I sent an acquaintance an email inviting her to get together for lunch. Five days passed and still no reply. I proceeded to conjecture reasons why she hadn’t gotten back to me: she didn’t receive my email or it went into spam, she hasn’t got to her emails yet, or she’s too busy to answer her emails. All these are “stories” that I’ve made up in my mind. But the one story that stuck, and that my mind went with, was that she really didn’t want to go to lunch with me
Taking this story as truth, I then thought of the times we’ve been together and what I possibly could have done to make her not want to pursue a friendship with me. Was I too needy? Was I too boisterous or perhaps not adventurous enough? Was I not cool enough…or fun enough…or smart enough? Was I not her type? Maybe she just flat out doesn’t like me! Yes, that’s it, she doesn’t like me. That’s the story I chose to believe.
I went on with my life, licking my wounds of rejection. Not everyone will like me, of course. Some people I like, but they don’t like me. Some people like me, but I don’t care for them. And sometimes you get lucky and you like someone and they like you. I rationalized that in this particular case, the feelings were not mutual, and that I would meet others where the feelings were mutual.
About two months later, I got an email response from her. There was a family emergency and she had to fly back east. She was consumed with responsibilities and, when she returned home, she was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to be out in the world with anyone. But now she was rested and was delighted to receive my email. We set up a lunch date and have been friends ever since.
I suffered, by my own hand (or mind), for two months, as I made up a story – and then believed it – as to why she hadn’t responded. It was so needless! If I had just let it ride, trusting that whatever was to happen would happen, and on its own timeline, I would not have suffered at all.
This got me thinking of all the stories we tell ourselves. We are really just shooting in the dark. We have no idea, so we make something up, and then believe it to be true. I do this in little ways all the time with my husband. It’s amazing how many times my “assumptions” are incorrect. For instance, the other night we were cooking together. He was preparing Brussel sprouts – cutting the ends and cleaning them up, and I was then grabbing them and putting them in the steamer. All he said was, “Hey wait, these are my responsibility.” I told myself that he was being defensive and territorial and not willing to share in the cooking process. I said something about him being possessive. His response was that, no, it didn’t feel like possessiveness to him, but rather love and devotion. I had tasked him with cleaning the Brussel sprouts and he wasn’t completely finished. He wanted to be sure that they got the care and attention they needed to be perfect for our meal before I put them in the steamer. I felt like a heel! How quickly I jumped to a story – and believed it. I didn’t even fact-check it with him before I accused him.
It’s so important to look at the stories we tell ourselves and ask, “Are they really true?” Our stories can cause us much mental pain and suffering and similarly affect the people we care about. I’m learning to notice when I’ve made up a story and either abandon it completely, or, if I have the opportunity, fact-check it with the person. My life is going to get a lot better because of this!