Sunday, December 02, 2007

Nostalgia

(noun) a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. - Oxford American Dictionaries

The past two or three years have brought about bouts of nostalgia that I never previously knew. It seems that most people become increasingly nostalgic as they get older. This seems natural, given that as we get older we have accumulated more experience and those experiences create layers which form our identity, our behavior, and our perspective. I never thought that I was very prone to nostalgia, as I really do not look at my past as some kind of ideal, nor do I wish to change anything of the past. Even my most seemingly disastrous choices and failings seem to be fundamental to who I am now and I wouldn't change that at all. I feel pretty grounded in the present, with an eye to the near future and fulfilling dreams and goals, as loose as they may be. As lighthearted as my nostalgia for past events and phases of my life seem, nostalgia for love has become entirely different.

I remember having drinks with two of my sisters about two years ago. Interestingly, it is one of those moments in which I remember the exact bar, table, positions we were sitting in, the weather, etc. I had been divorced for a couple of years and had just ended another serious relationship. My sisters were both fresh out of their latest relationships and we sat and commiserated. My sisters told me that I had this uncanny ability to so easily move on, especially where relationships were concerned. They both admitted to feeling helpless and miserable, whereas I seemed so resilient and accepting. Two years later...just a few months ago...one of them told me that I had done a complete reversal since that conversation and that I now appear to struggle more with letting go and this seems singular to relationships. And not just any relationships, but those serious loves. This observation (and one I readily agree with) makes me wonder just what has happened to me. What evolution has taken place to cause what seems to be an emerging sentimentality within me? I don't see it as a negative trait, but I feel it very accutely and wonder how it has emerged. I still feel incredibly resilient with other life events and struggles. But love has taken hold of me in a peculiar way.

I guess I've come to look at it as such: once you feel something deeply, that ability to feel to that depth remains with us forever. We know that we once felt something so powerful and so unnusual. And sometimes when we feel numb or perhaps when our lives become rather stagnant for sometime, we crave that depth of feeling. And where do we feel that more than with love?

11 comments:

Randal Graves said...

The same has happened to me. I'm convinced it's an aging/experience thing, but once the switch was flipped, the intensity didn't grow incrementally, but rapidly in a vast swathe of feeling.

I wish I had a magical answer to share, but I'm as perplexed as you. But the end result, whether with a good or a painful memory, is much preferred to the fleeting qualities of youth.

b said...

randal... yeah, it certainly seems to be an age/accumulated experience thing. and yes, once that flip is switched, it does become a "vast swathe of feeling." it's not that i seek out an answer or some solution so i don't have to feel that nostalgia for love. i'm really okay with it and accept that it is a part of loving someone so deeply. once you feel something that deep and intense for someone, that feeling lingers and it becomes easier to recall in a fond manner.

in many ways, i'm happy i feel this singular nostalgia for past love. i never used to allow myself to feel so much and although it can bring sadness, it feels good to know that i can love so deeply. and it is definitely much preferred to the fleeting qualities of youth. the perspective gained is huge.

Randal Graves said...

It is, especially if the love itself is deep and not fleeting. Which, if it is, is the inexhaustible kindling for the fire of many pieces of writing.

And that's a great point. Even if there is sadness, you've found that your limits are beyond what you had assumed or were afraid they were.

b said...

randal... i've come to fully realize and appreciate that profound life experiences make for great writing and that could not be more true with love. when we've loved to that depth, we feel something so immense that it truly can inspire an "inexhaustible kindling for the fire of many pieces of writing." beautifully stated, by the way. struggle and sadness are the greatest sources of inspiration. what theme is so essential to every great piece of writing? struggle.

but yes, aside from lost love being a great muse, it is amazing to feel to that depth and realize i am capable of feeling so much more than i ever realized i could. it inspires me to keep living and remain open to feeling things i never thought possible. thanks for the comments and encouragement today...it really helps!

Richard said...

I too notice that I grow more nostalgic as I grow older. I think it has more to do with being stagnant than wishful desire for the past, because, I would love for the future to be even brighter than the past memories.

Unfortunately, this is hard, people move away, life circumstances change (for me, the job is the big sapper of all life and joy. If you are sitting and doing something 8+ hours a day and it does not fulfill you, it has got to have some negative effect on the psyche. And I am not alone in this.).

I also find it harder to muster the energy as I did when I was younger (for instance, I don't want to work any more 80 hour weeks), so we get comfortable and lead lives of quiet despair.

mattbg said...

Interesting post, b!

The other side to this, though, is that I'm not sure that love can ever continually reach the same depths the more you experience it. For example, you'll not likely feel as fleeting at 30 about any relationship as you did when you were a teenager. You live, learn, and become more cynical (or, realistic). If you're using the teenage experience as a benchmark (as I think many do), you'll often be disappointed (unless you didn't have many such experiences in your teenage years).

I assume you're talking about romantic love, though? And possibly even infatuation. Not the type of love that exists after about 3-5 years of marriage, which I imagine is quite different.

Purely academic theory, of course :)

regarding nostalgia... people around our age get nostalgic way earlier than generations prior. I don't know what it is. But I already see people my own age wishing back the 80's and being somewhat stuck in the past.

b said...

matt...my nostalgia does not take me back to high school "love" or anything like that. my nostalgia is rather recent and only really concerns those deep loves. i have no fondness or desire to recall those initial relationships from my youth. they weren't very significant for me. rather, when i say i am nostalgic, i have a strong recall for just a couple of relationships that were very significant to me. so yes, i do mean romantic love but not infatuation. the one and only infatuation i've ever felt was what i would consider fleeting. it was an easy relationship to get over and i honestly think nothing of it now. but i have been married before and although that wasn't as passionate as perhaps my most recent relationship, it was significant in its own regard.

again, my nostalgia really isn't about being stuck in the past. in no way do i wish to go back and live out what has already been lived out. i simply feel a sentimental longing from time to time with regard to love. i think i just want to recall what i felt because i do feel emotionally stagnant right now. and that sentimental affection for that love is really the only nostalgia i know. i don't want to relive my college days or married life at all. they are a part of who i am but i really don't give it that kind of consideration. and maybe using "nostalgia" isn't the best way to term it.

i think that it is easy to feel cynical and jaded once you've known the depths of love. i guess that is why i try to be very honest with myself. when i'm feeling low, i let myself feel that way without being angry with myself or without feeling a certain doom. for me, that honesty is really essential to not becoming cynical.

Take A Year Out said...

'nothing unreal exists. nothing real can be threatened. nothing exists except love. everything else is a call for love. therein lies the peace of god'.

i love this passage - it's taken from 'a course in miracles' x

b said...

take a year out...this is beautiful and it comes at a time in which i really need it. thank you so much.

Richard said...

Taking a year out would be nice too.

b said...

richard...yeah, i think there is something essential to that notion of taking a year out. believe me, ben is onto something way beyond just having a one year vacation. his experience has been life altering in the biggest ways possible.