In a recent article in New York Magazine (Why You Truly Never Leave High School), author Jennifer Senior points to recent studies that suggest memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained. Certainly there are many neurological reasons behind this, but to me it boils down to this: Why wouldn’t we have the most intense memories from the time during which we felt things most intensely?
Do you remember what it was like to feel the body-and-soul anguish when a best friend turned on you? Or the way your heart nearly burst with joy when that cute boy in biology grinned at you? There is no middle ground during the teenage years—life is anguish or ecstasy
I have a friend with a 13-year-old who told me that her daughter turned into a different person seemingly overnight. The once loving and even-keel girl is now wracked with swings of joy, rage and sadness that change on a minute-to-minute basis.
Certainly the emotional ride of our teenage and young adult years must come to an end. Our world would cease to function if we were all continually swooning over new love or pining over lost love. If you act like a teenager at the age of 30, you’ll likely get a diagnosis of bipolar disease and will be medicated accordingly.
But here’s the thing. Don’t you sometimes miss those highs and lows (mostly the highs)? I sometimes do. I don’t recall a time in my life when I ever felt more alive than in late teens and early 20s. As we age though, we learn self-control and self-preservation. Allowing ourselves to feel with the same intensity we did during our first breakup would destroy us. So we learn to temper the lows, but in doing so, do we also shield ourselves from the highs?
I remember the temper tantrum I had when I was 19 and on a 12-day vacation with my extended family. The adults were exhausted and deciding whether to add a day to make the drive home more manageable. The thought of one more day was unbearable, and I lost my mind, sobbing in the RV bathroom until we started driving again. I had to get home. I recall my aunt calling me a selfish brat. And I was, but it was because I was in love and I couldn’t wait one more day to see my heart’s desire. When we returned home (on schedule), my joy was uncontainable.
This is a far cry from my current situation. It is day nine of my husband’s 23-day business trip. I’ve had brief moments of intensely missing him, but during these moments my brain immediately steps in, chastising my heart with a “Suck it up. It’s only two more weeks. What are you 16? Now go do the laundry.”
But what if instead, I allowed my heart to wallow, let myself pine for him a bit? When my husband walked through the door two weeks from now, would I throw myself into his arms with the wild abandon of my 19-year-old self who was so in love? Wouldn’t the low I would feel today if I let myself miss him be worth that high? And what would that intense feeling of love do for my nearly 13-year-old marriage? Doesn’t seem like a bad trade.
In the article Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University, is quoted as saying: “During times when your identity is in transition, it’s possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.”This perhaps explains the increasingly intense emotional swings I’ve felt of late. I’m still on the young side for peri-menopause, but I can feel glimmers of it. Bouts of anger and irritation course through me, reminding me of when I was 13 and full of PMS-induced rage.
My hormone-infused emotions were uncontrollable then, so I’ve been worried about these recent fits of rage. Today I realized that as the lows sink a bit deeper, the highs are getting a bit higher. In the past year, I’ve had moments in the car with the radio blasting when I thought my heart would burst with happiness. I now have the wisdom to know that even the lowest of lows and the highest of highs are short-lived in the grand scheme of things. So why not enjoy the ride? Isn’t it good to feel so alive?