I ran into an old boyfriend last week, one that stands out from the others in his own right. The encounter itself was mellow and calm—much like our very short relationship—but it got me thinking about our time together and nostalgia, in general: that special place we hold in our hearts for the memories really worth keeping.
I’d known of C. a couple years before we dated, but I didn’t actually meet him until a strange time in my life. I’d finally ended a five-year bruise of a relationship, and though I’d ventured away from my hometown after high school with big dreams that carried me all the way through college, something about what I’d just been through made me feel like I had to go back. In a sense, I needed to be close to my roots so I could graduate again. I wanted to break out into the world all over, but this time as me, just me, with no noose, agony, or pain weighing me down.
So there I was one night, a couple months home and at a bar with a friend, and this handsome bartender I recognized came to take our order. “Whoa! Hey, C.! I didn’t know you worked here!” I’d said, and we’d been excited to formally meet one another. He was all smiles and charm and nice, exactly like I’d assumed he was after our occasional run-ins over the years, and not one week later we were on our first date at an absurdly fancy restaurant. He said a bevy of sweet things that made me blush so pink he claimed it was his favorite thing about me, and after hours of laughter, wine, and incredible conversation, I confessed that with all I’d been through—a story he, like many others, had heard mentioned around our hometown—I couldn’t handle anything other than light, fun and calm.
And for a while, C. was all those things. He was tall and twinkly eyed, a big carefree bear of a man who loved to make love and cuddle and laugh so loud heads turned. And when we were together, it was impossible not to laugh with him, not to spend hours rolling around in bed and having Sex and the City marathons, or singing at the top of our lungs to silly songs while we drove just to drive, fast and free, enjoying the moment and not really caring where it led.
Fun and free was what our entire relationship was for me—and though we ultimately ended because C. started wanting more and I still wasn’t ready or healed, I think deep down we both knew there was more difference than that between us. In many ways, I was still the small town girl aching to run somewhere bigger, somewhere I could stretch out my little wings, while he was more about sticking to roots, home, and comfort. It was the exact pairing I’d needed then, and yet, not something that could have worked for either of us beyond the length of time it did.
After C., I had more convoluted, tangled relationships. Some were long, some short, but many were not the kind worth remembering. This is why when I ran into C. last week, I had the strongest rush of all we shared in our brief time—not in any sort of pining way, but with that lovely flash of details that had been so good between us. I remembered bowling competitions with strikes and spares earning kisses, swing dancing in our underwear, enthusiastic discussions on the merits of men’s watches and women’s shoes, gentle kisses under a veranda before he told me I had “the most spectacular blush,” attempting to out-sing each other to Cake’s “Love You Madly” over leftovers and wine, and him surprising me with flowers on Valentine’s Day even though we were over, because, as he told me, I deserved them.
As short-lived as my time with C. was, seeing him years later—still bartending, smiling, and belly laughing, proudly showing me pictures of his beautiful wife and daughter while asking after me and rooting me on in that big-hearted way he used to—made me profoundly happy. Our relationship was a couple-month snapshot on a wide panorama of formative events, and the likelihood I’d see him again was fairly small—but when I left the bar giggling, blushing as pink as he made me do over a decade ago, I had the sweetest warmth of memory and the biggest smile on my face.
So I think that’s the true beauty of nostalgia—it doesn’t matter how small the memory is; when it’s that worth keeping, it will always be pure gold.