Someone Like You: Adele, Melancholy, and Getting Free From the Past

Sometimes, the past holds you prisoner.

Ever get in one of those nostalgic moods? It’s hard to describe, but you suddenly spend time thinking about the way things used to be in your life – the people you know, the places you went, the things you did, the hopes you held. Sometimes these little moods can become sad, as if the mere recollection of your past obscures your present and overshadows your future. You just start thinking of the way it was and you begin to consider the road not taken.

But those trips down memory lane don’t always have to be sad.

I’m learning the truth of that statement these last couple of days. For some reason, my mind has been stuck in reverse, wanting to go back through some of the memories of my late teens and early twenties. I don’t know exactly where it’s coming from – though my post from yesterday might have nailed the starting point – but it’s not a sad thing. I’ve not found myself looking back across my life wishing that things had turned out differently.

Case in point: I was driving to the gym last night and I heard Adele’s “Someone Like You”, and I realized that I don’t have a single “lost love” to regret. Not one. I realize this makes two days in a row that I’ve posted about a song influencing my thinking, but good music will do that to you. And as I listened to this lovely voice sing about the heartbreak of having to move on from a past that didn’t work out like it was supposed to, I realized something with such clarity, such force, that I had to sit in my car for a few minutes once I got to the gym and just meditate on the magnitude of this thought:

I was blessed and miraculously gifted with the chance to marry the only woman I’ve ever loved: Rachel.

Thinking back across my life to all of the people I ever dated or thought I was in love with (and admittedly, it’s not that large of a sample size, but still), the truth just crystallized in my mind. There’s no one else but Rachel. She’s the only one. Nowhere in my brain or memory is there another woman that would even be close to haunting me the way Adele’s mystery man haunts her.

Now, less this sound egotistical, I’m pretty sure that all of the women I dated feel the exact same way about me, and probably felt that way within milliseconds of breaking up with me. I don’t for minute think that there’s a woman out there looking back on her life and recalling me as “the one that got away.” If anything, they probably think of me as “the one I couldn’t get away from fast enough”.

So why does this matter?

Because it means I’ve found freedom from my past. I’m one of those people that used to spend a lot of time beating myself up over the past. Worrying if any of my old decisions would come back to haunt me. I guess the Adele song was so stunning to me because, for the first time in my life, I didn’t identify with the sadness, didn’t let the melancholia of the music get into my own soul. Instead, I found myself thinking, “Gosh, that’s gotta suck – to be that stuck on what’s behind you.”

For me, it was like…well, pick your own tortured metaphor: diving into a clear mountain lake, seeing a gorgeous ocean sunrise, yada-yada-yada. Whichever way you go, the result is the same: a past that was suddenly in proper perspective, without an overpowering emotionalism to consume me.

It’s been a refreshing thing, this looking back at my life and seeing clearly, without sadness. Sometimes, I think, we paint the past in one of two colors: rose or blue; to see it without tint, without taint, is a wonderful thing.

As I wrote yesterday, there are plenty of things that I regret doing – or not doing – from these years that have been on my mind. There are things that I would do differently if I could go back, but they are at the micro-level; things that, had they been different, would’ve only produced a better me. Indeed, if I could go back in time and impart wisdom to my younger self (or, given how stupid I was back then, go back in time and brain swap with my younger self) I would tell myself to spend more time studying, more time writing, more time developing my own interests and talents. I would extol the virtues of being the “nice guy” and preach the problems of falling into the pit of self-pity and self-loathing, both pits in which I spent a considerable amount of time.  I would preach the virtue of saving money by simply not spending it on the two major vices of my college days. I would overall just tell me that eventually, I would one day find myself an adult, with the world wide open before me, free to choose my outcome, no longer under the counterfeit weight of adolescent expectations.

Of course, the irony is that the wisdom which I would impart to my former self is the wisdom I gained by being my former self. Hmmm.

Maybe what I’m really trying to say is that the past two days have found me more at peace with myself than ever before. Instead of wrestling with myself in all three phases of the time continuum (past, present, future), I’ve been able to forge a truce with at least two of the three (past and present; future me still wants to pull my pants down in front of the Senior Ladies Auxillary and laugh, so we’ve got some work to do there)

You’re probably sitting there saying, “Duh. It’s called growing up, dude. Glad you finally got here.” And I’ll admit that my personality (melancholic as it is) sort of fed into that type of thinking. But I also do a fair amount of people watching, and I’m not the only one like this. I see a lot of people who carry the past on their shoulders. Some, it’s fairly obvious to see; with others, it only comes to light once you’ve known them for a while. Regardless, there are a lot of people (in my estimation) who would dearly love to experience the same kind of breakthrough I had last night: the chance to see yourself without tint or taint. The chance to simply be at peace.

All I’ll say is that the journey was not easy, though it could have been. I’m just glad to have been set free.