I want to tell you a story.
When I first got to college, my best friend and I went to a party. I had recently had my heart broken, as only a high-schooler can — and, like many with a broken heart, I tried to fix it with a haircut. I went to the local salon and got it all cut off.
My hair is not meant for that, especially in a world before Brazilian blowouts and keratin treatments. So I was at a party, brokenhearted, with a terrible haircut and, if I’m being honest, I think a unibrow.
At some point, a boy came up to my friend and me and said, “Hey, do you want to dance?” I looked at my friend, and she was stone-faced. He asked again, “Hey, do you want to dance?” She still wasn’t giving him the time of day, and he walked away. “Why didn’t you dance with him?” I asked her. “He was cute!” “Me?” she responded. “He was talking to you!”
I was in shock. It did not once occur to me that while I was standing next to my gorgeous friend, a guy would come up and ask me to dance. I tried to find him afterward, but I never got a really good look at him because I kept looking at my friend, wondering why she wouldn’t say yes. I walked away from that night surprised and maybe feeling a little better about myself.
Fast forward a few years, and it came to my attention that there was a boy in our brother fraternity who hated me with a fiery passion. I had no idea why, because I didn’t know the guy at all. The realization was slow to arrive, but I became 99 percent convinced that it was the guy who had asked me to dance at that party when I was a freshman. I tried to have mutual friends explain the situation, but he wouldn’t even discuss it. I was dead to him.
Really, it is fair. His version of that night is vastly different from mine, and from his perspective, not knowing what I was going through, he saw me as essentially every mean high-school girl ever.
I can’t imagine how embarrassing that was for him. (If, by some chance, he reads this, I really am sorry!)
I’ve been thinking about that night, and the idea of perspectives, a lot. I think it’s partly because we just finished watching the third season of “Cobra Kai,” and never has a show more clearly shown how people can experience the same event and have an entirely different story from it. It’s heartbreaking and funny and sometimes very painful for me to watch, but it’s really gotten me thinking.
I think I’m holding on to two narratives — or stories, if you will — that are pretty unhealthy for me. They both have to do, fundamentally, with a disagreement with people. Anytime I go near these narratives and the people they involve, I become a different person. I’m meaner and snarkier than normal. I say things I regret and agonize over anytime the subject comes up. I even feel it physically: I get heated, there is pressure on my chest, and my stomach gets queasy.
This all tells me I need to take Elsa’s advice and “let it go.”
Honestly, I’m not sure. I just bought a book called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz, after reading a summary of a TED Talk she gave. In that talk, she said we do three things when someone disagrees with us:
“The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know — they don’t have access to the same information we do, and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.
“When that doesn’t work — when it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us — we move on to a second assumption: They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle, and they are too moronic to put them together.
And when that doesn’t work — when it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart — we move onto a third assumption: They know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.
“So, this is a catastrophe: our attachment to our own rightness. It prevents us from preventing mistakes when we need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.”
I’m hoping this insight will help guide me. At the very least, it’s a starting point. I’m tired of losing myself every time I go near these narratives, so I’m going to do the work and start digging in. I’m not sure what I’ll find, but I’m going to change things. I think I’ll keep sharing my progress on this, if that’s OK. Hopefully, I’ll discover some tips and ways we all can let go of the stories that no longer serve us.