“Let’s see if some new Right Swipes have signed up,” I thought as I lay in bed after my flight. After a 4 month Tinder hiatus, I had returned to the app while visiting New York City. I hadn’t planned on using it in Scottsdale but couldn’t help my curiosity.
The next day as matches started messaging, I received an opening line asking if I had ever had a weird experience on Tinder. Just one or two I blogged about. His response:
Although that sounds entertaining, you’ve made me feel paranoid about being a victim of a story. I don’t know if it’s an embellished account of what didn’t happen to get readers to like you or a true journalistic piece. May I look at your blog?
While many may consider this a quasi-asshole statement, I understood the sentiment. In the not-so-distant past, I have been self-conscious about writing for this very reason. Writing about scenarios that concerned others left me worried that the characters of my stories would read and find them dramatic or delusional. I also feared that readers wouldn’t believe the details of my accounts or would find them unoriginal, self-absorbed and/or amateur.
At the end of the day, all of these anxieties equated to “Should I even write this?” And it surely begged the question: Was it a journalistic piece or just a story? Was that really how it happened or was it a fabrication of my own imagination?
Everything Is a Story
My love for F. Scott Fitzgerald started with This Side of Paradise followed by The Great Gatsby, per a recommendation of a friend. Each novel shared similar characters that heavily reflected the arrogant, bourgeois qualities of Fitzgerald himself. When I asked if the stories were as semi-autobiographical as they seemed, my friend confirmed that my observation was correct and added, “Everything is ‘semi-autobiographical.’” It sparked a realization that has affected not only my writing but also how I share my life.
First, the “autobiographical” part helped ease the anxiety of that “unoriginal” concern. Great works do not pop up out of thin air. More importantly though, that “semi” portion led me to believe that everything is a story, whether you are writing fiction or regaling friends with details of your weekend.
Similar to memory bias, each of us holds onto certain details of what happened while others may escape our memory entirely. It’s exactly what causes lovers to fight (“You totally said that!”) and love again (“What fight?”) While some guys have reached out to me applauding the realistic portrayal of our date, others may secretly be questioning my short-term memory. And that’s okay.
Meaning Is What Matters
I’m aware that a general theme of my posts is “It’s okay.” However, this does not mean that storytelling comes without consequences. Stories in themselves can be quite innocent. What we need to be more concerned about is the meaning that we’re extracting from the story. Said simply, there is what happened and then there’s what you made it mean to you.
For example, in one of my last blog posts I described the feelings I had for someone as “unprecedented chemistry.” The fact that we have chemistry is subjective. The more important question is “What meaning did I draw from having chemistry with him?” That I liked to be physically close to him because I found him super cute. Innocent enough.
However, I later described how he did not respond to my texts and likely always would in a similar situation. What meaning did I draw from this? That I wasn’t attractive or fun – or simply not good enough. This negative, self-deprecating meaning was the source of my anxiety and sadness.
The separation of story from meaning is not a new concept. It has been taught in numerous self-help books and seminars and is central to the theme of many stories themselves, including one of my favorite books, The Alchemist. When the main character, Santiago, is robbed of all his savings on his way to Egypt he reflects on the meaning of it:
He realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.
“‘I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.
By reflecting back on the story and observing it’s possible meanings, we’re able to separate the event we witnessed from potentially harmful and anxiety-inducing assumptions. This creates an awareness that allows you to take a step back and reconsider your story. In the same way Santiago did find his treasure, it has the ability to lead to the conclusion you want.
Tell Your Story
Perhaps Fitzgerald’s wife did not agree with how he portrayed her or himself in the characters who inhabit his tales. However, years later, that is entirely irrelevant. What matters is that the stories were written and shared and are enjoyed by millions and millions of readers who still find their own personal meaning in each of them.
When I asked Tinder guy if he had a blog, he responded, “No, I keep my list of life stories private on my Evernote app. I like to tell them and don’t want to forget them. It’s a ‘preserving my legacy’ type feeling.”
Whether your stories are shared in your private journal, among friends or published in a memoir, they are just as real and true as anyone else’s. Don’t be afraid to share your perspective. I am confident that the only stories we regret are those untold.