Mood-dependent recall and the bad sex memories

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was pining for the Great Scot. I was going to try and use imagery to resolve my head-heart divide.

It’s worked an absolute treat.

I started feeling better within just a couple of days.

And then, I started remembering things I had forgotten, from when we were dating.

I think I’ve been experiencing mood-dependent memory. This is the phenomenon where it’s easier to recall memories when your mood matches the mood you were in when you created the memory.

At work, I have to get all my patients to fill in a mood questionnaire at the start of every session. It’s really helpful for several reasons, but not an exact science, like any self-report questionnaire in Psychology.

Sometimes my patients say “I’m sure if I’m in a bad mood I say my week was worse, but if I’m in a good mood, I’ll think my week was better.”

That’s mood-dependent memory. When feeling good, we will remember the better memories. When feeling crap, we’ll remember all the other times we were feeling crap when we stored a memory.

(There’s also state-dependent memory – when you can recall things better when you’re in the same state as when you created the memory. For example, in one study they taught people things when drunk and tested them either when drunk again, or when sober, and found they remembered things better if they were drunk again when tested. The state (drunk) when encoding the memory matched the state when retrieving the memory. That’s one of my favourite Psychological Phenomena.

Another example is how my mum and I both find that when we’re drifting off to sleep, we can suddenly remember what we dreamed about the previous night, even though we couldn’t remember it during the day.

There’s also context-dependent memory, where you remember things better when you’re in the same situation as when you created the memory. One study found people perform in an exam if they’re tested in the same room as they learnt the material.

Also, I take several different routes to work throughout the week, depending on which NHS building I’m working in that day, and what my traffic app says. When I take a route I haven’t taken in a while, I suddenly remember what I was thinking about last time I drove down that route.)

So, I used imagery to challenge my dreamy images of the Scot, to bridge my head-heart gap. I had been torn between attention-grabbing, wonderful, visceral memories and fantasies about what our future could have been like, and hard facts I knew about how it could never work. I tried to make the facts seem as convincing as the memories and fantasies, by creating new images of what our future would really have been like, based on the facts I knew.

This has made me feel more frustrated, disappointed and resigned to our relationship not working out.

Suddenly, I can remember all the times I felt frustrated, disappointed and resigned to failure, when I was with him.

It’s great!

When my feelings towards him were longing, wanting and caring, I remembered all the great moments, and times I felt close to him.

I had been thinking but the sex was flipping amazing. Whyyyyy can’t it work with him!

Suddenly, all the memories of the not-great-moments from the sex have come back.

I had been remembering all the great sex memories, and, to be fair to him, there are a lot to choose from.

I couldn’t stop thinking about

  • him saying “I couldn’t give a fuck” when I told him my body hair admin wasn’t up to date
  • him saying “I just want to be inside you”
  • his hands being tools of absolute master precision
  • him authoritatively flipping me around into different positions, but when I suggested a position, him saying “you were right. This feels really good!”

Obviously, this all made me long for him more, which made me remember more longing and intimate memories, which became a vicious circle.

When I started feeling frustrated and disappointed and hopeless towards him, all the bad sex memories came flooding back.

I mean, actually, there wasn’t a moment of bad sex with him. It was all perfect. But, there were some quite bad sex-adjacent memories. There were quite a few moments from immediately before or after the sex, which, if this was a porn film and I was the editor, would have ended up on the cutting room floor.

First, I remembered the two times from our 5th date, where, after he’d completed the transaction, he just lay with his eyes closed for a really long time, not talking to me.

At first, I took it as a massive compliment that my expertise had rendered him immobile. But then, it went on for a really long time. There’s only so long you can be at someone else’s house, while they’re mildly catatonic, before it starts to feel a bit awkward.

Maybe if we’d been at mine, I would’ve put the kettle on or cracked on with my book.

I remember thinking Is he even OK?

I tried to pull him out of it by hugging him, saying “open your eyes!” or cheerfully chattering about what my favourite parts of the sex were, but he either ignored me or said “I don’t like talking dirty after the sex”, which made me feel a bit crushed.

After a really good orgasm, I can be a bit higgledy-piggledy as well, but the difference is that I just want to feel really close to the person who gave me the orgasm. I might also lie there, really spaced out and incoherent, but I’ll be hugging them and at least saying “just give me a minute, that was amazing” instead of making them feel weird and alone.

Then I remembered how the morning after our 5th date, he just kept ignoring me and lying on his bed, reading things on his phone.

It wasn’t until I stood in front of him, naked, with my hands on my hips, saying “what shall we do now?” that he put his phone down.

Then I remembered how, in the middle of one of sex sessions, after he’d made me complete the transaction and I’d stopped feeling higgledy-piggledy, I knelt next to him on the bed and said “what would you like me to do?”, to see if he would prefer oral or penetration.

Instead of answering with words, he kind of pushed me down the bed, making it clear he wanted oral. Even though I was well up for giving him some oral, I would have preferred it if he’d answered with words.

It wasn’t a big deal, but it made me think that if I ever didn’t want to give him oral, for some reason, it would feel harder to say no if he’d asked me by physically moving me, rather than with words.

If we were actually in a relationship, most of these things could easily have been resolved with some good communication, but it definitely made me feel less depressed about it not working out.

Another phenomenon that was maintaining my 😍 was the confirmation bias.

This is where we notice things that fit with our existing beliefs, and ignore things that don’t. We take in so much information through our five senses every moment, our brains have to take mental shortcuts to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore, otherwise we’d be overwhelmed.

It’s quicker to ignore things that don’t fit with your beliefs, than to be constantly re-adjusting all your beliefs about everything.

Unfortunately, this can lead to us hanging on to negative beliefs about ourselves, if we’re feeling depressed or have low self esteem. It also means we keep believing things that are wrong, about the world, in the face of evidence that disproves our beliefs.

I had developed the belief that he was the best thing since sliced bread.

I was thinking he was perfect in bed and I’ll never find another man like him.

This meant I was only remembering the moments where everything was amazing, and I felt brilliant.

But as soon as my mood shifted, and my beliefs about him shifted, all the other evidence was a lot easier for me to notice.

I remembered the reams of depressing messages he sent me and how he seemed impervious to be jollied along. I remembered him being a bit selfish and unable to manage his emotions.

I still think he’s a really special, wonderful person with amazing qualities. I think he’s very funny and intelligent, great company, attractive and lovely.

However, I think what I was seeing was partly his potential, rather than exactly how he is now. I think he’s had a lot of struggles in the past, and I don’t think he’s completely come out the other side yet.

When I tried to express my needs to him, and then tried to be his friend, both times, his reactions were a bit disappointing. Both those things take emotional maturity and resilience which I don’t think he totally has yet.

I’m so glad that since I changed my images about our future, my thoughts about him and my feelings have changed too, to something more realistic and less sad.

I just hope it’s not too long before I meet someone else who has tools of master precision for hands.

7 thoughts on “Mood-dependent recall and the bad sex memories

  1. Unfortunately I think men with tools of master precision are thin on the ground…or have a different sort of tool for a brain! However, I’ll throw this one out there – in your writing of the times with Great Scot, the amazing sex did not really come out. Instead it was abundantly clear that you had concerns about many aspects including those you described here. Rose tinted glasses may be in operation. If our writing induces a ‘feeling’, I would say that the collective feeling I have from all your writing on the subject of GS is one of confusion and ambiguity – eg there are lots of parts you adore, but equally so there are lots of parts that annoy or upset you

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s funny: I was going to make the same kind of comment! I remembered all the awkward, disconnected things he’d done (or not done). Sounds like you’ve worked hard to get over him, well done. And the next man who’s lucky enough to get into your bed needs to be told or shown exactly what you want him to do to you, so he learns how to be your master tool #justsayin’ 😊💪🏼😘

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Do you ever wonder if there is a danger of picking interactions to pieces too much ? If there is more value to blindly wandering into the next adventure, and trying not to overthing (which is probably impossible – I do it too – but the thought is there)…


  3. I found this post incredibly fascinating! I just love that you’ve found a way to modify your feelings by “manipulating” memories. I’m actually bookmarking this post and am going to try it myself. 🙂

    I’m sorry… but this part made me literally laugh out loud:
    “At first, I took it as a massive compliment that my expertise had rendered him immobile. But then, it went on for a really long time. There’s only so long you can be at someone else’s house, while they’re mildly catatonic, before it starts to feel a bit awkward.”

    Your way with words is hilarious! And, yes, I think how he handled this post-sex situation was ridiculous and inexcusable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s