We’ve all created stories for ourselves that take pieces of our past to predict the future. It’s natural and arguably intelligent. Some of the stories are great. But some are not so great.
A New Friend
“Pull your knees up higher,” he called out as I chased him up the cement stairs towards Palisades Park on a November evening last year.
Did he have eyes in the back of his head? And how did this suddenly switch from simple Monday Bunday to Assday Blastday?
I rolled my eyes before staring back down at the super tan, taut calf muscles that quickly propelled him up the steep incline.
“Can this be over?” All I wanted was a butt the boys on Bumble would like; not some type of high school track practice.
I wanted to go home.
6 Months Later
“Stay in the bike lane or you’re going to get run over,” he called out over his shoulder as my 5-speed city cruiser teetered between lanes like a bowling ball against bumpers.
“If I die, remember you need to renew my blog web hosting for the next 40 years,” I said back as I pulled next to him at the intersection of Sunset and Pacific Avenue.
“Promise,” he replied with a wink.
Somewhere in the previous six months, his advice turned from unwarranted to welcomed and my brattiness back was reluctantly embraced. As memories were made and my messiness was witnessed first-hand, he became one of my closest friends in LA with whom I spent my weekends.
That Saturday was no exception, including a full day of activities following coffee on Main Street:
- Strolling the Venice Canals
- Shopping on Abbot Kinney
- A mini-meltdown over needing Midol
- Mimosas and beer
- His almost-altercation with an angry homeless guy
- Walking Venice Pier
- Sidewalk sale on Montana Avenue
10 hours later I found myself lying next to him on a blanket stretched out over the grass of Palisades Park, staring up at the palm trees against the blue sky and quietly tying together dandelion weeds into a gross little bracelet I would force him to wear.
I didn’t want to go home.
“What are you looking for?” he suddenly asked.
“What do you mean?” I rolled over on my stomach and continued with the bracelet.
He stood and walked to the concrete fence that separated the Palisades bluffs from the steep decline down to Santa Monica Beach and peered out over the ocean and off towards Malibu before lying back down on the blanket.
“I was just thinking I kind of wish I had a relationship,” he said. “Don’t you sometimes want a relationship?”
My fingers fumbled with the small weeds.
“I just want to enjoy the present moment.” Though true, the response felt half-ass and deflecting something as I struggled to tie the dandelions onto his wrist.
My Best Friend’s Wedding
In 1997 at the age of 10, I curled up on a couch in Southern Illinois with popcorn, blankets, my best friend and her mom. While most other girls were losing their “Titanic” virginity, I was first viewing what would become my favorite movie: “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
The storyline is much like most rom com’s:
- Julia Roberts, a big-haired writer, is best friends with hot Dermot Mulroney
- Dermot meets and proposes to marry Cameron Diaz, a Country Club Barbie
- Julia internally loses her shit and realizes she loves Dermot
- Julia attempts to sabotage the wedding and confesses her love
- Dermot still marries Cameron because he loves her more than friendly baseball watching, drunk karaoke and one crazy night in Mexico
- Julia sits at her wedding table while the happy couple departs for their honeymoon before retreating to the dance floor with her gay boss, George (who is hot too and, as a 10 year old that didn’t understand homosexuality, left me utterly confused as to why she didn’t just marry him)
Even as a pre-teen, the storyline gave me anxiety because I knew the feeling.
My First Dermot
Besides “Titanic” and “Men in Black”, the late 90’s introduced AOL Instant Messenger which inadvertently gave rise to confessing one’s crush without the ramifications of dealing with it face-to-face…
Until you’re the only two 5th graders in the classroom coat closet retrieving your lunch bags from your backpacks at noon. To my total embarrassment, I had confessed my crush to my little guy friend, Austin, via AOL. However, when he said he had liked me over the summer, I said I liked him during the spring. As if crushes are seasonal.
“It’s too bad we didn’t like each other at the same time,” Austin said as he pulled his lunch bag out.
We were actually going to talk about this? I wanted to die.
“Yeah, too bad,” I muttered back, quickly grabbing my Hello Kitty lunch pail.
We would spend the rest of grade school being best friends – from detention to speech meet partners – while mild anxiety was felt any time he showed interest in another girl.
Was This Destined to Be My Life?
Two weeks after the dandelion bracelet, I approached Primo Passo coffee shop on Montana Avenue to find him sitting in the sun.
Something felt off. I wasn’t sure if it was because I hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks due to traveling. Or because he finally got that deep fade haircut we discussed. Or because he mentioned going to the Getty Museum and lunch in Malibu with a new gal friend from Bumble.
I sat against the outside wall of the coffee shop next to him with my knees hugged to my chest. It was the first time that I wasn’t sure what to say. One of those dreaded moments in which you wish you were somewhere else, but it’s also the only place you want to be.
Just then I suddenly thought back to our last Saturday together, and a fear came over me. I told him I wanted to enjoy the present moment because that’s exactly where I wanted to be. I wanted to be with him. But he needed someone else, like one of my hot blonde friends.
The Story I Had Created
“And then I realized…” I said to my friend, Lauren, over the phone later that night, “That my life has actually become ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’, and I’m scared it will always be this way.”
Shortly after the coffee shop I made a list of guys with whom I had been the Julia ever since 5th grade.
- The writing partner
- The former boss
- The cute coworker
- The neighbor
- The roommate
- The business buddy
- The blogging friend
Each friendship was compared and catalogued. The bike rides, the late night chats, the companionship, the moments that felt like there was more. Each similarity between them was mentally tallied. Each of them had once been a close relationship that contained some of my favorite moments and each one ultimately moved on.
The connections felt as real as “Making a Murderer”, and each relationship served as evidence that I was guilty of being a Julia. Any hope that I might be a Cameron Diaz was crushed as similar details hardened into facts I believed were beyond my control. They tethered the story that I had spent years creating.
Why You Must Let Go of Stories That Don’t Serve You
“One of the best things about you, Annie, is that you know how to connect related ideas to create awesome stories,” Lauren said. “But one of the downfalls of that is connecting negative thoughts and creating stories that don’t serve you. Cut ties with those. Visualize them as balloons that you snip away.”
Unlike many conversations with friends, there was no questioning my feelings or making gross assumptions about his. There was just the most important issue at hand: My life is not “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” And the idea that it was, is or will be is a story I have created that is doing me more harm than good.
A sign of creativity and intelligence is the ability to find similarities between differing ideas and related experiences and create something great. However, we need to make sure that it’s great.
Sometimes we weave stories that we were destined to be a great athlete. But other times we convince ourselves we were meant to sit on the sidelines.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that we are on track to be CEO. But other times we add up failures that tell a story of career defeat.
Sometimes we admire our parents and walk in their footsteps. But other times we find ourselves in their shadows or embodying each of their mistakes, as if we are predestined to do the same.
Stories are wonderful, and oftentimes define you, which is why it’s important to hold onto the ones that create happiness – like friendships and successes – and to cut ties with the ones that are holding you back, that aren’t serving you anymore. If we hold on too long, we will slowly be rooted in those self-proposed detrimental “truths”.
This past Saturday I sat at the base of Palisades Park on Santa Monica Beach with him. It was fun and filled with friendly nit picking. And when he left to attend a music festival with new friends, I didn’t want to go home… because I was content.
I wasn’t Julia Roberts. And I wasn’t Cameron Diaz. I had snipped those balloons away. All that was left was Annie. Which was pretty damn great.