Shared memories… or not


Yesterday marked the 26th anniversary of my husband’s and my first date. I probably wouldn’t remember that specific day if it hadn’t occurred on Cinco de Mayo. My husband? He wouldn’t remember it at all if I didn’t remind him.

After 26 years together, we have mountains of shared experiences. We’ve been on numerous trips, attended countless events, and celebrated many, many milestones. We’ve also remodeled two houses together, dealt with several family tragedies, and supported and cheered each other through life’s ups and downs.

We’ve been through a lot together over the years; what I find fascinating is what each of us remembers… or not.

I guess there is only so much we can cram into our cranial cavities before some of it leaks out. What sticks tends to be what, for whatever reason, resonates with us; what doesn’t stick becomes jetsam that our brains jettison to lighten the load.

In addition to the date of the first time we went out, I remember other bits and pieces of relatively useless information that has long-abandoned my husband’s brain. I have a fairly vivid memory of the layout of most of the houses we looked at before we decided to purchase our home. I remember restaurants where we ate years ago, and often what each of us ordered. More useful, I have a much better memory of all of our vacations, where and when we went, what we did, and who we met.

My husband has almost no retention for the dates of past events and his memory of the homes we visited is almost nonexistent. If we are sitting in a restaurant we’ve dined at before, he will often have no recollection of having been there. When I tell him what he ordered, his usual response is, “did I like it?” Often, when I mention a shared experience from many years ago, he will look at me blankly.

My husband, on the other hand, has a much better memory for specifics of presentations we’ve attended, conversation we’ve had or been party to, and movies we’ve seen. When he recites snippets of a presentation or a conversation, I desperately try – often unsuccessfully – to rummage around in my temporal lobes for the same memory. He’ll harken back to a movie we saw months ago, recalling the plot and, often, reciting the dialog. I’m lucky if I can remember the name of the movie we saw the prior evening.

As far as we know, neither of us is experiencing age-related memory loss… it’s always been this way. Each of us is just better with different types of memories. I find that my memories tend to be more emotional and visual, his are more verbal. One’s not better than the other—both tend to be filled equally with useful and useless tidbits of information—they are just different.

After 26 years together, I think that it is safe to say that we’ve forgotten more bits and pieces than we can remember. Fortunately, it really doesn’t matter if he forgets the details of our first date or I can’t remember a movie we saw two months ago. What is really important is that we continue to make memories together. That and maybe we both should take notes.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

43 thoughts on “Shared memories… or not”

  1. Happy Anniversary, Janis! I tend to remember more specific details (especially personal/family details) and my husband is more likely to remember the bigger picture (especially of sports/political events). It is fascinating how our brains, and memories, work. Thanks for a very interesting post.

    1. I think that is probably true – in general – for men and women. Women tend to put more emotional significance on an event, while men don’t. That may be why I remember the houses we looked at – each one was a potential home so I envisioned living in each one. My husband was probably was focused on the price and how big the garage was. 🙂

  2. Happy anniversary of your first date. Neither my husband nor I can remember the date of ours 😕 although we both remember where we went (circus) and much of our conversation. I’ve found it interesting myself how we seem to remember different things. I am a bit of a savant about people and relationships – especially our son and his relationships (friends, teachers, classmates, teammates, etc.). My husband can’t seem to remember people but he can spit out dates and places and stats like an encyclopedia. I guess between the two of us we have a great memory!

    1. That’s what I said to my husband… between the two of us we have one brain, so we better stay together! I remember faces, but I’m horrible at names… especially when I see people out of context. I’ve run into people I used to work with (just two years ago) and panic because I can’t remember their name. We really should require everyone to wear name tags at all times.

  3. Happy anniversary of your first date. Between the two of you, you can remember more with your different memory boards. I hope you went to a nice Mexican restaurant and drank Dis Equis or Margaritas.

    1. Funny, around here Cinco de Mayo is the worst day to go out to a Mexican restaurant… way too crowded. In fact, that’s probably why I remember the date: we had to drive through an historical area (and we have a lot of Mexican history here) to get to where we were going to that night. The traffic was horrendous!

      1. Too true. Maybe we should personally celebrate Cinco de Mayo on April 5 and Valentines Day on January 14 to avoid the rush and pricing.

  4. Happy Anniversary. It is weird that some useless stuff I remember clearly and other useless stuff I do not remember at all. And I am terrible with names and have been all my life. Memory is strange but I am thankful for it every day.

    1. No kidding! I think all of us at our age start to worry that any forgotten bit of info is a harbinger of profound memory loss. Names have always given me trouble too but I’ve learned to be less embarrassed to ask someone again. They have usually forgotten mine too!

  5. Happy anniversary! I too remember the anniversary of our first date; surprisingly so does my husband.

    It’s a bit weird, but I was contemplating memory just this morning. My mom just left after a visit and I was struggling to recall past visits when my dad was still alive. As my dad has been gone 17 years, it was long term memories I was prodding, and not very successfully. Thanks for making me realize we all have different memory skills…and it’s OK.

    1. Along those lines, I’ve sadly forgotten many of the details my parents told me about their lives pre-kids. Now that both are gone, I’m afraid much of that history is lost. Fortunately, I have a few of their diaries and younger members of my mother’s extended family are still around to fill in some of the details. If I had children, I think I would make it a mission to write my memoirs for them.

      1. I agree about the memoirs piece… if I had kids, I would be definitely doing it! Sometimes I think about being the “end of the line” with no kids to pass things on to. I don’t think any of my nieces and nephews, all of them are in their 20-30’s care about the past. One of my brother’s in law is a family history buff and none of the kids (including his own) ever want anything to do with it! He’s got some great pictures of his relative’s from way back and loves to tell stories. The kids literally leave the room. I’m not sure if its them or the entire millennial generation. (His family is not mine or my husband’s, so I listen but have no idea who the people are! But I do listen.)

        1. I understand what you are talking about. Both of my brothers married women with children, but have none of their own. It does feel like the end of the line. And, it also seems like many of the younger generations don’t care much for family histories. Maybe when they get older they’ll recognize the value… hopefully it won’t be too late.

    1. It’s weird how we remember different things. I’m just glad that I’m the one who better remembers our trips! If I forget a movie, so what, but I always want to remember our great adventures!

  6. Haha so well written and a terrific tribute to your years together. We don’t have as many years but we have similar memory capacities … Mine being way more visual and his being more verbal. Perhaps it’s a classic male female thing? At any rate I really enjoyed reading this and Happy Anniversary with many more to follow.

  7. How interesting – loved your analysis of the differences between your and your husband’s memory caches! Happy Anniversary to you!

    1. I looked into the gender differences of memory, and found that (often, but certainly not always) men have better verbal memories, and women better visual ones. I guess it’s good that we can supply the other half to each other!

  8. Fortunately, a man’s name doesn’t change after marriage, or else he would forget who he was. Happy Anniversary!

  9. Happy anniversary, Janis. My hubby and I still celebrate our “unofficial” anniversary as well as our wedding anniversary. You and your husband sound pretty typical to me in the memory department. I think women recall the emotionally-important stuff much more than men. And for many couples it’s a source of astonishment and entertainment.

    1. I wish I could get over the feeling of panic (“oh my gosh, am I losing my mind?”) when he remembers something that I have not one iota of memory about. I’ve thought about wearing a GoPro at all times to record my life, but I can’t find one that goes well with my outfits.

  10. This is actually…rather comforting. I have secretly been concerned I am facing a future of mental struggles. It’s nice to know I am not the only one. Thank you for sharing this so openly, and congratulations on your first date anniversary!!!!

    1. I think we all have those worries as we get older. I’m sure my memory isn’t as good as it once was, but I also know that there are certain things that I’ve never had a good memory for. The key may be to get in the habit of mentally reinforcing the things we want to remember.

  11. Happy first date anniversary! After 26 years, I’m not surprised that most men forgot about these details. My hubby does remember our first date probably because it has only been 7 years. And, yes, I have forgotten things over the years, too. Definitely a brain filled with great memories and experiences. Yes…moving on to making new ones!!

  12. This is the beauty of “Sharing a brain”! What one doesn’t remember the other does. We have been married 55 years and there is not enough memory between us to hold it all but we get by.

    Happy 1st Date…you are very lucky people.


    1. Thank you Barbara! Two bodies, one brain. In a way it’s nice to feel that we complete each other like that. What neither of us can remember probably isn’t important (that’s my story, anyway).

  13. Happy Anniversary Janis to you and your husband. You make such an excellent point – we do remember such different things. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve actually attended the same events 😉

    1. Sometimes I’ll listen to my husband tell someone about an experience we both had and – as far as I can remember the details – I’m “sure” what he’s saying is wrong. I’ve learned to not try to correct him, though, because sometimes it has turned out that he remembers it better than I do.

  14. What a great post! Our joke is that our first date was to a car show – I should have known what I was getting myself into!!! In any case, happy anniversary to you. Jeremy always tells his friends that in marriage, “you can do anything – ONCE, and to remember that women have a long, looooonnnnggggg memory!” 😉 Have a great day! ~Lynn

    1. Oh, car shows might be the perfect first date… you have plenty of time to talk (unlike going to a movie), you can get a good idea of the person’s wants vs. needs, their sense of style vs. practicality, how well they manage money, how concerned they are about the environment, etc. You can even kick a few tires before you look under the hood. 🙂

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