When Memories Get in the Way
An exploration of "fun blockers"
You may have noticed that I’ve refreshed my Substack to better reflect what I’m curious about these days: fun! If you’re interested in my nature-inspired lessons and musings, those can all still be found here.
Going forward, I’ll be doing some interviews and profiles to better understand what fun is, and sharing more of my theories and frameworks to help you all invite more fun into your lives.
If you or anyone you know wants to talk about fun, please reach out!
Fun Blocker #1: Expectations
While studying how to have more fun, someone (maybe my partner?! probably my partner…) had the great idea to study people who aren’t having fun.
Fortunately, I don’t have to look very hard for these people because I am, at least sometimes, one of them!*
I’ve been reflecting a lot on my “fun blockers” and have come up with a few themes: lack of confidence + expectations + (perceived) time scarcity.
Today I want to dive more into expectations: how they are formed and how to let them go.
For years I was convinced that no one had ever loved New York more than I did. They could love it equally, but not more. I would tell people that I would marry the city if I could. For real. Like in that crazy TLC show where a woman marries the Eiffel Tower.
I loved New York so much because it was the first time in my life that I felt settled. Some people find the stimulation here makes them crazy, but I found it calming. The pace matched the pace of my thoughts.
Surprise (a key ingredient to fun) lay around every corner. There were so many firsts to have (first time at the Met, first celebrity sighting, first time going to the Comedy Cellar, first time exploring Coney Island, first time stumbling on Soul Summit etc etc).
As I grew more familiar with the city, the firsts continued: first time navigating the subway system without a map, first time providing directions to tourists, first time hooking up with my fitness instructor, first time ignoring the Show Time boys…
I love firsts, as I wrote about recently while reflecting on my June fun practice.
I didn’t find the pandemic so bad because it was FULL of firsts, however awful they may have been. First time seeing shelves empty. First time quarantining. First time making masks out of underwear. First time lining up for groceries. First time attending virtual dance parties….
For ten years I have inhaled everything the city has to offer: the construction noise, the peak tourist season traffic, the summer heat waves, and the winter bomb cyclones. I am a certified New York City junkie.
Unfortunately, I’m running out of firsts. And seconds, and thirds, and fourths, and fifths.
For a while, it worked to switch times of day, times of year, modes of transportation, and companions. Visiting Jackson Heights in the winter with a friend is a very different experience from biking there alone on summer day.
But more often than not, I’m subconsciously chasing my first high. A memory. And it’s getting in the way of fun.
I figure I have two options**:
get a divorce, or
go to couples therapy
I’m not ready to give up, so I’m going to couples therapy with my city. I’ve never actually been to couples therapy, but I’ve been to therapy, and I’ve watched the show Couples Therapy (obsesssssssed).
Here’s what I’ve learned from both: it alllll traces back to childhood.
“If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” - Lori Gottlieb
The dominant feeling I had growing up was boredom.
I yearned like crazy for more. More topography (I remember glueing my forehead to the car window for an entire two hour drive to a rented cottage waiting for the flash second to take a picture of a two foot tall “waterfall” that I knew was on the way), more challenge (before I convinced my mom to send me to a private high school because teachers had stopped calling on me in class), more adventure (tv and spying and studying atlases can only get you so far…), more black sheeps of their hometowns…just more.
Enter: NEW YORK CITY 🤩
I used to say the only reason I wouldn’t raise a kid here is to give them the privilege of moving here.
I could go on and one about what this city means to me, but suffice it to say, I think my memories are now getting in the way.
It’s not just New York. Memories of peak times with best friends has made it very hard for me to transition to regular friendship with more than one “best” friend when life causes us to drift apart. Memories of difficult times with my dad make it very hard for me to be open to any sort of relationship with him. Memories of how great my local park used to be, make me really resent all these damn new high rises and the influx of dogs.***
I don’t want to complain though, I want to have fun dammit. So here’s what I’m trying to do:
Shift my attention to smaller details.
I might not be surprised by the man who cycles around on a Citi Bike balancing things on his head (first: just balls; then: garbage cans; lately: TVs) anymore, but I can shift my attention to the people who delight in seeing him for the first time and the new things he is balancing. IYKYK.
Embrace that I am in a new chapter with a different type of firsts.
I used to go to a new coffee shop every day. EVERY DAY! That kept me going for a couple years, biking all over the city like an absolute maniac. Now I’ve settled into a couple favourites where the baristas don’t even charge me for my coffee (don’t worry, I make up for it with tips!), and I’m learning more about them and the regulars instead of constantly tasting coffee from different roasters and checking out new interiors/neighbourhoods.
This practice opens up a lot of possibilities: new items to try on a menu, new people to observe, new paths to take and so on.
Notice what memory (high) I’m chasing.
With increased awareness that my memories are creating subconscious expectations of my experience, I can either adjust my expectations, or find a more adaptive way to get what I am really after.
I want my “best” friend to make more time to hang out when she is in town, so we can spend days wandering around the city without anywhere else to be, like we used to. For years, it’s been upsetting to me that she squeezes our visits together into a tightly packed schedule.
Last week when she was in town, it helped for me to notice how much she did prioritize seeing me, be more flexible with my schedule, and propose fun things we could do with less time.
Remind myself that *new* memories are currently being made.
My current experience is laying the foundation for my future memories. Reminding myself of this has helped me try to stay grounded in making the most of any experience I’m having (vs wishing as fun as it used to be).
For example, I knew I wanted to look back on the first year of my baby’s life with fond memories, so I spent an arm and a leg to get an apartment close to a park with lots of light and an elevator. I could resent that our rent is TOO DAMN HIGH, but I suspect I won’t miss the extra few thousand dollars in my bank account at the end of my life when I’m looking at all these well lit photos of my baby 😍****
What does this mean for you?
Everything changes, including ourselves. What we once found fun (playing in a sandbox; traveling for work; going on long bike rides), might no longer be fun, no matter how hard we try. And that is OK!!
There are still plenty of opportunities to find fun in our lives as long as we are embracing the unknown, which means accepting that there is still so much unknown, even in something (someone) we think we know inside and out.
Questions I’m still asking myself…
Can we actually make fun the goal, or can we only cultivate a mindset that makes fun more likely to emerge?
Are there fun “types”? ie, do you find novelty and surprise as fun as I do? Or are you the type who can watch the same movie seven times and still enjoy yourself?