In Love, There is No ‘Delete History’

In love, deleting your history is far more complicated than clicking a link.

Scott Gilman
Oct 7, 2020 · 6 min read
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Netflix kept crashing on my computer. I thought it was because of my ten-plus-year-old machine.

But then I tried a different browser (from Safari to Chrome) and it worked like a charm. And this MacBook got a new lease.

I had forgotten all you get used to in your normal browser, all the log-ins, and passwords.

I see a promotional “you might like” email from Amazon. They got me, so I add the item (compostable garbage bags) and then see the total cost of my cart at around $96. I’d pay $12 for green garbage bags, but not $96.

So I go into my cart and see four items there that I don’t recognize. I finally notice that I am accessing my ex-girlfriend’s Amazon account. She’d used this computer many times, and I think not only preferred Chrome to Safari but used it as a way to keep her internet stuff and my internet stuff on this machine separate.

I can’t remember the last time she used it, but it was at least more than six months ago. Alas.

I looked more closely. I was tempted to purchase everything in her cart. I thought of adding the most expensive thing I could find and then putting that on her card too. Then I thought that would be too easy to cancel; far better to order a cheaper but larger item, like a couch or shelving unit, and have her deal with that.

But then I took a breath. I thought of looking up the things in her cart and putting them in my own account, and getting them for her. Or of peeking at her wish list and anonymously sending her something from it.

I thought about looking at her recent purchase history. What had she been up to? What was she buying? What clues could I discern (travel, home improvement, reading) from her recent purchases? Of all the temptations, viewing that purchase list was the strongest. I just wanted to know.

I logged out of her account.

One more string cut, one more cord disconnected.

There is no button to click, no setting to apply, to make you forget memory — of love, or anything else

When your intertwine lives with someone, evidence of having brought so much together remains, like bread crumbs marking a path that once connected you.

In love, deleting your history is far more complicated than clicking a link.

It’s not like all these crumbs are hidden or are even hard to find.

When I exercised last week, I pulled from the top of my workout drawer a light blue shirt she had gotten me. It remains one of my favorite workout shirts, and I’ve since bought others like it.

But seeing it and putting it on, I thought of her. And us. And the time, when eating dinner on a Monday night outdoors at a Mexican restaurant, she gave me that shirt as a small gift.

Then, of course, I thought of everything.

Gifts are on the obvious category of things you might retain after a relationship ends — and it can be hard to know what to do with them. The gym shirt I kept because I liked it; a bathing suit I didn’t care for I got rid of. Books have gone both ways. I’ve kept a few and given some away. There might have been one or two I got rid of just because.

But, over time, after you replace towels, bed sheets, books, dishes, furniture, apartments, clothes, shaving supplies, decorative items, and, yes, digital devices, it’s not things you encounter reminding of your past love, but the memory itself.

Driving down the boulevard is like setting off a string of memory bottle rockets. Each bar, restaurant, or store I pass reminds me of her, of us. There are times I can remember what we ate, or what we talked about, or how much in love we were, or how precarious we were.

I wonder, should I do that? Do I need to relive all those memories, and experience the pain of loss and heartbreak, whenever I drive to Walgreen’s?

Or when getting a veggie bento box, the one I like with the fried beets and spicy Brussels sprouts, the place where we ate many times, including on the night we first kissed?

I like thinking of that night, even though it makes me sad. Can I disassociate those feelings from my simple desire for spicy Brussels sprouts?

There is a wine bar further into town that I very much miss. We went there after the place with the Brussels sprouts and sat on the couch tucked into a cove.

We had never sat that close before. From there we went to my condo, where we had that kiss, and then she went home, even though I asked her to stay, even though I knew she couldn’t.

I started going back to that wine bar after a previous separation of ours. And kept going, and met the people there, the owners, the bartenders and chefs, the other patrons. While we had one of our best memories there, I made that place mine.

The memory of us on the couch still made me smile when I opened the door on the way in, but that’s not why I went. I went because it was a cool place and I liked it. And precisely because I had made it mine.

I want to feel that everywhere. When I’m driving down the street, I want to feel the street is mine, not that it was ours. I’m grateful for the memories, even the unpleasant ones because they remind me of who we truly were, but I don’t want to live my life through them.

Memories are neutral; what gives them emotional power is how we relate to and feel them

It’s sunk in that the roads I take are by a ‘me’ that is no longer with her.

Yet still, the associations of her linger. Our relationship spanned a decade, after all.

I assume with time many will fade away. More importantly, I will process those associations differently, and recognize them as landmarks just as I do the streets and shops.

But time is not just water smoothing jagged rocks day after day.

Time has a quality of its own and can leave behind bread crumbs, too. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries…they don’t just recall the other person, they recall memories of time spent.

The Labor Day get-away to a nearby bed and breakfast, the road trip where we had pizza and ice cream then went to the zoo the next day, all of the different ways we celebrated and spent New Years’.

Those associations take longer to write over. They occur and reappear more slowly.

It’s one thing to return to that breakfast taco place, and sit at the tables on the side rather than in front where we used to, or, more likely these days, do take out.

It’s a far different thing to spend a long weekend alone, a holiday, a birthday, apart. Especially after being together for so many.

Those milestones get crossed off in succession, one at a time, and then again through another cycle. Whether you like it or not, you are forced to experience those days differently. They are not the same, and they feel empty.

And they will continue to feel that way until I can re-create them for myself, just like that wine bar. Maybe I’ll be alone or with someone different, but they’ll be completely different.

Not better, not worse, just different. Acclimating to that is what the process of healing feels like.

Unlike a web site you can just log out of, or a browser whose history you can just delete, your history is permanent, your memories embedded.

There’s a reason significant others are called that. It’s because the feelings are so intense, the memories so bountiful. It’s because the shared experiences are so much more…significant.

And that’s why the bread crumbs are so much harder to totally sweep up.

I ordered take out last week, and on the way out the restaurant door, I took a look at a back corner, where we sat when we had our first breakfast together.

The restaurant is different now. What had been an English place is now a vegan restaurant. Frankly, the food is better. The inside is totally redecorated, but the spot is the same.

In my mind’s eye, I saw us there. And all that lay ahead.

Now I was back, alone, and the place was made over, more spacious, airier, brighter, more comfortable.

It’s still the place where we had our first brunch.

But it’s something else now. Just as she is. And perhaps just like I am.

Just because the slate has been wiped clean doesn’t mean the writing and dust were never there.

Have any feedback? I can be reached at scottmgilman @ gmail.com.

Heart Affairs

Love and lust can be messy.

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