Not long ago, I found myself telling a new friend an old story.
It's a pretty good story, as stories go. In it, I'm the wise, intrepid heroine who navigates an especially tricky matter of the heart with resilience and aplomb. Despite tragedy, heartache, and loss, I emerge on the other side a little sadder, but a lot stronger, with help from mother wit, some swinging jazz standards, and the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.
At least that's how I thought it sounded when I began.
About halfway through, I realized that something was wrong with my story.
It wasn't that anything in the story was untrue. And I happen to believe that, along with good friends, mother wit, swinging jazz, and ice cream combine to provide an excellent cure for what ails you. I think, too, that my technique was pretty good. I shared the choicest details, pausing occasionally for effect, punctuating with the right amounts of wryly raised brow, ruefully shaken head, and "Girrrl, you won't even believe this."
No, the problem wasn't with the story itself. The problem was that I was still telling this particular story, long after the events in question had transpired.
As I spoke, I realized that telling this story was an important narrative act—and not in a good way. By pulling this old story into my new friendship, I was allowing it to define me. I was giving it more space than it deserved. Without saying so, I was conveying to my friend—and rehearsing for myself—some very significant, and very uncomfortable ideas:1