The funny thing about memory is that we don’t get to decide what we remember and what we forget. There are some things we’d love to forget but can’t, and there are things we’d be happy to remember (like where I laid my keys!) but we can’t. However, there are some memories we aren’t even aware of until they are unexpectedly triggered. A fairly recent social phenomenon serves as a good example of this.
Facebook has afforded people who haven’t seen each other in twenty years to reconnect. Sometimes this occurs as the result of a diligent search for someone, but more often than not it happens serendipitously. And there you are, face to face (so to speak) with the person you fell in love with and dated when you were in high school. Suddenly you are flooded with memories of things you all did, places you went and people you did things with.
But there is a hidden time bomb that you might not have expected. You see, not only are the images and thoughts from that time recorded in our memory, but the feelings are recorded as well. All those intense feelings of passion, exhilaration, and happiness have been lying quietly in a time capsule, undetected by our consciousness. When make contact with that person again years later, all those feelings we had for them years ago are suddenly unleashed, creating an emotional tidal wave of chemicals and hormones.
The consequences of that is that we are swept off our feet by the force and intensity of what we feel. We are “in love” all over again with the person. We compare the intense feelings we are experiencing with the feelings we have about our twenty year marriage and conclude, “I married the wrong person!”
A quick trip to a lawyer’s office and divorce papers are signed. We say good-bye to our wife of twenty years and rush eagerly into the arms of the person we “truly” love.
SCREEEEEECH!!!!!!! Someone slam on the emergency brake, please, and slap that person! Place them in a padded cell until they sober up!
Because here is what they need to know:
The person you are rushing into the arms of is someone you haven’t known anything about for twenty years. You are simply feeling what you felt for them long ago; you’re in love with a memory, maybe even a sweet memory. However, you know nothing about who they have become. For all you know they may have become a right-wing-liberal-gun-toting-cross-dressing-Republican-Democrat-Muslim-terrorist-conservative-christian-atheist-homosexual-bisexual-whatever-you-want-sexual-pessimistic-optimist! (Have I offended everyone?) And here are some practical tips to help you sober up:
- Take a cold shower!
- Look into the faces of the children you and your wife have produced.
- Look at your wedding album and remember THOSE feelings.
- Unfriend your old flame.
- Ask yourself how much your personal integrity is to you.
- Talk to someone you trust, who knows you better than anyone, and ask them for their honest opinion on what you are about to do.
- Take your spouse on a vacation – with no electronics allowed!
Don’t throw away twenty years for the memory of a person you dated for eighteen months when you were just a kid!