This is a post I wrote for my other blog, over at SpeakeasyDC.
I know it’s not the same as when I write posts just for you. But there are just so many hours in the day, and well…isn’t this better than nothing?
Besides, all the cool poly-bloggers (I totally just made that term up), cross-post between their blogs. It’s totally a thing. For real.
This post originally appeared here.
This past weekend, I attended my boyfriend Chris’s annual family reunion for the first time. Over the course of a day and a half I met more than 70 members of his extended family.
Um, Overwhelming Anxiety, party of one, please.
As we pulled up to his Aunt’s house on Friday evening and one of his cousins came out to greet us, I experienced a level of social stage fright that I haven’t experienced since high school. See, as soon as I realized I had a proclivity toward storytelling, I used that as a way to control my natural social anxiety. Over the years I’ve honed the skill and fine tuned specific stories that now serve as my armor to protect me from any awkward or dull moments.
But those stories are just about me. And I was assuming that Chris’s family, much like my own, would have little interest in listening to the stories of this stranger. I mean, this was only my audition, they needed to decide if they even wanted to see me again before they could be expected to care about my complicated relationship with my pet fish. No matter how funny the story.
As Chris turned off the engine of the car, and I looked through the windshield at his grinning cousin, my breath caught in my throat and my stomach did an epic somersault. I briefly considered what the fallout would be if I refused to get out of the car. But then there was driveway under my feet and I found myself following Chris across the grass and into the warm embraces of his cousin, Aunt and Uncle. And when I saw the ways their eyes lit up when he introduced me, my anxiety subsided significantly.
Within a few minutes Chris and his cousin settled into the standard catch up conversation, and Chris referenced his broken collar bone from earlier this year. Immediately his cousin wanted details, and before I could even think about it, Chris and I had established a tag team storytelling routine. Chris would introduce the topic, give some detail, and then I would interject with more of a color commentary, telling funny stories about how Chris reacted to the Ambien he was given to help him sleep after the surgery, or what he was like coming out of anesthesia. And his cousin ate it up.
The next day when we were with the rest of the family, his cousin would repeatedly tee us up with great openings like ”have you heard about his guy on Ambien?” Honestly, I could not have designed a better social storytelling environment. And then after we’d told a few stories, his family would start telling their own stories – stories of Chris as a child, of past family reunions, and people who were no longer with us. They were stories that gave me new information about Chris and put him within the context of his huge, close knit family.
Sometime around dusk on Saturday night, I realized that my face hurt from laughing so much, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had such a good social audience for my stories. That’s when a light bulb went off: We were doing more than shooting the breeze to pass the time and entertain ourselves. We were using storytelling the way it was meant to be used: to connect.
Our stories gave Chris’s family a glimpse into the life that Chris and I led away from them, revealing dimensions and elements of Chris’s personality that they wouldn’t otherwise be privy too. The stories also let them observe our relationship in an organic, yet compressed way, and they got to know important things about me as much as from how I told the stories, as from what was in the stories.
This was one of those moments where I was reminded that this is the real power of storytelling – providing people – whether strangers or family – connect in powerful, meaningful, and memorable ways.