Relationship Nostalgia: Removing The Rose-Coloured Glasses

Is there a more powerful and overwhelming emotion than nostalgia?

It comes to us in waves and leaves us either either in tears, longing for lost days, or filled with a sense of bittersweet joy.

To define it, nostalgia is an emotion that is triggered by things bearing a resemblance to past events

It's that warm fuzzy feeling we get when thinking about something fondly. While it feels good, there is usually also a tinge of sadness because we are remembering or re-living something that is lost to us or out of reach in some way

Have you ever smelled something delicious simmering on the stove and immediately felt wrapped up in childhood memories? Or felt all sappy when you found a gift from your first boyfriend while cleaning your room?

This is because nostalgia is usually conjured up by our senses. Familiar smells, sounds, and sights can activate nostalgic feelings like nothing else can. For example, the music we listened to as children and teenagers will always be special because it brings us back to simpler times- even if we have outgrown that particular artist or band.

Nostalgia isn't reserved exclusively for our childhood memories and experiences.

We can feel nostalgic about past relationships as well

In fact, we have a tendency to remember the good parts of previous relationships, while undermining the solid reasons why it did not work.

This is is called rosy retrospection!

Rosy Retrospection Explained

Andy Bernard was onto something. There is a good chance that we will end up feeling nostalgia for our present days- even if we are going through challenging times. It's hard to imagine feeling nostalgic about 2020, but it's entirely possible (and even likely) for this to happen if you have had positive or neutral experiences this year.

This is because nostalgia is about more than just remembering the good old times. It's a complex emotion that can influence our present decisions too.

The very act of recalling memories colours them pink:

Rosy retrospection is our tendency to recall the past more fondly than the present. It comes from the idiom "rose-tinted glasses" where we remember things as better than they actually were

Have you ever heard your parents recall their youth? Even though we know they experienced traumatizing events such as civil unrest, war, or poverty, you can gather them around a table with their peers and they will all say: 'those were the good days'.

Seeing Our Past Relationships Through Rose-Coloured Glasses

When we apply rosy retrospection to relationships, it look something like this:

Remembering only the positive parts of the relationship

Confusing the longing, bittersweet feelings of nostalgia with longing for that person

Editing or undermining the fights, incompatibility, or even abuse we experienced in a past relationship. The faulty logic at work here is: "If I am remembering the relationship fondly now, maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe there is a chance I could have handled it better and I made the wrong choice by ending it".

Give Your Past Self Some Credit!

Sometimes our nostalgic selves have trouble accepting that our growth came about because of difficult experiences in the past.

The truth is that if things were really as rosy or tolerable as you are remembering them today, you would not have felt the urge to act and change that past situation.

Here is a difficult question we all need to ask ourselves sometimes: are you recalling the past through a lens of knowledge? Or is loneliness and fear of losing something colouring your perspective?

We have to give our past selves some credit. When we look back and insist on seeing satisfaction, we are undermining the instincts and decision-making acumen of our previous selves.

Nostalgia Is A Teacher

So we have established that nostalgia, as sweet as it can be, is an unreliable narrator. Does this mean we should run away from it? Not at all! Here are a few things we can learn from feelings of nostalgia over a past relationship.

1. Nostalgia Tells Us What We Valued In Our Past Relationships

The things we feel nostalgic about are good indicators of what we find important in relationships. These are the things we can look for in future partners.

Try writing down the qualities of your previous relationship that made an impact on you in a positive way.

2. Nostalgia Helps Us Accept The Past Relationship

Our brains are remarkably persistent when it comes to keeping us safe. Sometimes remembering the good times in a past relationship helps us justify and validate our past decisions (i.e. staying in the relationship for a certain amount of time or getting back together). This can protect us from the distress of self-blame and shame.

3. Nostalgia Helps Us Recover And Bond With Others

If we only remembered the bad times, we might never get into another relationship! When we feel lonely, nostalgic feelings and rosy retrospection have more pull on us. In a way, these feelings encourage us to seek companionship- and this does NOT have to be romantic.

The loneliness that often triggers nostalgia can push us to reconnect and deepen other relationships too.

The key here is to understand that missing someone does not mean we should be with them. We are human beings with incredible emotional depth. It is entirely normal to be touched by a memory and feel a sense of loss!

However, we have to remove the rose-coloured glasses to understand that our past selves made good choices. We can bask in old memories while feeling assured that the present is ultimately, a better place to be.

Wrapping Up

This year has been a lonely one for many of us. While we sit with that feeling, it's normal to experience warm and fuzzy feelings for our past relationships. I hope this post inspired you to notice where you might be colouring those memories pink, and also to stand firmly with your past self who made difficult decisions with such grace and courage.

I want to hear from you: Have you been experiencing nostalgia for past relationships more intensely this year? How are you handling it?

As always, if you have any questions about this topic or need some additional support, flip me an email, or book an appointment with anyone from my awesome team!

Until next time!

Sarah Ahmed

Co-founder

WellNest Psychotherapy Services