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I’ve Been Giving My Past Self Advice on Facebook

Photo: Universal Pictures

When Facebook first introduced On This Day — which alerts you, daily, to posts you wrote on the same date in the past — I was apathetic. I was satisfied with the narcissistic nostalgia fix I got from a similar service called TimeHop, a virtual wax museum of previous selves. (“We’re standing in front of 2008 Natalie, who decided she was Blair Waldorf and proved it by accumulating four drawers’ worth of headbands. If you move to your left, you’ll find 2009 Natalie … ”)

I saw no need for a Facebook-specific copycat app. Except for one crucial difference: While TimeHop simply served up screenshots of your old posts, On This Day actually linked to them, which meant you could engage directly with your past. TimeHop hands you a history book, but On This Day offers you a time machine. It’s the Doc Brown to your Marty McFly, and in January I took my first spin in the DeLorean.

On January 22, 2010, On This Day reminded me, I’d posted “adventures in new haven?” This beckoned to me because I vividly recalled the circumstances: My freshman year at NYU, I went up to Yale to see a friend in Stephen Sondheim’s Passion and ran into my ex-boyfriend while on campus. Did I hook up with him? Of course! Did the encounter end with me wailing “you hurt me” and stumbling out of his dorm room? Oh, absolutely!

I spent the trip in a depressive tailspin, but On This Day reminded me I publicly classified the weekend as a series of picaresque escapades. I felt the need, as a now-older woman, to call out young Natalie and force her to confront the truth. “natalie,” I comment, “it’s not really an ‘adventure’ to see a college production of ‘passion’ and weep over how much u relate to fosca for >48hrs.”

Days later, we went even further back in time, and the origin of my profound empathy for the most wretched character in musical-theater history began to unfold, in a sort of lower-stakes version of Memento. January 28, 2009: “Natalie Walker is so excited for this weekend.” This status was the character in a slasher film who splits off from the group to go have sex 19 minutes in. Natalie was headed for danger! “DONT BE GIRL U ABOUT TO GET DUMPED,” I warned.

After that, it was off to the races — 18-year-old Natalie spent winter into spring going through it, and I offered advice and admonishment that I knew would fall on deaf ears. (The only time my futility truly bothered me? A wall post that young Natalie ignored from a theater-camp friend who is now in Hamilton. I. KNOW.)

Relationship memories are where On This Day gets you. Did you know you observed events like your ex’s birthday and your anniversary every day for a month, like Ramadan? LOOK AT YOURSELF, IDIOT, On This Day screams! But its no-frills presentation robs you of the ability to retroactively romanticize. There is nothing less romantic than Facebook, after all. If Gatsby had had access to On This Day, he would have looked at his wall-to-wall with Daisy and said, “Weird that she untagged herself in all the photos I posted of us. And wait, she never liked any of my statuses? Hmmmm, wow, very messed up.” He would have posted a photo of the green light with a cryptic caption or the surprisingly enigmatic single emoji and started moving on.

As ridiculous as On This Day is, it can be a valuable reminder of your own resilience. I went through a breakup recently and was horrified to discover that the armor of acidic irony I’d purchased to protect my emotions was purely decorative and not functional (contacting manufacturer re: this defect). Breakups still feel very bad! In 2016! There’s still the walking around with a lump in your throat so big you can’t be sure you’re not about to projectile vomit your heart onto the sidewalk; there’s still the seeing him for the first time in public since the end and your brain becoming a cacophony of voices shouting, “Do not cry just act cool and seem fun and please WHATEVER YOU DO do not shout ‘I’M VERY SAD’ in this crowded room oh God please stop thinking about shouting ‘I’M VERY SAD’ in this crowded room you are going to actually shout ‘I’M VERY SAD’ in this crowded room.”

My engagement with On This Day had been an exercise in making fun of my younger self. But my younger self started to earnestly encourage me, unbeknownst to her. I found comfort in following young Natalie as she picked up the pieces of her heart day by day; knowing she was going to make it to the other side gave me confidence that I would, too. Looking back gave me hope to look forward.

And don’t worry about her — she just got back from a postgrad senior trip to the Dominican Republic, where she made out with a jock who didn’t give her the time of day in high school. She also is going to stop pretending to like Entourage for boys soon. She’s going to be fine.

I’ve Been Giving My Past Self Advice on Facebook