What All Single People Must Save   

What All Single People Must Save

In the latest installment of our "What I Wish I Knew When I Was Single" series, a writer reveals why we should hold on to old photos and love notes from past amours.

By Jenny Offill
hen my friend Lisa got engaged at the age of 33, she decided to have a ritual bonfire to mark the passing of her single life. Lisa is beautiful and adventurous and has always had her share of admirers, but when she finally met the guy she wanted to marry, she suddenly had no patience for the stacks of photographs, letters and memorabilia from her exes that she'd kept all these years.

Ever since we met in college, I'd been jealous of Lisa's well-documented romantic life.
Still single at the time, I was aghast when she told me what she was planning to do. "How could you just wipe away all those memories like that?" I asked her.

Lisa shrugged. "They all ended badly. Why should I keep boxes full of letters from people who broke my heart or whom I barely remember? I have new pictures now of my life with John."

I understood her point, but I still felt uneasy about the history she was erasing. Her romances over the years had been complicated and infuriating, but there was no doubt that they had been thrilling, too. Some had ended with a bang (the incredibly sexy, incredibly untrustworthy painter), some with a whimper (the balding banker who collected rare stamps). but throughout the rollercoaster of her romantic life, Lisa had taken pictures and saved love letters. Indeed, even her most short-lived trysts merited a catchy nickname scrawled on the back of their photos. There was "The Buckeye" (who hailed from Ohio), "Sleepy Boy" (who dozed off on their date) and the almost love of her life who awkwardly enough had the same first name as her fiancé and so was ceremoniously renamed "El Loco."

Ever since we met in college, I'd been jealous of Lisa's well-documented romantic life. I aspired to the same sort of discipline but my closet was filled with undeveloped rolls of film and pathetic diaries that began with "_______ broke up with me today" and then continued on for ten pages of teeth-gnashing before ending just as abruptly, never to see another entry.

I was the sort of person who never got around to ordering my high-school prom pictures, who lost the mash note that a handsome stranger once slipped me on a train. I wanted to be someone who saved and archived the moments of my life, but somehow I've never quite managed it. So Lisa's symbolic bonfire made me think of all the mementos I wished I'd saved over the years: Photographs of the also-rans,
I spent so much time worrying that I'd always be single, I forgot to record those mysterious and wonderful years.
the heartbreakers, the ones who got away. I'd like to laugh with her now over a photo of "The Existentialist" who was always quoting Camus and broke up with me after I bought People magazine at the airport. I'd like to find the sestina "The Shy Poet" wrote me about how happy the sound of my footsteps made him, or the delicate sculpture of a monkey my "Manic-Depressive Novelist" made me out of candle wax.

The more I thought about it, the more I envied Lisa her boxes of memories. And the more I thought that everyone should have a little memory box full of mementos of their single days. These moments are worth capturing; Lisa's plan to destroy them seemed almost criminal to me. But that is exactly what she did a week before her wedding. My guess is that someday when the heartbreak those boxes contained are distant memories, she'll regret the bonfire. Maybe, maybe not. But at least she had them to laugh and cry over all of these years. How I wish I'd done the same. I spent so much time worrying that I'd always be single, that I'd never meet The One, that I forgot to record all the craziness and infinite possibilities of those maddening, mysterious and wonderful years.

Jenny Offill is the author of the novel Last Things, and the co-editor of the anthology, The Friend Who Got Away.
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