for a Mate in the Modern World that, “Finding a soul-mate is not an unusual goal in modern-day mate searching, and it complicates things quite a bit.” How is a person supposed to decide which partner is the right one after searching continuously? What if they searched too long and overlooked or missed their chance on the perfect person?

Regret is an emotion that can be closely tied to the result or consequence of one’s decisions. Regret represents the perception that not only is the person’s current outcome undesirable, but that a better outcome was possible if they had made a different choice. One researcher who has been exploring regret regarding romantic relationships is Dr. Samantha Joel an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at The University of Utah. Samantha Joel is particularly interested in how people make decisions regarding their relationships. As a research team we find the work that Samantha Joel and her colleagues are doing in their Relationships Decisions Lab very fascinating. A few months ago as a research team we read and discussed the study a 2017 research study by Joel and her colleagues entitled Nothing ventured, nothing gained: People anticipate more regret from missed romantic opportunities than from rejection. This article examined the differences in regret from a romantic rejection versus the regret from a missed romantic opportunity. This was an impressive research article since it consisted of a total of 5 studies in order to examine how regret plays a role in romantic decision-making. As explained by Joel et al. (2017):

“The present research is the first to our knowledge to examine the role of regret in the context of relationship initiation. Our results suggest that anticipated regret may help people to resolve competing relationship goals in the context of romantic pursuit. Specifically, anticipated regret over a missed romantic opportunity may motivate people to pursue potential romantic partners despite the possibility of rejection” (p. 26).

The results of this study showed participants anticipated more regret in response to a missed opportunity compared to a rejection, which was partially explained by the perception that a missed romantic opportunity would be more meaningful and consequential to one’s life than a rejection (Joel et al.2017). In other words, even though rejection can be a painful process, what seems to hurt more is missing potential romantic opportunities. The results in this study revealed that 41% of participants would rather face almost certain rejection with the small hope that they may be able to date an individual. In other words, even if you know that the individual you are interested in is very likely to say no, you will still be willing to ask them out in hopes they may say yes.

When facing the possibility of romantic rejection, the words of the famous English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson seem to ring true: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It is a vulnerable position to allow yourself to love and to be loved. Although it can feel somewhat risky to define the relationship (have the good ol’ DTR Talk), this can greatly help reduce or even eliminate anxiety regarding the future of a relationship. As explained by Dr. Sibley on this website in one of his recent blog posts:

“If you are questioning whether your partner is really into you, and if your relationship has a future, then I would invite you to have the courage to clarify the commitment in the relationship. I know…I know defining the relationship can be scary, although I believe this is always the best approach. People communicate signals about commitment frequently so it is important to be observant, and tuned into your relationship.”

It is getting easier now to turn to the internet and dating websites which claim to use algorithms to help you to find your perfect match. But are match making algorithms actually feasible? Samantha Joel talks about these match making algorithms and whether or not they are possible in her TEDx talk:

Going back to the Stanley (2016) blog post I discussed earlier, talks about matching problems. In our world there is a need to match people to jobs, schools, and mates. Stanley explains that individuals desire to make the best matches they can in order to increase their odds of personal happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. Unfortunately so many people get stuck in the never ending pattern of trying to find perfection (i.e. soulmate) only to find misery in the process. The grass is simply always greener on the other side right? Commitment requires a person to decide, stick with their choice, and to walk away from potential alternatives. In conclusion I believe it is important to reflect on the words of Scott Stanley (2016):
“Commitment is making a choice to give up other choices. That’s the deal. Believing that you could have found perfection—if you’d only searched a little more—will make it harder to commit to, invest in, and be happy with the person you married.”


Hi I’m Kelli! I’m a first-year Graduate Student studying Marriage and Family Therapy. I love spending time with my family and friends, eating ice cream, and being an advocate for individuals, couples, and families. Thanks for visiting our blog!

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