I can see the sun setting beyond the trees as I write this. Tonight is just one of many sticky summer nights where I find myself wondering how everything has gone by so fast. Maybe it’s because I have a summer birthday, but I always feel like once summer rolls around, I get incredibly nostalgic. And after a bit of Googling, it turns out it’s not just me.
Nostalgia makes us believes things in the past were better
When Darrell Hammond said “Aaah, summer — that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility,” I felt that. Nostalgia and summer go hand in hand: we think of a time like our childhood, where we were unconcerned with the responsibilities of adult life. As school’s break for summer, it only makes sense that the happy-go-lucky summers from our childhood pale in comparison to the summers as we get older. It’s been years since I truly spent a summer doing nothing: it’s always a constant rotation of classes, internships, work. Lather, rinse, repeat. But of course, just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it was better. Jamie Jackson said it best, when he described nostalgia as “a rose-tinted lens that distorts the past, a lens through which we bend and contort memories to fit our whims and desires, to have them slot neatly into narratives and weave seamlessly into wider stories we tell ourselves, about when we were younger, stronger, better.” It’s not a far leap to bond nostalgic memories to warn, childhood innocence (even if our childhoods weren’t always ideal).
The media loves summer
There seriously seems to be no limit to movies about summer. Students trying to make the most out of their last summer before college, summer road trips, summer musicals, summer vacations, I seriously could go on and on. And this isn’t even taking into account the number of songs that feature summer excellence. Though this might be the only thing that bonds Megan Thee Stallion and Bryan Adams together, no one can deny that songs about summer just hit different. While it can be incredibly comforting to rewatch the “Work this out” scene from High School Musical 2, it’s important to note that these pieces of media give us an idealized version of summer. As much as we’d like to break out into song while working at a picture-perfect country club, movies are not real life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our own incredible summer memories! Living in a nostalgic summer past, especially a fictionalized one, sets us up for disappointment: it is impossible to reach a pedestal that doesn’t exist.
How many books have tropes of an epic summer romance?
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many of my friends wished for an epic summer romance. And it makes sense, considering we grew up watching movies that feature summer romance as a central plot. Don’t even get me started on the YA books where the protagonist is shipped off to a gorgeous summer camp, only to meet the dreamiest kid in the mess hall. I remember wondering when the day would come that my mom would ship me off to a mysterious summer camp, where I would naturally meet demi-gods and realize my awesome destiny. Of course, that never happened. In fact, I only ever had one week at a summer camp in grade nine, after begging my mom to still let me go, despite needing to go to summer school after flunking math. Both summer school and camp were not what I expected, and with my cabin being full of shy art girls, none of us had dreamy summer romances. But still, reading books about summer love and adventure gives me an unjustified sense of nostalgia: somehow, I crave to go back in time and re-live these experiences that I actually never had. Which is a weird paradox that I can’t seem to make sense of.
Summer nostalgia just hits different. I’m sure there’s some psychology behind it, but all I can come up with is that our brains are liars. Nostalgia is a big, fake, idealized lie that we tell ourselves to pretend that things were better in the past. Not only that, our constant consumption of summer tropes gives us an unreachable pedestal. So we desperately want to believe things were better in summers past, because summers in the media were incredible parts of our memories: High School Musical 2, Percy Jackson, even American Pie. It’s a fight to remind ourselves that the memories we have are carefully curated and molded to match these media ideals.
is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto. When she isn't writing, she's reading and working on her bullet journal. You can read more of her work at ashaswann.com