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how nostalgia for a past love can affect your life

Nostalgia for a past love

Many people live with the nostalgic memory of a love from the past: it may be a first love, a long story that has ended or an almost stranger of whom one has said to oneself: 'that's the man of my life'. The impossibility of experiencing these long-term loves opens the door to imagination and nurtures nostalgia and regret. Although reason admits that the story had no possible future, emotionality is taken hostage and the person is fantasised, desired, dreamt of, acquires an ideal value. The continuous evocation of the memory favours its deformation: by dint of recalling it to consciousness, the image is actualised and the memory reshaped. In the end, the evoked memory no longer corresponds to reality.

John has long had a stable and satisfying relationship with Anna and a few months ago they started living together. The everyday life is pleasant and the security of this relationship makes him feel loved, but every now and then he thinks back nostalgically to Julia. John acknowledges that his relationship with Julia was made up of few "highs" and many "lows" that made him feel profoundly insecure, yet he cannot help but immerse himself in the memory of some special moments spent with her.

Christine continues to dream of and desire Francis and thinks of him as 'a safe haven'. She is currently single and cannot find any man who fulfils her expectations. Christine remembers well the incompatibilities and problems of living with Francis and sometimes forces herself to be rational, to mitigate the strong feeling she still has for him and not to miss him.

Why does one need to keep a past love alive?

Keeping a past love alive through nostalgia has not so much to do with the relationship with that person, but with the emotions one feels in the present.

Feeling attached to an idealised love is a response to the need for a personal 'legend'.

This serves several functions:

  • it may respond to a need for narcissistic repair: to find again in the present the mirroring, fusion and unconditional love of the mother of childhood.

  • it can be an expression of a present difficulty, something that needs to be worked on at this very moment. By idealising the rpast, one can escape a real engagement with the present.

How can nostalgia for a past feeling influence your present life?

Nostalgia suggests a nest in which to cradle oneself in the calm and warmth of memories. It is not a feeling to reject outright as it can provide comfort and serve as a soothing: in some cases, immersing oneself in one's memories can improve one's mood and promote well-being.

However, this feeling is not always so beneficial, because nostalgia involves the longing for an absent 'object' that we link to pleasant feelings. Nostalgia implies a certain amount of sadness, a sly sadness. Because of its weak intensit it seems harmless, but it can have a real impact on one's quality of life.

Dangerous ghosts are those that take up too much room, that come 'out of the wardrobe' and invade the present.

Nostalgia can be one of the symptoms of anxious or depressive states.

This is particularly true when it is omnipresent, invading one's everyday life to the point of becoming paralysing.

In the context of couple life, a massive investment in an idealised love can cast doubt on and undermine the relationship. It is an escape that prevents one from facing the reality of a bond that, as real, can only be imperfect.

If one is single and continually ruminating about a past love, this might affect the ability to get involved in a current (and real) relationship.

On the other hand, nostalgia is a potentially constructive feeling insofar as it puts us in touch with our needs.

When we feel lonely, frustrated and misunderstood, rather than taking refuge in the dream, it is more useful to try to reflect on what we are missing, on what we can try to change in our lives or in our relationships. One can then understand what one cannot change but must accept, in order to experience a mature feeling. It may take time to learn to balance dreams and reality and accept that reality is made up of imperfect bonds.

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