Relationships

Befriending My Former Selves

The other night, I found myself in the most unlikely of places: In the back of a cab with my high school boyfriend…

It was late at night, and as the car wound its way through Midtown Manhattan, his face flickered in the glow of blinking marquees. When we stopped at a red light, he leaned over to whisper in my ear. “I don’t love you,” he said. “And I never have.”

The scene’s ending was identical to every short story I wrote as a child: I woke up. It was all a dream. But as I went about my day, I remained haunted. Why did my subconscious want to dance with someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly 20 years?

Joan Didion wrote, “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” As much as I revere the canon of Joan, this point has never been my strong suit.

My past selves were sometimes mortifying. They wore strange outfits and said awkward things, then stayed up too late fretting about it. They sometimes made errors in judgment that, while necessary for learning, I’d rather not relive. But lately, in these months spent largely at home, I’ve been forced to confront them — the parade of people I used to be. Without new memories to feast on, my brain replays the old ones, like syndicated reruns of a show that hasn’t aged well.

For many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a surge of vivid, bizarre dreams, due to changes in stress and activity levels, sleep patterns, and pretty much every facet of our lives. For me, it has also resurfaced long-forgotten memories. They appear not only when I’m asleep, but often in the midst of some innocuous, everyday task.

Scooping coffee grounds stirs up technicolor images of my elementary school playground, while taking out the trash reminds me of the Halloween, age 10, when I dressed like a picnic, with copious rubber ants. And don’t even get me started on the shower. There, I am joined by flashbacks of the thing I said. The thing I wish I’d said. The boss who could never find the stapler. Another boss who threw things and called me names. The job I quit too soon. The job where I stayed too long. There is a lot more where this came from, but we’ll leave it at that.

My former selves have a lot to say, and as it turns out, they have not gone far. They live inside me like a matryoshka doll, the fashion growing more regrettable with every layer. The more time I spend with my past selves, the more I discover the embarrassment runs in both directions. I not only uncover old disappointments, but also old dreams — things I wanted but was too afraid to try. My younger selves demand to know what happened, and I have no suitable response.

I decide the only way out is to confront them, like a friendly ghost. Since Didion was right about all this, I begin keeping a notebook. If the memories can live on paper, I reason, maybe they won’t feel the need to run around my head. Sometimes, I feel lighter. Other times, I feel like I’ve immortalized the very thing I wished to forget. Like personhood, it is an imperfect science.

Where writing fails me, I look outside. Whenever I get too caught up in my own internal chatter, there’s a game I like to play. I gaze out my urban window, which has a view of many other urban windows, little glowing boxes of life taking place. I imagine what the people behind each of those boxes is stressed about, sad about, looking forward to. I bask in feeling both connected and blissfully, inconsequentially small. It’s like the opposite of Instagram: Actual, unedited panes of people’s humanity.

Lately, I play a similar game with my memories. I gaze out the window, picturing all the rooms I’ve occupied, all the places and people I’ve been. There I am: at five, at twelve, at twenty. In some quantum universe, I imagine that I am still there, albeit with the benefit of experience. Slowly, I discover I am not a threat to myself.

My past selves remind me that we are not one constant entity (and thank goodness for that). We are the sum total of our experiences. We are both before and after, both phoenix and ashes. Even when it seems like the scenery is stagnant, we are subject to constant reinvention, like the pesky upgrades threatening to overtake my phone. Finally, I realize: My former selves aren’t (just) here to harass me, they are also here to keep me company.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve joyously merged my selves and made peace with my past, that I go about my days (and nights) without the shudder of remembrance. But that would be a lie. Still, we are all a bit closer to nodding terms. Perhaps that’s the best I could hope for.


Have you experienced heightened dreams or memories these days? Are you on nodding terms with your former selves?

P.S. Five words that changed everything and how has your life surprised you?

(Photo Victor Torres/Stocksy.)

  1. Marnie says...

    That is a beautiful piece of writing

  2. Elif A. says...

    Caroline this piece is so so precious. Thank you so much for verbalizing a very hard to explain occurence. I’ve been diving very deep into the topic of the self; our psyche, our experiences, our emotions, our cognitive abilities, our consciousness and so on for more than a decade and I’d easily place this article on the top of the list.
    Cannot wait to read more from you!

  3. Sara says...

    Your experience rings totally true for me, and it feels like an unlock to see it through someone else’s eyes. I am going to give the idea of writing it down a go.

    Thanks for posting. <3

  4. Meggles says...

    Caroline, you are SUCH a talented writer. I always look forward to what you write.
    I’ll be graduating with a master’s in clinical mental health counseling in a couple months, and you describe what is so important, to integrate our selves, our stories, into a more cohesive whole. We don’t have to be friends with our past selves, but we can at least work toward making peace with them. There are inner narratives I don’t like in myself, and I wish I could get them to go away (especially the ones representing insecurity). Lately, though, I’ve started becoming more accepting of them. A lot more ways to go, but it’s been really helpful.
    One last thing–I wonder if you’ve ever done Narrative Therapy in counseling. I think you would love it.

    • Hannah says...

      Hi! I am in my first semester of clinical mental health counseling, and I’m learning so much. In therapy right now I am trying to do exactly what you say: to integrate ourselves, our stories into a more cohesive whole. It is so difficult and I am definitely no where near it, but I’m coming to accept and have empathy for the versions of myself that I have disliked and ignored for so long. Just wanted to say I appreciate your post and look forward to being in my final semester as well :)

  5. Lilian Field says...

    This was so beautiful and helpful. Thank you.

  6. Christy says...

    Oh man, I’ve been remembering so many random things. Mostly cringey 😬. At first I was like “am I having ‘intrusive thoughts’??” But then I realized I’ve probably just become too isolated. I think of my mind like a Bingo wheel, spinning spinning spinning with little balls of sensations and images and experiences bonking around in there, and sometimes one ball will roll up into the little Bingo hole and that’s a conscious thought. If I stop dropping new sensations and experiences into
    the Bingo wheel, the wheel becomes a closed system. The conscious thoughts become repetitive, and some old ones that have been bonking around in there for a long time roll up to the front more often, because they are not being crowded back by newer ones. I have to inject some novel experiences into my mind to liven up the old Bingo wheel sometimes. And I haven’t been able to get much novelty lately because of, you know. Not a perfect analogy but you get the picture. Wait, did I just describe Inside Out?

  7. Maria says...

    Your writing is so elegant. I just love this post. And it speaks to me on so many levels.
    I’ve had a ton of random memories pop up in the past year. I assumed it was because covid has essentially caused my family structure to implode. Maybe it is a part of the grieving process, and we have all been grieving something, or someone, or many, during this pandemic.

  8. Noe Hathaway says...

    I feel seen by this post. I feel validated by this post.
    Thank you for writing this for all to see. It’s very beautiful and from people’s comments, it sounds like you are feeling the collection consciousness of us all.

  9. Valerie says...

    Beautiful piece.

  10. Len says...

    I missed your writing, Caroline!

  11. AG says...

    Two weeks ago I dreamt about huge ocean waves, flooding, rain and the biggest tornado all in one scene. Googled dream meanings – and it represented worry, anxiety, spinning out of control, huge pent-up emotions. Accurate! So…dreaming about an ex could mean that you’re looking for closure. Keep me updated!

    Very well-written – quarantining is making us more introspective – not completely sure if that’s a good thing. Take care!

  12. Beautifully written, Caroline! I shared this with several friends who also enjoyed it. The part about the windows’ being real-life parallels to Instagram grids really got me.

    It also reminded me of the music video for “Look What You Made Me Do,” at the end of which Taylor Swift stands with various iconic past versions of herself. It’s comical, and also reflective. Currently, she’s artistically examining her career through her re-recording of her first six albums; she chose Fearless to re-record first because she sees it as her “coming of age” album. Not all of us have such clear capsules of chapters in our lives, but the idea of re-examining our individual pasts is certainly relevant right now. It’s interesting that while Taylor was already planning to do these re-recordings to reclaim her own music (after the absurdly insulting sale of her masters to those whose interest is clearly in controlling a powerful woman), it’s especially timely that it should come in the midst of such a time of past reflection for a large swath of humanity.

  13. amanda says...

    Wonderful and poignant essay. Thank you.

  14. HH says...

    This was so beautifully written and expressed with clarity something I have experienced but did not have words for. Thank you. The idea of us all being inside our heads revisiting the past because we’re not outside making new memories with others–that resonated. I think of my grandfather who passed away from Alzheimers a few years ago and of all the reading we did about it as a family. I remember reading that being socially isolated correlates with the disease and for this reason, hearing loss is connected to it because with (untreated) hearing loss comes social isolation. We are all isolated now, experiencing our own loss. Some of those losses have been blessings (the manipulative, self-absorbed “friends”, for example, and the constant busy-ness that the pandemic has ended). But the sense of aloneness, especially as someone who is single and lives alone–I think of my grandfather in his cocoon of memories. And wonder if that is us, me, in this moment.

  15. Kelly says...

    I have often felt the same kind of visceral cringe at my younger self – almost always when my current self is experiencing the emotions I was always trying to run away from  in the past.  In my case, loneliness.  During a recent move, I unearthed journals from 5, 10, and 15 years ago.  I wanted to chastise the woman writing, to help her course correct in real time. I felt angry at her for the choices I knew she would make.  One day, as I was recounting all this regret to my therapist, he asked me how the woman in those journals had wanted to be treated, what did she need at the time.  I knew, because of the tears that wouldn’t stop flowing right then, that she needed the same compassion and grace I would extend to a daughter or student or younger sister.  I was tearing myself apart with a microscope and criticism I would never expect of anyone else at those ages. I re-read some of the journal entries and told her she could take a breath, that she was being too hard on herself and that she was loved right then, just as she was.  That she was delighted in, even in her confusion and loneliness.  Now I wonder with what compassion and joy my future self holds for me, right now, lonliness and mistakes in all.  I can’t wait to see.

  16. Isabel Daly says...

    Good god I love the way you write!

  17. Last fall right before I gave birth I dreamed my husband and I were at a theme park when I saw my high school ex from a very far distance. In my dream I very obnoxiously called his name and started chasing him down as he tried to get away, shouting “wait! It’s ok! I wanted you to know I’m happy now! I have a baby and everything!”

    So yes, I’d say I echo these sentiments ! 😆

  18. Agnes says...

    I do have regrets. But when I look back (reading my old journals recently), I can see that while surface things have changed over time (I’m now 48), there is little I would have done differently at the time, with the knowledge I had then. I have always been true to myself in the moment, even though I made mistakes along the way. So for that reason I can’t truly spend my time beating myself up now. I can just say that with what I know now, I make different choices now.

    I do think God (the universe if you prefer) gives us chances to make amends. A few years ago I realized how unfairly I’d treated my first boyfriend. I hadn’t spoken to him since the 90’s but wished I could apologize. I wouldn’t have gotten in touch though as he’s married now. A couple of weeks later, he messaged me on Facebook to ask how I was doing and I was able to apologize. I hadn’t heard from him before or since. So.. you know. Redemption is possible, more often than we realize.

  19. gw says...

    Like many, I’m ashamed of my teenage self. It’s hard to show kindness to obnoxious (insecure) teens. I especially appreciate the kindness of an aunt and uncle my family visited each summer. They are masters of noticing and telling young people what is RIGHT with them and then lovingly waiting years and years for those observations to come true.

  20. Thank you for sharing these achingly beautiful thoughts Caroline. I discovered a “trick” years ago to help give value to my former and present self. It involves visualizing my future self holding my hand or holding tight to my younger and present self. We often talk about taking care of our inner child, and it helps right? Well, if I can make my former self feel understood and loved, then I can imagine my future self caring for me right now this very moment. It’s the giving and receiving of love from these past and future selves that truly makes me feel whole and a less unsure of myself. Growth never stops.

  21. Christina says...

    I knew I wasn’t the only person struggling with this, but it’s still nice to see it on the Internet. :) Thank you for your (as always) beautiful words!

    I try really hard to meditate (i.e. think of nothing) at the end of my home yoga sessions during shavasana, but I’m really bad at it. 🙃 So recently, I’ve tried to turn those two minutes into “healing” exercises where I imagine little me or younger me and just give them a hug or hold their hand and tell them it’s going to be okay. The other day, I pictured my child self, high school self, college self, and my current self all lying on the floor in shavasana, holding hands. It felt really good to feel like I was reaching out and connecting all of those selves together, especially since as I’ve grown older, my mental tendency has been to run as far and fast from my old selves (mostly the embarrassing bits) as possible. It’s only been during the last few years (thank you, therapy!) that I’ve even considered turning around and letting them catch up to me.

    • jules says...

      I’ve done a version this while meditating too and it is deeply powerful and healing. My girls and women need so much more tenderness than they got, especially from me. So many dominoes fall from there.

  22. K says...

    Yes! Folklore definitely surfaced so many memories and “what if” thoughts for me too.

  23. Cheryl says...

    What a beautiful subject. Unfortunately my former selves never mean me any good at all. When they want attention (and shame, usually) they are patiently shown the mental “door.” I say out loud “shut up” or “nope” and let them rot in the ether. The most important lesson I’ve learned is the past doesn’t exist. All I can do is do better now, and plan and work toward the future. No ghosts ever show up from the past to say how amazing I was, how I said and did and wore the right thing. So screw em.

  24. Caroline, every time I read your writing, I feel like you are the wiser and cooler self I aspire to be :) Thank you for sharing this relatable experience of making peace with (or at least exploring) your former selves.

  25. MollyE says...

    “…little glowing boxes of life taking place”. What a beautiful thought.

    Your essay reminded me of a favorite Cheryl Strayed Dear Sugar column about the lives we each could, but didn’t, live. I don’t think back on my former selves very often. I’ve learned my super power is being almost exasperatingly consistent and dependable, so I haven’t varied much over the years. But I do think about the paths I didn’t choose. I once carried those “lost” opportunities as burdens I never achieved, but the Strayed passage below really resonated with me – I love the mental release of waving to those ghost lives from the shore of my real life. Thank you for sharing this writing!

    “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

  26. STEPHANIE O'NEILL says...

    What a gift you have! I wish I could express my thoughts as clearly and beautifully as you do. Thank you for sharing this!

  27. Preeti says...

    Oh wow! This is such an amazing piece! I saw myself nodding every few sentences. Thank you for unpacking this so beautifully.

  28. Ceridwen says...

    I think now that my daughter is reaching teen-hood, I am kinder and more compassionate to my former selves. I imagine my girl, navigating the world and how I will make her an egg after a hard day or sit and watch Queer Eye to sooth it all….I would do the same for my younger self who was also navigating. I am still navigating. I allow myself to let go of the feeling of failure and offer a hand to my past self. That girl trying. I wish we had Queer Eye back then.

  29. Christine says...

    Beautiful, and so accurate. Lately, I have this feeling of being stock in a modern version of Christmas Carol; i never which ghosts will come and say hi!

  30. M says...

    Beautifully written. I can’t tell you how many dreams I’ve had about my exes/former friends that bring up feelings I’d rather not have, or how many times something extremely embarrassing I’ve done comes to the surface while I’m on a walk that makes me visibly CRINGE. Sometimes I wish that I could have a do-over, especially of my early 20s…

    I love what you wrote about befriending our past selves. We have to have compassion for them, and our present selves! When I look back now, I try to comfort my past selves as they’re still a part of me. The middle schooler with braces who felt awkward, out of place, and unpopular just wanted to be loved and accepted. The overly confident college freshman wanted to experience freedom, and de-emphasized responsibility and relationships to her detriment. I’m still learning balance, patience, and unconditional acceptance and love. Day by day.

    Has anyone read A Tale for the Time Being? It contains the theme of multiple quantum realities.

  31. Beth says...

    So beautiful and haunting. I think about my former selves too– where would I be if I hadn’t have gotten married, become a mother, gone to college, etc. My sliding doors alternate universe self out there as a thirty, flirty (maybe less serious) version of myself? Who knows!

  32. J says...

    Just wanted to chime in and say this is an extraordinary piece of writing. I’d love to read a book of your essays, Caroline.

    • Sequoia says...

      Seconded!

  33. Nitzan says...

    My twin sister and I talk about our past selves a lot. We check in with the 11 year olds inside of us regularly. At that age, we had lofty goals but also ample confidence that we would reach them.

    As I’ve gotten older, and life has checked some of my ambition, I think about my 11 year old self, but also my 4 year old self. If I’m a bit of a disappointment to the former, I know the latter would be happy to give me a hug. And sometimes, in low points, I imagine the loving and comforting things I would say to 4 year old me. It’s a little bit of therapy, giving her the acceptance she deserved even so many years later. I’m on nodding terms with some of my former selves, still working on eye contact with others, but that young me gets a full embrace that only this self, with all its layers, could offer.

    • h says...

      This is a thought I have had often too. Teenage me would be disappointed in me, but 4 year old me would love me as a parent or friend. I try to remember that teenage me was more clueless than she thought, and had to go through some rough patches.

  34. SN says...

    This was beautifully written. I too have recently had some vivid dreams… weird day dreams thinking back to past selves and past relationships (even though I am happily married and with my husband for 9 years) — I get frustrated with myself that my mind even goes there, cause like that’s old history and sometimes feel pathetic to even think about. I’m realizing it’s just as much out of boredom than anything.

    After one weird dream I found myself looking at old photos from college, reading old diaries and OH MY GOSH I couldn’t believe the things I wrote, and worse, the things my former self put up with in serious and even casual relationships. The dishonesty and shady sh*t I seemed to justify or put up with is NOT the stuff I would put up with today. I wanted to hug my former self and then look her square in the eyes and say: “Girl. Get outta here. These are some serious red flags. You don’t need this.” But alas, that doesn’t happen.

    Instead… after those rabbit hole sessions of thinking of who I was and what I put up with I go and hug my husband and thank him for being him … and especially thank myself for growing into the person I am today.

    • JM says...

      This made me tear up – I feel like I put up with so much because I so badly want to find my person. I hope in a few years I get to look at this version of myself from a happier place, and then go give someone a hug to thank him for being him.

    • SN says...

      @JM oh gosh I wish I could give you a hug and just listen to what you’re going through. I, too, hope you can look back in a few years and feel like the tough stuff you went through today was your path to a better, more peaceful & happier future. Everyone deserves that. <3

  35. Leah says...

    Caroline…you are in my head! I awoke this morning after dreaming about the most random person from my past that I barely knew. How did he even enter my subconscious? Why is this happening? I am finding it both peculiar and disorienting. I too experience these random thought intrusions while brushing my teeth, while preparing a meal, while doing just about anything. While I thought I was alone in this, I am deeply comforted to find that I am not. Thank you for making me feel less alone. You are a true gift.

  36. This is so eloquently written and profound, Caroline. Over the past year, my dreams have included many cameos from childhood friends and classmates. I can’t help but wonder why. What message might my subconscious be trying to surface? At age 25, I developed a chronic illness, which shattered my aggressive Type-A dreams. It took a few years to come to term with my reduced abilities, but the limited supply of energy helped me prioritize acceptance and grace over worry and fear. I now view my past selves as children–hungry, cranky, anxious due to environmental conditions or personality traits, but doing the best that they can. I now realize that I have *always* done the best that I can, and I truly believe that we all do.

  37. Nicole says...

    oh wow, this jumped right out at me, “Without new memories to feast on, my brain replays the old ones.”

    If my life was a novel the pandemic chapter would have that as a title. all summer I was listening to mix cds from college and obsessively replaying my old relationships in my head. I’ve stopped the CDs (they were making me crazy!) but now am having vivid dreams about other times and places in my life.

    also, yes – I still have a CD player and mix cd’s from 2001 and beyond! They are little time capsules that somehow still work!

  38. Sarah says...

    So, so beautifully written, poignant, and helpful.

  39. Marie says...

    Oh boy did I love this, Caroline. You are a brilliant writer and I devoured every word. I so relate to this. I am haunted day and night by my former selves. We are not on nodding terms. But it feels good to know I’m not alone in this.

  40. celeste says...

    I guess I’ve made peace with my past. Onward and upward!

  41. Ashley says...

    Man, is this resonating with me today. Thanks for giving beautiful articulation to the feelings I’ve been wrestling with lately, Caroline.

  42. Jessica Camerata says...

    My dreams are always pretty vivid, but this past year they’ve been out of control for sure! So intense, and so vivid. I can remember them so clearly in the morning too.

    xo Jessica

  43. Pamela Decker says...

    Just wanted to say to Caroline that your writing is just superb. Cup of Jo was lucky to have found you.

  44. L says...

    Cleaning the garage this weekend, I came across my marching band letter jacket (from 1980!). The girl who wore it was talented, empathic, agonizingly self-conscious, at sea in her troubled family, desperate for approval, and attracted boys who knew to prey on the voids. In letting go of the jacket (to a youth theater program), I told that girl she could release the shame of letting boys touch her where and when she was not ready to be touched. That yes, she was a damn fine piccolo player. That her family did not see her in its vortex, but she saw herself and did OK. Thanks for validating these moments along with me.

  45. Katie says...

    “They live inside me like a matryoshka doll, the fashion growing more regrettable with every layer. “ <– Love this visual :)

  46. D says...

    I’m relieved that I’m not the only one who has experienced this. For me, the pandemic + Taylor Swift’s folklore album = many weeks of revisiting memories of exes. People, places, conversations, etc. that I hadn’t thought about in years suddenly came to the surface. I look forward to the day we can make more new memories so that our brains don’t have to revisit the past quite as much.

  47. Shannon says...

    Caroline, your essays are my favorites on the internet!

  48. Toni says...

    This resonates with me so much. The pandemic has given me more headspace to retreat inward but I have never thought about being on nodding terms with my past selves. When a cringeworthy memory of myself pops up, I immediately bury it or busy myself. It would serve me better to give that former self a little compassion and give my current self some inner piece.

    PS thank you Caroline for your beautifully written piece!

  49. Bea says...

    I have very strange and vivid dreams featuring people from the past that often wake me up in a hot flash, but usually I can recover swiftly from them.
    My partner however, has very realistic dreams that flash back to people and memories he wants to move on from. The same people / places from his childhood have been recurring in his dreams for years. They upset him greatly; I think he feels ‘haunted’. It’s very difficult to know what to say to support him, especially if, as you suggest so well, it’s that he is struggling with who he was and is.

  50. Dee says...

    I love this post, and would like to add another layer that may be more constructive than reliving past failings or missteps, which are as common to all people as breathing, and towards which we must exercise radical self compassion.

    When I have felt out of sorts, anxious, at a low ebb, I think of the sources of pleasure and joy from my childhood – long rambles alone in a forest for miles, escaping in fiction, catching tadpoles in a jam jar, rescuing worms from certain pavement death after rain, writing short stories, taking my bike to meet up with pals – and by embracing those activities again, I find myself. It reminds me of who I am so I don’t get lost in the problems of today. We must never forget who we were. But we must use the power of that self knowledge to follow a golden rule number one: Above all else, I will be kind to myself. Everything flows from that.

    • Anna says...

      Dee, I love this idea of using memories of pleasure and positivity. To reframe those experiences. I had a wonderful childhood and young adulthood but I don’t work to recall those experiences but rather replay what I wish had played out differently. Your comment propels me to ask why I do that.

    • Alice says...

      This was so wonderful to do – thank you!

  51. Ruby Kalra says...

    Really well written. Loved this. Thank you.

  52. Laura says...

    All I can say is….WOW! I too have been suddenly and for seemingly no reason been finding myself going through my past in this same way. It has not always been pleasant, and at times, downright cringy!! (19-year-old me was a MESS!!!!). It has also been enlightening at times, remembering my passions and my personality before, as they say, “the world told me who to be”. I thought this was because I am approaching the last year of my 30’s, and it was some kind of midlife reflection (though I plan to live to 100, so we’ll see ;)) but I can also see how the world we have been living in over the past year can bring this all to light as well.
    Beautiful piece of writing, Caroline! Thank you for putting words to an experience I have not been able to name yet <3

  53. Molly Dansby says...

    Thank you for this Caroline!

  54. Kristy says...

    What a beautiful piece, and such food for thought. I am not on nodding terms with my past selves. More like look the other way and pretend you don’t see her. Perhaps it’s time to change that.

  55. Ana Helena Lopes says...

    What an amazing post. Beautiful!

  56. S says...

    As usual, you beautifully organized and depicted thoughts I have long borne.
    Thank you <3

  57. HeatherS says...

    Thank you for writing this very thoughtful, eloquent piece. I’ve thought about these pictures of the past – situations, people, decisions good and bad – in general, but especially during the pandemic. Thank you for capturing this so clearly, helping make sense so I don’t feel like a weirdo or worse, scrutinize my thoughts for “going there.” The thoughts really are decent company during these crazy, uncertain, kind of lonely times. All we’ve got, in the end, are ourselves and our thoughts. Better to make peace and get a laugh or a lesson out of the stuff while we can.

  58. Jenni says...

    I absolutely relate to this. I too have been experiencing vivid pandemic dreams, mostly about friends and travels; two things I’m desperately missing.

  59. D says...

    “I gaze out my urban window, which has a view of many other urban windows, little glowing boxes of life taking place. I imagine what the people behind each of those boxes is stressed about, sad about, looking forward to. I bask in feeling both connected and blissfully, inconsequentially small. It’s like the opposite of Instagram: Actual, unedited panes of people’s humanity.”

    Wow! A sensation I felt so many times while living in NYC finally put perfectly into such descriptive words. When I go back to visit, I get lost in evocative evening walks just for this reason. I came across a similar feel/atmosphere in Amsterdam….but maybe that’s because many windows there don’t have curtains (or at least that’s a detail I observed in the short time I was there)!

  60. Meghan says...

    What a delightful read! Thank you.

  61. Marie says...

    Love this!

  62. Caroline, let me just say I am so happy you’re here. On Cup of Jo. Because otherwise I wouldn’t have come across your writing and I’m better for reading your perspective on the world.

  63. Annie says...

    Oh my goodness. Thank you for this. Especially the lines, “I not only uncover old disappointments, but also old dreams — things I wanted but was too afraid to try. My younger selves demand to know what happened, and I have no suitable response. ”
    I just recently thought it would be fun to listen to an old song that I had on repeat when I was in college almost twenty years ago. Instead, it unlocked all these crazy, buried memories that made me cringe and also wonder what happened to that girl. I realized how disconnected I feel to that version of myself, and reflected on how much I’ve changed (for the better, in my opinion). The goals and dreams I had in college are so disconnected from the path I ended up taking, and the life I’m living. While I’m pretty happy and content, I wondered what my former college-age self would think of my life now. I wondered if she’d disapprove.
    Your writing makes me grateful it’s not just me who has recently wrestled with the discomfort of past selves and past dreams. Thanks for putting to words something so hard to define. :)

  64. Lovely and insightful writing, Caroline. Thank you.
    You are always so brave and willing to share your vulnerability. So empowering!
    I believe our past selves can be as recent as yesterday, or even one hour or minute ago and each of these selves gives birth to the clarity and expansion that opens us to the wisdom and joy and hope to allow and become more.

  65. Jasmine MSN says...

    Beautifully written and incredibly touching. ❤️

    • Charlie says...

      100% agree.

      Caroline, you’re such an amazing writer!

      “I gaze out my urban window, which has a view of many other urban windows, little glowing boxes of life taking place.” What a picture!

  66. Frankie says...

    This post resonates with me too- I have had weird ex boyfriend dreams reaching back to 8th grade – I have been decluttering old letters and photographs that I have held onto for decades and it has jarred my subconscious back my former selves -my brain has a hard time wrapping around the fact that I am now 43. I think covid has given everyone too much time to dredge up the past but hopefully it will make us able be more integrated and comfortable in our own skin.

  67. Isabella says...

    This is a wonderful piece, unsurprisingly — Caroline consistently contributes some of the strongest, most beautiful writing on this blog!

    I’ve often been surprised (and, at times, dismayed) by how quickly my ‘selves’ can turn over, from the past self making cringey judgement calls and giving way to lapses in professionalism to the oh-so-much-wiser-and-more-capable person I am now, who will, in turn, embarrass the person I am next year, or even six months from now. I’m in a relationship with someone more than a decade older than myself, and while he lavishes me with admiration and it always feels like we’re on very equal footing sometimes I wonder how he can stand it, hanging out with someone surely so far behind, inevitably so callow. But more and more these days, I look back on my former selves with compassion, with the tenderness and companionship that I could have so used at the time. One self in particular, not all that far removed — a first-time mother steamrolled by postpartum depression, largely cut off from family or any sources of logistical or emotional support, still mourning her late mother, with a partner who barely even hugged her through her difficult pregnancy and the agonizing months beyond. I see her, crying on the floor with her face against the kitchen cabinet while her beautiful baby slept. I hear her thoughts, sinking into daydreams about suicide to end the pain. I see her getting up every day, doing everything that needs to be done, putting one foot in front of the other, weaving a cocoon of love and tenderness and beauty and sweet fierce protection around her son, and I want to rush to her, tell her how brave and good she is, that what she’s doing is superhuman, wrap her in my arms and be the friend to her that she needed, that she absolutely deserved. Whatever flailing she did at the time, whatever stupid things she might have said or thought, my God, who cares, of *course* she was flailing. Anyone would, and it’s not her fault. I think as long as we aim for our best in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, while we might not still consider that our “best” later in life, with the benefit of hindsight and accumulated wisdom, I think we can solidly still be proud of what we’ve done and who we’ve been at every stage. And I suspect that loving kindness is the thing that can best bind our nested selves into a cohesive, vibrant, still-growing whole.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      This is so, so beautiful, Isabella.

    • Charlie says...

      Wow. Sending you so much love isabelle. You’re a strong soul.

      100% agree with your beautiful last line: And I suspect that loving kindness is the thing that can best bind our nested selves into a cohesive, vibrant, still-growing whole.

    • cilla says...

      Dear Isabella, you wish to hug, talk bravely about her to her, and be her friends. You can do that! This woman is today you, writing this. You are the one, surviving those hard months. I hope you are your own friend, talk bravely about yourself to yourself, and even hug yourself!

    • Angela says...

      Thank you for the beautiful contribution Isabella. When we look back at all our selves, and cringe, we must remember to be kind. And to understand that, at that time, we did the best we could with what we had and who we were . And we continue to.

      And so we must learn to be extraordinarily kind to our past and present selves. Otherwise we get so caught up in judging ourselves that we diminish who we are now.

    • Karolina says...

      This really helps me, as I’m a struggling mom to a young child and I need to tell myself this kind words right now

    • Mary says...

      Beautiful.

    • Annie says...

      “And I suspect that loving kindness is the thing that can best bind our nested selves into a cohesive, vibrant, still-growing whole.” Stunningly beautiful. Thank you for sharing

  68. Alex Pearl says...

    Wow, this really struck a cord and was simply lovely to read. What fantastic writing and insights. This put to words so much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling this past year, but never able to really solidify. Thanks!

  69. trish says...

    Ah, thank you so much for this. Somehow, in all of the times I’ve felt such guilt or shame for stupid little things I’ve done or said, I’ve never realized that others may experience the same feelings about their past selves. I haven’t forgiven myself for these things, feeling alone in my guilt. Thank you for sharing.

  70. Kimberly says...

    Yes! I was just telling a friend how vivid and life like my dreams have been. A lot have dealt with high school, I was extremely shy and my dreams make me wish I would have taken more chances and been more open. I’m taking it as a sign to continue stepping out of my shell, inviting new relationships and experiences into my life.

  71. Bobbi says...

    And Caroline outdoes herself once again.

    • Lucy says...

      Just when we didn’t think it was possible! Your writing is a treasure, Caroline, and inspires so many beautiful comments from readers.

  72. Julie says...

    wow! this is so beautifully written! just beautiful.

    i too, have been stumbling through a waiting room of my former selves. i prefer to meet mine through music…songs that come on the iPod shuffle in the kitchen or the radio in the car that *instantly* transport me back to the front door of my dorm kissing my college boyfriend (or to the back door with my one night stand after we broke up) , or to the driveway of my best friend’s house in 11th grade smoking cigarettes talking about boys until waaaaay after curfew. sometimes i’m transported to the 8th grade dance, with frizzy hair, braces, and acid washed denim.

    I like to call it my nostalgia mixtape. all these former selves are girls i get to hang out with in my quarantine life, even if it’s just for 3 minutes at a time. their reminders: sometimes sweet, sometimes embarrassing, have saved me during this time.

    thank you for this piece.

  73. A wonderful piece of writing, Caroline!

  74. Katy says...

    Did this remind anyone else of the allegory of the Ship of Theseus? It’s an ancient Greek lesson, that tells of the great king, Theseus, who won many sea battles as captain of a magnificent ship. After he died, the people preserved the ship in homage to him. Over the centuries, however, the ship’s wooden planks all rotted, one by one, and had to be replaced, such that, eventually, the whole structure had ultimately been rebuilt with timbers that Theseus himself never touched. And the question was posed: was it still the Ship of Theseus?

    The story of the Ship of Theseus is often drawn on in conversations of evolving identities, and Caroline’s post brought it to mind for me. My answer is yes: it is still the Ship of Theseus, and I am still me. But I am also the sum of all that has been added and lost over the years. And that is okay.

  75. Julia says...

    Thank you Caroline for putting so beautifully what I’ve experienced this past year. Most of my 2020/21 dreams have been about people from my high school and elementary school years 20+ years ago (lots of them regretful and sometimes nightmarish). It makes me emotional to think about showing grace to my younger selves. I wish I had done it sooner.

  76. Beth says...

    Long-time reader, first time-commenter.
    I couldn’t bear to think of leaving without expressing how thoughtful and eloquent this post is… and how much I enjoyed reading it. I hope your past-selves acknowledge this too.

  77. Rosalie says...

    This makes me think of Chateaubriand: “Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives, placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.” I read this as an epigraph in another book years ago, but I still think of it all the time. I like your more uplifting tilt here — we don’t have to accept this state as only bringing misery and suffering, but we can take comfort from our past lives, too. (Even if it’s HARD!)

  78. Heather says...

    Thank you for giving a voice to all of those complex feelings that we all experience, yet don’t know how to come to terms with. I will buy all of your books.

  79. Amy says...

    For me, my nods to “former selves” have often been through the lens of the women in my family, who crossed oceans, made careers for themselves, and cleared the way for me to follow. I’ll find myself in these moments where it feels like I’m falling back into place. I’ll be driving down an empty road, windows down, sunlight beating on my skin, and think: Whoa, this is my life. What did all the women before me – my mother, my grandmother, my grandmother’s mother – experience and overcome for me to be here. How amazing is it to be where I am, to be free.

    • Caitlin says...

      We are kindred spirits for sharing this same thought, Amy!

  80. Julienne says...

    What a beautiful essay.

  81. Kristin says...

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I am going through an incredibly difficult time right now 3 years into infertility, and this prompted me to take a look at the version of myself ten years ago, five years ago, and remember that I am more than my present suffering. I hope 10 years from now I can look back to the me-of-the-moment with a heart full of compassion and love for the mother I am working so hard to become.

    Caroline’s writing is so, so good.

  82. Chiara says...

    I often feel so embarrassed about my high school self. There’s a great podcast from CBC called “Grown Ups Read Things they Wrote as Kids” that has helped me view that part of me with more compassion. Turns out a lot of people felt out of place, horny, sad, angsty… teenager-y when they were kids. Highky recommend the podcast, usually pretty funny and occasionally poignant and heartbreaking.

  83. J says...

    Thank you so much for this post. I am feeling much less alone because this was written! It touched on feelings so deep that I had to read it in small installments tonight, finally digesting it all after working through it on and off over a few hours. This is weird for me – I usually devour CoJ posts quickly no matter the topic!

    This post has made me realize that it’s been my reaction to essentially banish past versions of myself in order to accept and like and protect the version of myself I am today. The concept of being on nodding terms with past versions of me, and understanding that they’re not here to threaten me, was instantly comforting. This softened me. Working towards nodding terms feels simply necessary now, as integration of these versions of me is something that perhaps can only be avoided for so long.

    Thank you again for your beautiful words!

  84. Kamina says...

    I always struggle with former selves. I feel like each iteration of myself is better than the last, which is lovely, but it means that I don’t always like to remember myself as I have been previously, to the point that I feel really uncomfortable looking at old photos of myself and hate reminiscing. This post and the comments gave me hope that there might be work I can do to reconcile with my past selves, and welcome them as part of me.

  85. MK says...

    This reminds of the Madeleine L’Engle quote that I think of often, (especially during those moments in the shower) : “I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and *be* fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”

  86. Capucine says...

    By the end of reading this, tears had welled in my eyes. Really beautiful. It brought to mind this quote I love by Virginia Woolf:
    “We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown. Here we go alone, and like it better so. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable.”
    -Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill

  87. Lyndsee says...

    Great post! Reminds me of a quote from Not That Kind of Girl:

    “I can never be who I was. I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding, and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport. She did her best with her eyeliner. She learned a new word she wants to try out on you. She is ambling along. She is looking for it.”

  88. Kris says...

    Yes, yes, yes to this line! “Finally, I realize: My former selves aren’t (just) here to harass me, they are also here to keep me company.”

    With age and hindsight, I’ve learned to recognize from a comfortable distance the good in old boyfriends and old friends who no longer serve me well today. “He had major avoidance issues and narcissistic tendencies, but wow – did he fiercely love his friends.” Or “she encouraged some super destructive substance abuse behavior, but wow – if she wasn’t one of the funniest people I’ve known.” Why shouldn’t I offer the same kindness to my own past selves, too?

  89. Eileen says...

    Caroline, I feel a happy anticipation when I see your name in the byline. This one was … I don’t have the right word. I think, just thanks for expressing what I couldn’t explain in myself. I feel related to and understood.

    • Katie says...

      Ditto, Caroline. I love your essays. They are thoughtful and approachable and I find myself often thinking about them days later. I miss seeing my not-so-strangers now that our commutes have changed so much! I know I’ll be wondering about the “opposite of Instagram: Actual, unedited panes of people’s humanity” as I take in the views outside my window. Thank you for this.

  90. Jennifer says...

    What a gorgeous post. I have found myself in the last year feeling very tender toward those former selves and the mistakes she has made. It’s all part of the sometimes gut-wrenching process of learning and growing, hopefully evolving into a version of myself that I feel proud of. Thank you for this perspective.

  91. Sonja says...

    this writing is insanely gorgeous poetry, so beautiful and thought-provoking. <3

  92. Kate says...

    I was just wondering today why I keep having strange dreams! Often about dead bodies. My dreams used to be normal, pleasant..now they’re usually unsettling. I have begun working with a dream therapist to deal with a recurring dream about being back in my ex-boyfriend’s condo, frantically packing before he comes home to find me there. I thought it was trauma from the way he dumped me but she explained he represents an aspect of myself. It made me feel so empowered – he doesn’t have the power to come into my dreams and hurt me, it’s a part of my subconscious I need to deal with. Lots to ‘unpack’!

  93. Jen says...

    Thanks for this piece. It is gorgeously written, and so thought provoking.

    I have recently been going through old journals and datebooks from my teens and early twenties, and there was MUCH in them to cringe over. My goal in going through the collection was to get rid of old papers so that my children eventually won’t have to (nothing’s wrong, knock on wood; I’m just planning in advance). Snapping a few pictures of certain papers or even just written entries as I went, I found that most of what I had saved in boxes in the garage all these years was easily able to be put into the recycling bin. Curiously though, I found that I had a really hard time letting go of the most cringe-worthy stuff at first. Reading through it brought back memories of people, time and place, choices, and heartache. Everything I was going through seemed to be of larger than life importance. Reading through the details now, with the intent of destroying the evidence, so to speak, made me worry that if I no longer had the actual papers, that my story from that time of my life would be “lost.” I needed to sit with it for a few days, by just leaving those papers untouched in their box. Finally, I decided that it was okay for some of those stories to go ahead and be lost to me. I shredded them for good measure before recycling. It felt freeing. What I had written about during that time of my life no longer serves me or defines me, yet it will always be a part of me. And now, even though the actual papers are shredded and gone, I also feel that I will remember much of it better, by having gone through the process of letting it go.

  94. A says...

    Beautifully written.
    I was just talking with a friend about vivid dreams during this time. And yes, lots from the past is coming up in both waking & dreaming time. I’ve had the same thought about the past spaces I’ve been in/moments lived. I come to Cup of Jo for thoughts on life like this. Thank you!

  95. Cyn says...

    Thank you for this! Random, very mundane, long forgotten memories have been popping into my mind throughout the day. Like a drawn out “life flashing before my eyes” type of thing. Sometimes I’m amazed and entertained at what my brain has produced and sometimes I cringe. I too think it’s the lack of stimulation-no new people, places and things. I’m so glad to hear others have been experiencing this too. Our brains are so cool!

  96. cills says...

    you absolutely nailed this. might be my favorite post ever.

  97. Marie says...

    I’ve been having SO many ex dreams! My husband is just as confused about them as I am, ha! Hope your boyfriend is taking your backseat-of-a-cab dreams in stride, Caroline ;)

    Beautifully written, as always.

  98. K says...

    oh gosh.
    “I’ve been forced to confront them — the parade of people I used to be. Without new memories to feast on, my brain replays the old ones, like syndicated reruns of a show that hasn’t aged well.”

    “My former selves have a lot to say, and as it turns out, they have not gone far. They live inside me like a matryoshka doll {}. The more time I spend with my past selves, the more I discover the embarrassment runs in both directions. I not only uncover old disappointments, but also old dreams — things I wanted but was too afraid to try. My younger selves demand to know what happened, and I have no suitable response.

    I decide the only way out is to confront them, like a friendly ghost. Since Didion was right about all this, I begin keeping a notebook. If the memories can live on paper, I reason, maybe they won’t feel the need to run around my head. Sometimes, I feel lighter. Other times, I feel like I’ve immortalized the very thing I wished to forget. Like personhood, it is an imperfect science.”

    You pulled out that feeling from *my* subconscious. thank you for making me feel less lonely for something I didn’t realize I was lonely about. I too have the experience of doing some mundane task and suddenly a memory of something like “why did I do that? it was so easy to not do that” pops up. It is what it is, but to be fair, I have a far better view of the past than every younger person I was. Who better to see all the mistakes I’ve made than me who has all the memories to see.

  99. Kim Schultz says...

    This is such a lovely post. I often wonder if old friends or boyfriends popping up into a dream means there is some sort of unfinished business I need to tend to or “closure” I need for myself. I will think for a few minutes, after I wake up, “Should I reach out?” But, I never do. I also occasionally beat myself up with thoughts of embarrassing things I did (mostly as it relates to boys in high school).

    A few months ago, a woman who was a good friend in high school sent me a Facebook video message out of the blue. She said she wanted to apologize, for something that I honestly only vaguely remember happening. She said it has always bothered her and everything happening right now pushed her to reach out. We then had a 2-hour virtual happy hour, mostly spent reminiscing about the past. It was actually cathartic to pay a visit to my past self. Anyway, I think what she did was really brave.

  100. Michelle says...

    I’ve never commented on a blog post…and yet, here I am. This beautiful post took my breath away. Recently, I worked on a meditative exercise with my therapist where I envisioned my current self knocking on the house that I lived in when I was 4. My 4-year old self opens the door, I take her by the hand and tell her, ‘No matter what happens, no matter where you go, what you do, what you decide, I am the one person who will never leave you. You are safe and loved by me.’ The exercise made me sob – it was as if in that moment, I absolved my past self of so much doubt, fear, and more than anything – loneliness. This line from your writing: ‘Finally, I realize: My former selves aren’t (just) here to harass me, they are also here to keep me company.’ It is so true! Thank you, thank you for sharing your vulnerability and writing with us.

    • J says...

      IFS, for the win!

    • Twyla says...

      For anyone who’s interested – The Holistic Psychologist has an inner child meditation on her YouTube channel that’s very much like the description above. I also sobbed while doing it.

    • Emma says...

      Second vote for IFS! (Internal Family Systems therapy, for anyone who is curious, an awesome and powerful method of finding peace between different parts/versions of yourself).

    • Michelle says...

      I had no idea this type of work was called IFS! I will impress my therapist with my knowledge next week (and undoubtedly will read her excerpts from this essay (ok let’s be honest: I’ll read her all of it).

  101. Emma Nelson says...

    My mom and I were just talking about this phenomenon today (by FaceTime, of course). We’ve both been thinking, and dreaming, about people our former selves were close to — friends, exes, coworkers we thought we’d forgotten. It’s almost as if our minds are providing company, at a time when the regular cast of characters has to be absent.

    • Heather says...

      Ohh this is so spot on! I often think both about the people from regular life I’m missing out on, but it hasn’t occur to me to frame my simultaneous influx of vivid memories as replacements.

  102. Shar says...

    “ Like personhood, it is an imperfect science.” A beautiful sentence. A beautiful sentiment.

    A few years ago, in session, my therapist walked me through an exercise to imagine myself at different ages standing in a field. The field I imagined was the softball field in my home town. I was instructed to greet each version of myself (past and future) and see what comes up for myself in the present. It turns out I had a lot of empathy for 7 year old me. 4 year old me made me so happy and equally so sad. 15 year old me still had her innocence and that gave me great joy. 55 year old me was my idol. 23 year old me and I had a lot of shit we still needed to forgive each other for. We started there.

    That was one of my most memorable therapy sessions of my life. I only write this to say, I get it. Integrating who we used to be with who we are and who we hope to be is challenging, and rewarding, and part of my life’s work. Thank you for writing this.

  103. Natasha says...

    This is such a beautiful, deep, relatable piece, Caroline! While I typically love the juicy, surface-level content found here on this blog (yay- escapism!!!), this piece really stopped me in my tracks with its introspection and thought-provocation. You have such a gift, such a talent for writing- there was so much color and imagery here as I read this. Like a Dali painting, in a strange way. Also- the visualization of your 10-year-old self in costume as a picnic- it sounds incredible, like the emergence of your creative brilliance. Many thanks for “going there” and taking us readers with you.

  104. Jess says...

    How lovely is this? And like all great writers, you have articulated something nebulous and almost intangible from my own experience, and given it resonance and weight but also company. So now I feel part of a wider collective experience. Caroline , you really are a great writer.

  105. Wow I just read this and got chills because I feel like I could’ve written it myself, down to the disturbing dreams about former… let’s call them “love interests” in my case. I’ve had so many weird dreams over the last few months and lots of random memories bob up to the surface of my mind during my waking hours, so I guess I’m glad I’m not alone/ not losing my mind entirely.

  106. Molly Bjorkman says...

    I have a different theory than scientific american about why we are dreaming so much. It’s much more woo-woo, but perhaps we are all collectively becoming more in touch with our unconscious mind, and how much the old ways of the world have not been serving us. Caroline, perhaps your old-selves are encouraging your new self to rise up and bust out of the old shackles/situations that your old selves experienced. Change is afoot in the world, and, although there is a long ways to go, we are making strong strides.

    • Tracey says...

      Hip hip

  107. Mary M Hartman says...

    What a thoughtful post. Thank you.

  108. Kendra says...

    Caroline your writing is beautiful. Thank you for sharing it with the world.

  109. Katherine Pickerell says...

    This post gave me chills.
    ‘We are both before and after, both phoenix and ashes.’ … thank goodness for this fact.

  110. Clare says...

    My dreams during COVID have been INTENSE. Some are visits from old friends, loves, and sometimes relatives, while other dreams are versions of my pandemic fears playing out in everyday scenarios (“Why isn’t anyone wearing a mask?! I have to get out of here!”). More recently, it’s all about real estate – mostly showing and selling homes.
    I like the idea of being on nodding terms with my former selves – for a long time, I used to hold embarrassment of ways I’d messed up, and would continue to feel it acutely, even if the episode was 20+ years ago. I assume I read here (because I always read such great things here) that I should actively forgive my former self for those embarrassing moments, and try to let them go. I’m much better now, but still find the need to quietly comfort myself with an “I forgive you” to make my heart stop racing with those old feelings.

  111. Lauren Tremper says...

    I think about this a lot. I think in this day and age of moving, and moving far from where we were raised that our lives are even more compartmentalized than previous generations. I grew up in the south and now live as far as possible (while still in the US) not far from the border of Canada in the PNW. There are no spontaneous bump intos with high school or college friends. I don’t drive past places I worked as a 20 something. I think it somehow immortalizes those versions of myself, like I can take them off the shelf and look at them sometimes and then put them back. I think the self MUST feel more integrated if you are still around the places you grew and changed, don’t you think? If I was confronted with the people and things that filled up my past instead of it being largely gone in my current consciousness. Anyway, I loved this piece and it’s something I think of frequently. How to merge the people I’ve been and be at peace with the changes and the previous versions. All part of aging, which truly is the greatest privilege of them all.

    • Jen M says...

      I love Caroline’s post, and love the layer you’ve added to it here, Lauren. Rings so very true, and you’ve given me new angles to ponder on this terribly pertinent topic!

    • Cristy says...

      I have been thinking about my first love a lot during this pandemic. I went so far as to read old journals and start to doubt our break up. This was in high school and college and I am 38 and have been married for 7 years. It started to freak me out, why was I suddenly thinking about him so much when I barely have in years??? I started realizing that it wasn’t just the relationship but the time in my life, barely on the cusp of adulthood with so many possibilities ahead, that I was reminiscing about in this hard and tedious year. This article is brilliant and so validating. Thank you!!

  112. Ashley says...

    I had a dream two nights ago that I was pregnant by my ex boyfriend, and I was trying to remember his name so I could tell him but for the life of me I couldn’t remember his first name. I got more and more frustrated in my dream until I woke up and then instantly recalled his name, of course. And wasn’t pregnant when I woke up, which was a relief, lol.

  113. jessica says...

    This struck a deep cord in me. My past selves have haunted me and still occasionally do. More previously than my present life, but this made me realize I’m not alone! When they try to haunt, I will remind myself that there were more versions of myself that I am proud of and (what would be the opposite of “haunt”) have graduated myself from. Thank you for this!

  114. Gorgeous writing, Caroline. Thank you.

  115. Jackie says...

    So incredibly lovely, Caroline! Sometimes I get close to the mirror and look deeply into my own eyes – and talk to my many selves. I especially like to tell younger selves that I forgive them. Thank you for this.

    • J says...

      Jackie, wow. I’ve done the same things so many times and always felt quite alone in doing so. Thank you for writing this. The next time I look in the mirror so close, I will think not just of myself but all the people who share this moment of reflection with our past selves.

  116. jessica says...

    We dream more and remember more when our defenses are down. Something about this time alone away from social pressures has, I believe, allowed people more access to more parts of themselves. I’m training as a psychoanalyst and though the form sounds dated to many and I face so many skeptics (people lie on a couch 4 days a week?!?!?), it is precisely this deep, extensive exploration of self, past self, and potential self that we seek. It’s profound and beautiful.

  117. Fascinating blog post. I thought I was the only one with strange dreams that crept up on my from my past. :) Thanks for confirming I’m normal.

  118. Sarah says...

    Really beautiful, Caroline. I used to wince at versions of my old self, replaying mortifying moments, but now that I’m in my mid-30s, I look back at various “Young Sarahs” with a tremendous amount of tenderness, forgiveness, and sometimes admiration. And it’s taught me to be more gentle with my current self, knowing that one day, I’ll once again be “Young Sarah” to some older version of myself.

  119. Bre says...

    This is such a beautiful piece of writing and resonates deeply with me. I’ve been noticing that “shudder of remembrance” often lately and it saddens me that I have so little grace for my former selves. Thank you for this encouragement, Caroline.

    • Kristiana says...

      Same here, Bre.

  120. Emma says...

    “We are both before and after, both phoenix and ashes.” Holy…Caroline, this is pure poetry. As always, you share something so universal to all of us but with such a beautiful perspective. Your writing is a gift.

  121. Elizabeth Catlin says...

    Have you read The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig? Check it out — you two are on the same quantum wave length!

  122. Jane says...

    So beautifully written. I feel this so completely. I too am trying to be on nodding terms with all of my past selves, no matter how cringeworthy.
    I’ve been having extra vivid dreams these past couple of nights actually and lots of old boyfriends and friends played such a large part. I’ve been wondering about this myself-so this completely resonates with me.