It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“As we view the past through the lens of the present, social memory—what’s shared and retold in groups—slides farther from reality, according to a report in Memory Studies. … We’re constantly remolding old situations to fit our present frame of mind.” (“The Good Old Days” Psychology Today, October 2010)
A lot of the motivation for this search comes from wanting to recreate the friendships of my youth. This isn’t new information. I want to dial up my friends and ask them to come out and play. I want someone on call for an I’m-bored-let’s-go-shopping trip. I want someone with whom I’ll talk so fast it’ll seem like we have a secret language. These are the cornerstones of childhood relationships, according to my recollection.
But what if the memory of my youth is completely separate than the reality?
The Memory Studies researchers say that recall is more influenced by our present and what we hope for the future than by what actually happened in our past. Perhaps that’s why I tend to “forget” about the time my fourth-grade BFF decided to not talk to me for a month. On two separate occasions. Or it could explain why the memories of my senior year of college are of 11 girls existing in constant bliss under one roof, which anyone who’s ever met a female knows is an impossibility.
I’m confident there were times back in the day when I dreamt of moving and starting over. I was always the type to romanticize change. A new life, a clean slate, the ability to repurpose yourself as whoever you wanted to be? Sign me up. But these days I have almost no memory of ever being less than perfectly content with my friendships (minus one minor screaming fight with a close friend senior year of college. We got over it quickly). My rose-colored glasses say everything was A-ok. My friendships were apparently all-around perfection, and I want that back.
Clearly the truth is a bit air-brushed in my mind’s eye. What it tells me is not what it was then, but what I believe now. “You remember your high school sweetheart as not-so-sweet if he’s now a cheating ex-husband. And as actual events grow fuzzier, we increasingly invoke stereotypes to help us make sense of old stories.” If I’ve decided to look for friendships modeled after my youth, then it serves me to remember my early relationships as perfecto.
I’ve always said that maybe the BFF I’m looking for doesn’t exist when you reach a certain age. But what if she never existed in the first place?
Do you think memory skews how happy we actually were in different relationships and scenarios? Is it possible that the childhood friendships we talk about actually really sucked, but we just can’t really remember that anymore?