The ’90s Were A Decade I’d Rather Forget

As the soft glow of nostalgia continues to illuminate the 1990s, painting them as the quintessential era of simpler times and cultural milestones, I find myself at odds with the mainstream sentiment. It’s peculiar, standing on the outside of a collective memory that cherishes what I recall as my darkest days. While others revel in the revival of flannel shirts, grunge rock, and the dawning of the internet age, for me, the ’90s were a series of personal trials and tribulations—a decade I’d much rather forget.

I was born into the warmth of the late ’70s, a time of tumultuous change but also of hope and expansion. The ’70s and ’80s each had their own challenges and charms, yet nothing prepared me for the abrupt downturn my life took as the calendar flipped to 1990. It wasn’t just the emergence of stark, somewhat cold technology, or the pressure of a rapidly globalizing world. It was deeper, more personal, and infinitely more painful.

The ’90s marked a period of immense personal loss for me. The early years saw the gradual loss of people I grew up with, whom I thought were my friends. With each loss, a part of me withered, and the world seemed a shade grayer. While people around me were tuning into the latest episode of “Friends” or queuing up for “Titanic,” I was navigating the stages of grief, repeatedly and relentlessly.

Educationally, the decade was no kinder. My parents sent me away to boarding school and summer camp, both ventures that promised growth and fulfillment, but ended up in disillusionment and financial strain for my parents. Each failure was a blow to my confidence, a stark reminder that the supposed economic boom of the era was not a shared experience. The disparity between my reality and the glossy portrayal of the ’90s in media and popular culture only deepened my overwhelming sense of isolation.

Even the celebrated pop culture of the time now triggers a melancholic echo rather than a warm, nostalgic pulse. The music, movies, and television shows that define the decade for so many are, for me, inextricably linked to memories of struggle and despair. Hearing a hit song from 1994 or catching a rerun of a popular ’90s sitcom can transport me back to my lowest days.

It’s challenging to voice such a discordant view in a world that seems increasingly enamored with all things ’90s. The decade is often heralded for its technological advancements and cultural innovations—a pre-millennium renaissance that set the stage for the 21st century. And while I recognize and appreciate the era’s contributions to technology and culture, they are overshadowed by the personal hardships that marked those years for me.

As I write this, the ’90s are celebrated and revisited with a fervor that I both understand and envy. There is a beauty in looking back fondly, in remembering the good and glossing over the bad. Yet, for those like me, whose experiences were less than idyllic, it’s important to acknowledge that nostalgia doesn’t wear the same face for everyone.

In sharing my story, I don’t mean to diminish the genuine affection many hold for the ’90s. Rather, I hope to offer a different perspective, to remind us that behind every decade’s glossy nostalgia, there are individual stories of life’s ebb and flow. For me, the ’90s were not the best of times, but they were a defining chapter in my journey, teaching me resilience and the undeniable truth that memory, much like history, is often a tale of personal perspective.

April 15, 2024


  • photogeek23

    We’ve all been through a lot. The important thing is, we got through it. We survived the hard times and grew because of our experiences. We live in a world where nostalgia and looking back is constant. I’ve learned that. in many cases, it’s profitable for the other guy. It took me decades to get over certain things. But, with closure comes healing and understanding. Live for the moment and don’t spend too much time in the past.

    • Thomas Slatin

      Indeed, we’ve certainly all navigated through our share of challenges. You are correct that we’ve emerged on the other side, not just intact but enriched by these trials, and this speaks to our resilience. I too have found that while nostalgia has its charm, it often serves the interests of others more than our own. Learning to let go and seeking closure is pivotal, though often difficult, but it paves the way for healing, as well as a deeper understanding of ourselves. Embracing the present fully, without lingering too long in the corridors of the past, is truly sage advice. Unfortunately, this is the kind of advice that I find difficult to take at times. Thank you for sharing such insightful thoughts. 🙂

  • Amelia Desertsong

    For me, the decade I’d rather forget is the period from 2000 to 2009. Because of how nostalgia seems to go in 30 year cycles, in a few years, we’re going to be celebrating that shithole of a decade that began with everyone losing their minds over a Y2K bug that was fixed many years previously, had the worst terrorist attack in world history in 2001 and ended with me quitting college within tens of thousands of dollars in debt and nothing to show for it. So I’m going to have this melancholy strike me soon enough.

    • Thomas Slatin

      Absolutely, I agree. It does seem that nostalgia often moves in 30-year cycles. Perhaps this is because it mirrors a generation’s reach back to their formative years, looking fondly at the past as a comforting reference amidst the present’s ever-evolving landscape. Remember that you and I will always have each other, and that I love you.

  • WritingfromtheheartwithBrian

    It is funny how we look back to the past and make broad statements. “Oh the 60s and Woodstock were amazing” or the “eighties and the music were the out of this world.” Um, I tend to think that every decade has its good and bad, just like the current decade. Woodstock was one event in 1969. Eighties music. For every person who might like it, there are two who couldn’t stand it. “With each loss, a part of me withered, and the world seemed a shade grayer. While people around me were tuning into the latest episode of “Friends” or queuing up for “Titanic,” I was navigating the stages of grief, repeatedly and relentlessly.” It sounds like a tough time for you, but you’ve still beautifully touched on the decade. Here’s hoping the future brings better and happier times.

    • Thomas Slatin

      The 1990s were undeniably the most challenging years of my life for various reasons. During those years, my parents enrolled me in both summer camp and boarding school, resulting in me being far from home. It was also a pivotal period when I came out as a lesbian; my mother supported me, while my father did not. That decade saw many firsts: my first job, my first girlfriend, graduating from high school—though unjustly denied my diploma due to my sexual orientation—and eventually securing a college admission. Throughout those years, I often felt isolated, with minimal possessions and even fewer friends. Despite these hardships, I persevered and achieved success against all odds. Today, people might assume that everything I have was handed to me, but nothing could be further from the truth. My wife often says I’m the strongest and most determined person she knows. Perhaps she’s right.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

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