Why Do We Look Back On Past Love?
This year, Valentine’s Day came and went with nary a card, a box of chocolates, or even the usual fighting between my preschool students for the honor of calling me their “girlfriend.”
Can you blame me for being depressed?
I began serial dating in August. And by “serial dating,” I mean that I challenged myself to go out with 30 men in three months. I nearly made it (I got a little creative with my mathematics in the end), but despite all of the first dates (20), the second dates (7), the third dates (4) and the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth dates (1 each), I still find myself single.
Being single, I’ve since learned, breeds not only depression but desperation. In my defense, I’m not yet desperate enough to call up the man responsible for my most recent eHarmony disaster, although I would like to know exactly why he left me standing on the street corner to hail my own cab. Nor do I find myself entertaining thoughts of a reunion with the Match.com man who made it all way to an eighth date with Yours Truly (okay, actually I do, but only when I’m stuck on a very long bus ride surrounded by undesirable characters of the malodorous variety; I have no intention of acting on these thoughts).
Instead I find myself reaching further back—into the vault, if you will: the vault of boyfriends past. Of course, this is a very dangerous road to go down. Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows how easy it is to forget all the very reasons you ended the relationship in question and to instead to focus on the what-ifs.
What if I had slept with my first boyfriend?
What if I had been content to marry the man I dated in college, instead of moving to London?
What if I had stayed in London, instead of moving to Philadelphia? Would I be sharing that tiny flat in Hammersmith with my ex-boyfriend and his fundamentalist Christian sister-in-law?
Of course, the obvious answer to these questions is that I wouldn’t be the person I am today: 25, single and free to date whomever I damn well please. (And I’m reasonably certain I’d have never survived the flat in Hammersmith, lovely though it was at the time.)
But this knowledge was of little comfort when the storefronts were filling their windows with heart-shaped boxes and I knew I’d be lucky to get a few Sesame Street coloring book pages from my preschoolers and a bag of half-priced M&Ms from my parents.
My best friend is an international woman who works for a high-profile government organization. She recently engaged in a rather amorous liaison with a man who works for the CIA, regularly circumnavigates the globe, and speaks half a dozen languages. And yet, even she still has second thoughts about having dumped her lame high school boyfriend.
Another friend of mine, who is happily married and due to pop out her first child in April, still occasionally reminisces about the semi-famous boy bander she dated for all of six months in the ninth grade.
Why do we feel compelled to revisit the past when we ought to be focusing on the future? Why do we do this to ourselves?
According to my old boss (who hailed from Venice), the Italians have a saying that translates to, “don’t reheat old soup.” This would suggest that the tendency to look to the past when we should be looking forward is indeed universal.
I’m told the Poles have a similar expression, and I’m fairly certain that if I did enough research, I’d find that everyone has a similar expression. Because it’s true. Leftover soup never tastes as good the second time around, so there’s no point in trying.
But what about that Reese Witherspoon film, “Sweet Home Alabama?” A voice—a voice which I like to call “denial”—cries inside my head. Didn’t they break up, get together again and live happily ever after? And how do you explain Jane Austen’s “Persuasion?” (Denial strikes again.) Captain Wentworth and Anne would have never found each other again if they hadn’t allowed themselves a bit of reheated soup.
I can offer only the following explanation: I have my “go-to” memories for when I’m depressed because I like to remind myself that somebody, somewhere, loved me once. I suspect that my girlfriends second-guess their high school break-ups for the very same reason.
It’s like posting pictures of your high school sweetheart in your college dorm room. Even though you’ve broken up, gone to separate schools and stopped speaking after that incident with the hussy from Charleston, you need to be reminded that you had a date to prom, and what a good looking date he was!
In a weird way, the memories, the photographs, the old love letters and the “what ifs?” can be empowering. As long as we don’t let them go from reminder (“Yes, I was loved!) to regret (“Why couldn’t we make it work?”), then I see no problem.
So, please don’t mind me as I reheat some of this leftover soup. Don’t worry, though. I’m only going to take a sip or two.
And then I promise to stuff the rest into the very back of the fridge, where it belongs.
Read more about Kat’s dating “fieldwork” here.