I recently finished reading a novel by Jancee Dunn called “Don’t You Forget About Me.” If you are a child of the 80s, you probably sang that title. And in many ways, the book is all about the 80s—the songs, the products, the hairspray. But it’s also very much about memory and perception, and those things got me pondering.
Particularly when times are tough, we think back to an earlier time that we’ve decided was infinitely better. We glorify the college days or high school (or some other time), and refer to them as the best days of our lives, etc. We imagine that we were prettier, thinner, more popular and full of hope. All of those things might even be true, but we also tend to forget the less than perfect aspects of those years. We forget the fights, the petty high school girl-induced trauma, the body image insecurities and the pressure to perform.
We do that with partners, too. How often have you heard about “the one who got away?” Were they really that great, or are we just dissatisfied with whatever is going on romantically in our current lives? We conveniently forget all the really good reasons that things didn’t work out in favor of daydreaming about the reunion that will give us another chance to get it “right.”
Is there any good way to assess the past? If we go back and read our journals, what would they really show? My guess is that we’d all seem slightly crazy having only recorded the highest highs and the lowest lows on those pages. It’s not that I don’t think we can learn from the past, particularly from past mistakes, I just think that it’s very hard to look at our own past in any sort of objective manner. It’s hard enough to do that in the present.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I won’t still play my 80s playlist very loudly as I cruise down the 405. I will. But at the same time, I’ll try to be mindful that there is a possibility that my best years might still be in front of me, and not limited to years involving Bonnie Bell lip smackers and Sun-In.