What narrative do you have about your life? I don’t mean the voice in your head that speaks to you about things you’d rather not hear, like “get your butt to the gym,” or “you need to call your mother.”I’m talking about the narrative you share with others, the stories you tell to define yourself to the world. We all have those stories – the ones that never change, that we can trot out whenever needed to answer those introductory questions that we hear over and over again.
Having been married for many years, my favorite is “how did you two meet?” Every couple is asked this sooner or later by new friends and acquaintances.
My “how we met” story is fairly ordinary, except the phrase “bar wench” was part of the evening, along with Richie Valens singing “La Bamba.” My husband and I met at a bar (how predictable), where I had gone with my roommates who were friends of his. We weren’t set up, we weren’t intended to be introduced to each other, but we spent the entire evening together. When he left without asking for my number I was pretty disappointed, but…
(and this is where he always chimes in)
…he had a plan! He would ignore me for a week and then call my roommates to let them know where he’d be the next Saturday! Brilliant move on his part, because of course I went running there (another bar, of course) as soon as I heard…and we’ve been together ever since-
(Except when he took me skiing a few months after we met – I don’t like to ski – for my birthday and then told me when we got home that he wasn’t sure if he was in love with me and wanted to take it back.)
And that little blip is always part of the story, too.
Those stories that we tell – how we met, how he proposed, the birth of each of our children – those stories are what connect us to each other and keep us remembering all (so much!) that we’ve experienced together. But these stories aren’t just about marriages. Each of us has our own stories to tell, also – the first kiss, the first car we drove, the horrible boss, the fabulous cruise with our girlfriends – placing us in cities, jobs, relationships, like a virtual GPS of our lives. Each of these stories is a stop along the road we’ve traveled, whether by luxury car or city bus. We are our stories – even if they get tweaked and changed over the years, parts missing or names forgotten.
At midlife, we have been in the world as so many variations of ourselves. There are people I knew years ago who think of me only as a teenager. There are all of those people I knew when I was in my twenties, a young, single woman putting in countless hours at her job in order to prove herself. There are many I’ve known who can’t imagine me as anything but my children’s mother, or the wife part of a husband and wife. After becoming an empty nester, I began to tell my stories as a blogger, which led to experiences, jobs and partnerships I never could have imagined after dropping my son at college in the fall of 2010.
Those stories we tell – the ones we repeat, over and over, those are the stories that tie all of the different incarnations of our selves together, that make a life out of anecdotes – or maybe it’s the other way around.