Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
Nostalgia is a funny one, isn’t it? You can reminisce and laugh about the good old days, stirring up warm and fuzzy memories, until you venture a little too far into the past, and begin to feel a strange, aching yearning for what once was.
The conversation that sparked this blog post took place between myself and my best friend, Elsie. We have known each other since we were 11 years old and grew up together in boarding school, always sharing the same dorm room and being inseparable: both throughout the school day and after the end-of-the-day bell (minus a brief stint in year 11 where we experimented with other friendship groups- but that’s a different story).
So you see, we’ve known each other a long time (16 years), and have watched each other grow up. Inevitably we often end up talking about school and what we reckon ever became of so-and-so, and how cute that whatshisface and wassername ended up getting married. Recently we’ve been exploring our nostalgia more than usual.
We were in the midst of our first weekend in Dubai together since Elsie and her husband moved over to the Middle East where I live, when we decided to venture out for a cheeky drink or two. Two bottles of wine later and we did as we often do- began to chat about our group of school friends and the shenanigans we used to get up to. When we got back to the hotel, we started taking it in turns to play each other songs from our youth, roaring with excitement each time the other remembered a song that triggered a whole load of memories. There was the song Elsie listened to after her first real heartbreak; the song that became our anthem as we passed through our rebellious phase of saying “f**k adults, they don’t understand us; the Bloc Party song we used to listen to at the end of a party when we were watching the sunrise with our closest friends; and the album I had on repeat when I started dating my first love. At first, we were laughing and joking and even tearing up when we remembered how all those songs made us feel back then. When you’re a teenager, everything is so intense, the feelings you experience seep so far into your bones that at that time, nothing else matters. You experience your first love, your first heartache, huge fall outs with your closest friends, and the strongest bonds of friendship you can imagine. We regressed a little that night, we explored all the emotions we had gone through and eventually realised that it made us feel a little weird.
Fast forward a couple of months and the two of us were catching up over a coffee when the conversation steered again toward our school days. A couple who had got together in sixth form had recently announced their pregnancy, and this opened up to discussion about our teenage years. We began to remember kids we’d been at school with who we maybe hadn’t thought about for ten years, and reminded each other of memories the other had forgotten. This time, we went a little too far and both came away feeling slightly down and deflated. Why was that?
As I mentioned earlier, when you’re a teenager everything is so intense, so heightened. As we spoke about those memories and times, we began to experience the feelings and emotions we had when we were fifteen, we regressed back into those teenagers we once were. The reason it felt so strange, so discomforting was because we had delved so far into the past and into what once was, but was no more. As Semisonic so wisely said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Those teenage girls didn’t exist anymore, because we were now two fully grown women who had left behind the angst and anxieties of adolescence (now we just have our grown-up angst and anxieties). Elsie is now married and living in Abu Dhabi with her husband, and is a very successful therapist and artist, and I am living in my dream apartment with a job I love and a rich social life. So whilst life has been good to both of us, for just a couple of hours when we reverted back to the past, it made us ache for the times we’d never get back- those fifteen year old girls we would never be again.
She asked me just a few days ago if I would change anything about those times, and after much deliberation, I decided that no, I wouldn’t. Every decision, every f**k up I’ve ever made has led me to where I am today. I’m not a believer in the saying “everything happens for a reason”, because I strongly believe that things happen due to the decisions we make and the paths we opt to take. But to explore the days before we made any of those huge life decisions was bizarre, was unsettling. Those were the chapters that mapped out the rest of my story, before the rest had even been written.
Nostalgia doesn’t have to be a negative feeling, and can be a wonderful reminiscent experience. I know now not to yearn for the past, but to embrace it and understand that it’s because of the past that I am where I am today. They were great times, and Elsie and I had a wonderful adolescence, but we won’t get that back. But how lucky to still be as close as we are today, to have somebody with whom you can relay all those memories and experiences? I won’t long for the past anymore, but be grateful that because of it, I have a story I can be proud of, and a best friend who enriches my life.