You wake up the next morning — eyes not even open — and as the reality of the night before starts to sink in, it's accompanied with an unwanted, upsetting side of hookup regret. Maybe it was someone you barely know, maybe it was someone you know but barely like, or maybe it was someone you absolutely know you shouldn't ever share a bed (or couch, or car, or coat closet) with. Regardless, your decision gone wrong is now filling you with remorse for what you've done and anger that we haven't yet figured out time travel.
Where does this unwanted visitor come from? According to Damona Hoffman, dating expert and host of the Dates & Mates podcast, "hookup regret comes from a mismatch between expectation and reality." These mismatches can take many forms. Perhaps you didn't expect to go home with someone in the first place, or maybe you expected the interaction the next morning to be more indicative of a future together. Whatever the mismatch is, it left room for regret to enter the picture and set up shop in your psyche.
Here's how to kindly show it the door so you can live your day free of regretting the night before.
1. Separate the hookup from how you feel about it.
Assuming there were no unwanted physical consequences like an STI or pregnancy, it's not the act that is the issue. It's how you feel about it that's causing you discomfort. "What's done is done, so if you keep beating yourself up for your decisions, you're causing unnecessary anxiety and stress," Dr. Kristie Overstreet, licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified sex therapist with the Therapy Department, told POPSUGAR. Since there is no going back and undoing it, harping on it is like the psychological equivalent to beating your head against a wall. What's the point?
Instead, if you look hard enough, you may be able to find a positive angle to the hookup. As clinical psychologist and consultant for the Between Us Clinic Daniel Sher points out, "hookups can help you buffer your self-esteem, become a better sexual partner, and learn more about your own sexual preferences." So, if just looking at the act, you got in some practice, maybe learned a bit more about your body, and hey — someone wanted to spend time with you (and you them) naked, and that's always a plus.
Now, as far as how you feel about the hookup, that's slightly more complicated.
2. Debate your feelings.
In order to convince regret to leave, you must invalidate its reason for being there. To do that, you need to first know what that reason is. "Understanding the origin of regret can help move past it," Dr. Anna Yam, clinical psychologist with Bloom Psychology, told POPSUGAR.
Why do you wish you hadn't done what you did? Chances are, you're attaching a larger meaning to the hookup and regret is feeding off that meaning. Maybe you think it means you're a bad person, or that your hookup no longer respects you, or that now there's no chance of a real relationship. There's some assumption of meaning you're attaching to the hookup.
Once you've identified that meaning, you can question it. Ask yourself if it's undeniably true. Does hooking up with someone actually mean you're a bad person? Is that what you would tell your best friend? Do you without-a-doubt know how the other person feels? Does anyone know what the future holds? (Hint, the answer to all the above is likely no.)
A hookup does not define you or anyone else. And it does not dictate the future . . . but how you react to it can.
3. Find the lesson in it.
Now that you've created a little bit of space between you and your feelings of regret, there's room to grow. As with most uncomfortable things in life, there's a lesson in regret. It showed up to teach you something — something about yourself, something about relationships, or something about life.
Oftentimes, the lesson lies in the assumption that's fueling the regret. For example, if you fear the hookup means there's no chance of a future relationship, then you've learned you're ready to settle down and jumping into bed with a potential partner isn't the strategy for you. Worry about the other person losing respect for you might be shedding light on issues with your own self-respect. The point is that regret will often help surface fears and insecurities you didn't know you had. Finding them may be uncomfortable, but nothing can be healed until it's faced.
"Then, instead of thinking of wanting to change it, you can develop gratitude for what you did get out of the experience — even if it's simply the self-understanding that it's something you never want to do again," says Hoffman.
4. Let yourself off the hook.
One antidote to regret is forgiveness. The two cannot live in the same space. Forgiving yourself does not mean pretending it didn't happen. You cannot erase the past, but you can view it through a different lens. To forgive yourself is to find and focus on only the good. "When we reflect on our past actions with compassion and grace it gives us the chance to do something different in the future," says Dr. Overstreet.
Once you've overruled the assumptions and identified the lesson, you're free to let the regret go. Send it on its way with a promise that the time it spent with you wasn't for nothing.
5. Know your expectations moving forward.
It's important to understand your expectations moving forward to avoid the return of regret. So, the next time you find yourself at the decision point of to hook up or to not hook up, make sure you know what you really want out of it. Make sure you're aware of the assumptions you're at risk of attaching to it. And make sure you remember the lessons you've already learned. "This includes learning to listen to your inner voice, identifying internal resistance, and making informed, mindful choices," says Dr. Yam.