A few weeks ago, I felt like I experienced time travel. Not in the driving-88-miles-per-hour-in-a-DeLorean kind of way; this was nostalgic, reminiscent, and almost disorienting. It evoked a similar feeling to one you might get when you open a box of old possessions your parents have kept safe for over a decade, or when you scroll all the way back to the top of your phone's photo album and begin to swipe, or when you hear a song that you so strongly associate with a specific period in your life. I nearly felt transported through time, and it was all thanks to a thin red book.
Back in February 2013, Justin and I were celebrating our first anniversary. As we approached the end of our senior year of college, without any job prospects, we found ourselves in completely different emotional states when it came to our post-grad plans. I was anticipating my eventual move to New York, eager to swap beer-soaked frat basements for urine-stained subway stations and over-crowded football stadiums for densely-packed Italian restaurants (ah, New York, how I miss you). Justin was a bit more resistant to start our adult lives, not quite ready to give up Solo cups and tailgates.
For Valentine's Day that year, his mom thoughtfully gifted us a fill-in-the blank/prompt journal for romantic relationships. The back of the book reads: "With questions about romance and sex, daily routines and the life of your dreams, 'All About Us' will help you and your partner discover more about yourselves and each other than you ever imagined possible." A bit cheesy, I can hear you saying. But as a 22-year-old hopeless romantic, I was primed to begin filling it out before we even had time to recycle the wrapping paper.
It starts simply enough, with a Warm-Up section asking for the date (2/14/2013), whether or not you're planning on going through the book together (yes), and a designated person assigned to A or B for the purposes of the format (Justin took A, I took B). It then asks: "If you are 'B,' did you think for a second that you would have preferred to be 'A'?" The X next to the yes was dark and defined. "Clearly, some things never change," current, 2020 Jess jokingly scoffed at Justin. Though I didn't realize that I would soon see just how much some things can.
We spent hours poring over every page we'd filled out, reading about individual interpretations of how we met, finding and reliving inside jokes that had faded from our memories, discovering philosophies on life that now seem naive and sheltered. There were profound responses (when prompted with "What would you like to outlaw in your relationship?" I answered "Unequal distribution of power–the root of all conflict"), comical responses (most of Justin's revolved around sex–his 20-something, one-track mind was made very obvious), and responses that are so cheesy, even I found myself rolling my eyes (We answered "If you're married, what was your favorite moment of your wedding?" with "We're not married...yet"). It was fascinating to pinpoint our distinctive characteristics that are at the core of who we are (if Justin's affinity for video games and my infatuation with Paris haven't changed in eight years, they clearly aren't going anywhere). But my favorite part was identifying the growth–seeing the fears we had, whether they were explicitly written or hidden within euphemisms, and acknowledging that we've overcome so many of them together. We reflected on our maturation and partnership, which has only deepened and strengthened.
I'm not usually one to dwell on the past. The present and the future are my focus, yet over the last few months, I've come to realize that reflecting and dwelling are two completely different things. There's value to reflection–recognizing the strides you've made and how far you've come. And I've found that there's something cathartic about documenting those less-than-ideal times while you're going through it. It will also serve as a testament of change and progress, and reviewing it years later can give you a deeper appreciation of where you currently are.
I found solace reading through the journal from 2013, and it got me thinking: What would it be like in one, five, or ten years from now to reflect on 2020, the era of the COVID-19 pandemic and Great White Awakening? To read about months of so much uncertainty, despair, and virtual living? Will this be the genesis of infrastructural, systemic changes? And will my older, wiser self look back on this time, when anxiety levels are terrifyingly high and the economy is unstable, with more fully developed hindsight?
Justin and I plan to create our own, updated version of All About Us, with thought-provoking prompts and questions tailored to the current state of the world. While we recognize how inordinately fortunate and privileged we are, it's been tough to find things to look forward to, and knowing I'll have this journal in a few years feels like I'm planting a time capsule I can hardly wait to unearth. We'll use a notebook, since I love putting pen to paper, but if you choose to do the same, do whatever form works best for you–notes on your iPhone, a Google Doc, voice recordings, or start a vlog. I want to be able to reflect on this incomprehensible period, years down the line, in a time where there is enough distance to appreciate how much has changed. Perhaps that seems overly optimistic–but all I know is that I'm grateful to have found the thin red book, and to be able to get a peek into our past.