Two amazing things happened this weekend — I took part in the Women’s PowerStrategy Conference and it was my dad’s funeral. While those two events are seemingly disparate (while I celebrated my father’s life, I am still mourning my loss), I realized that something joyous happened at both events; a recognition that the stories we tell about our lives are incredibly powerful.
I had never met Rebecca Rosenberg before, but the co-founder of Sonoma Lavender and I were plopped together at the conference to talk about how the twists and turns in our lives had gotten us to where we are — happily — now; our conversation was appropriately called “Field of Dreams.” Our backgrounds couldn’t be more different; she owned a successful ad business and when it felt soulless, bought acreage without knowing what to do with them until it became clear — plant lavender. I, on the other hand, dropped out of college after a year and a half , followed a boyfriend to Colorado, married him and did a lot of silly stuff before landing on my feet as a journalist in my mid-20s, a divorce already behind me.
We shared our stories and what we learned, and after our talk numerous women came up to us to thank us and share where they are in their journey of living their dreams. Powerful stuff.
The next day, Father’s Day and my dad’s funeral, brought more illumination. Because my father lived in Florida and didn’t visit the Bay Area often, very few of my friends who showed up at his funeral actually met him. So the majority of those who came to the graveside service to support me “knew” him for the first time through the stories my kids, a good family friend, the rabbi and I told about him. They got a sense of who he was by hearing about his wonderfully quirky personality and humor, his love of poetry, books and talk radio.
I suppose I could have talked about all my dad’s failings (yes, he had them), just as I could have couched my “youthful indiscretions” as a warning for those who deviate from what society considers the track to “success.” I’m not sure what good, if any, that would have done. Yet, we want to share our stories, our experiences.
I think most of us are well aware that being a human is, well, complicated — how do we want to gain strength and insight from those who have been through what we’re about to experience, be it our first year of college, getting married, having a baby, getting divorced? Do we want to hear the horror stories? Do we want to hear the fairy tale? Do do we want to hear about lessons learned and challenges met?
While visiting a dear friend a few months ago, she observed, Why does everyone talk about how hard marriage is? Couldn’t we reframe it?
When we constantly talk about something in the negative, does it become a self-fulfilling prophesy?
I was reminded of an insightful post I read on Offbeat Bride, “Fear mongering & you’ll seeeee.” Why, blogger Ariel wonders, do we choose to tell the scary stories:
The wedding fear mongering is just one of the stories we tell. The expectations of marriage after the wedding are often heavily weighted. “Marriage is a lot of hard work,” people confide with furrowed brows. “You’ll never have sex again,” they wink. “You’ll stop hanging out with your single friends,” they sigh. “My stupid hubs!” they laugh. “YOU know how husbands are. Stupid, stupid husbands.” They whisper about cheating and boredom and bed death. And certainly these things can happen if you fall asleep on your life and just start going through the motions. But if you pay attention and go into with a lot of intent and questioning your own assumptions about why you’re supposed to do anything … it just doesn’t have to be that way.
She’s right; it really doesn’t have to be that way (and the idea of going into a marriage with “a lot of intent and questioning your own assumptions” is exactly what Susan Pease Gadoua and I are writing about in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers). What we choose to say about ourselves, the stories we share, are powerful; they can inspire, illuminate, inform. So why do we so often go to the dark side, the snark and the sarcasm? Why do we frame the stories we tell in language that says how hard/crappy/scary things are instead of sharing how we overcame the challenges, especially when it comes to things like marriage, parenting and divorce?
I get it on a level — fear is a great motivator. I just have to wonder if it’s the healthiest motivator. (Actually, I’m pretty sure it isn’t). So why do we keep gravitating to the negative? (I know that’s what the brain does, but still …)
Again, I like what the Offbeat Bride has to say:
Recognize the challenges and meet them front on, but with compassion and intention and minimized drama. Stop telling stories about how awful it all is — it doesn’t help anyone. Don’t white wash the challenges, but stop projecting that the challenges you experienced will going to be everyone else’s challenges.
I’m all for kicking drama and whitewashing to the sidelines. I’m also all for rejecting the belief that our troubles will be everyone else’s troubles, too (something I’ve addressed before when it comes to divorce advice and getting past being a bitter divorcee).
The Internet is especially full of advice, often with a dose of snark. And every newlywed or new parent or new divorcee is suddenly a finger-wagging “expert” offering what we “should” do because this happened to him/her, thus contributing to making us feel bad, diminished or afraid. If we allow him/her to, that is.
- When it comes to advice on life’s big events, what kind of stories do you gravitate to?
- Whose writings/advice have been the most helpful?