A while ago a Major Thing happened in the life of a person very close to me. I only found out about it a week or so after it happened — when I called to verify plans we had made, and I learned everything was off due to the Major Thing – which, by the way, was a good thing, not a crisis. I was stunned and, yes, a bit hurt.
When I mentioned it to another friend, she said “Oh, I’m sure it’s not about you.”
I have no idea why I was left out of the loop. It could very well have nothing to do with me. But the more I contemplated that phrase, “It’s not about you,” the more it bothered me.
Movies are “about” something or someone. A book is “about” something or someone. But this? This is a relationship. How can it not be “about” me, at least in part?
I have written before about how we weave narratives to make sense of the world and our relationships. This is what helps us hold our shit together. We are not computers, weighing every incoming fact and classifying it rationally and logically. No, we’re humans. We tell ourselves stories.
I’m the star of my story. You’re the star of yours. But our stories are also about one another, about innumerable things and people.
When I was left out of the loop, the story I had constructed – in which I played a certain role in the life of this other person – revealed a rather gaping flaw. Hold the phone! Am I a mass of self-delusion?
And this is the $1 million epiphany of the week, folks.
The answer is yes! I am a mass of self-delusion. So are you. That’s what being human is all about.
Nobody’s story will ever come close to reality, because stuck in these imperfect bodies, we are much too limited to see how things really are. And because we’re all such unique little snowflakes, nobody’s story will ever match another person’s story exactly. Case in point: At a dinner party Marc once recounted the story of how I came to abandon my PhD studies. His story was completely different than the one in my head. And this is a story about me! Who was “right?” Who knows? (For the record, I came out looking way better in his story, so I didn’t say anything.)
When our stories collide, one of three things can happen:
1) I can hang on to my story and deny yours.
2) I can jettison my story and adopt yours (or at least what I think yours is).
3) I can step back, accept that my story is just a story (and so is yours), and recalibrate.
In fact, my friend was wrong. Being left out of the loop was all about me, because I am the only person who has constructed a story that says she’ll always tell me about important stuff. She has no obligation to abide by my script, and obviously didn’t. The only story I can fully know — and thus fully own — is mine.
But on a deeper level, made visible to me only through the detachment I have gained by doing hundreds of downward facing dogs and having the blood flow into my brain instead of out of it, I realize my friend was also right. What happened was not about me at all, because I am more than just the story I tell of myself. And by that logic, it’s not about the other person, because she is not just her story, either. This is the kind of insight that lets me actually get to choice #3 without getting stuck in #1 or #2, which are places of pain and contention.
So in the end my friend was both right and wrong. What happened here was a simple disconnect in two people’s stories. This is the nature of human relationships, and it happens all the time.
The mistake we make is believing that we are our stories, and that only one story can explain the universe.