Couples’ Storytelling

    Everyday Stories August 23rd, 2012 By Meredith Maslich

    In my last column I talked about going to my boyfriend’s family reunion and the way we used story to connect with his family.

    Well, while I was having that revelation about the power of storytelling, I was also having another revelation.

    There is a phenomenon called “Couple’s Storytelling”.

    I just named it that, but it’s a real thing. Or it will be when I post this blog.

    As Chris and I were regaling his family with stories about his behavior on Ambien and other adventures we’d had together, my filter randomly clicked on in the middle of telling a story. I remember, because it rarely happens.

    It occurred to me that I hadn’t been paying much attention to boundaries – the ones marking the difference between details that are for sharing and details that are not for sharing.

    I started thinking about how part of being a long term couple is knowing you can be yourself: your most awkward, embarrassing, stupid self. Because your partner is almost like an extension of you and therefore it’s almost like being alone…but with a witness. And not every awkward, embarrassing, and stupid moment needs to be kept private. In fact, the majority of your awkward, embarrassing, stupid moments are awesome fodder for your partner’s storytelling at parties and family gatherings. That’s their reward.

    The trick is knowing which moments are for sharing and which moments are not.

    After spending enough time with someone, most people instinctively know where the boundaries are, whether it’s your boyfriend, your BFF or your sister. Which isn’t to say we don’t still violate those boundaries in pursuit of a laugh… I think probably everyone has experienced that moment when you accidentally step over into over share land. That’s a dark and lonely land.

    Despite my general lack of filter, I don’t think I’ve ever over-shared about Chris (with him present). But that’s because it’s usually just me telling the story with him offering confirmation or corrections. It’s usually a controlled environment where I think before I speak.

    But at the family reunion Chris and I were doing some serious tag-team storytelling. We were both the center of attention; our audience was eating up everything we said and waiting for more. That’s an intoxicating experience and it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to keep giving them more.

    Which means digging deeper and telling more, and the more detailed and specific your story is, the better you paint the picture, and the funnier it gets. It can be a vicious cycle.

    I recognized the intoxicated feeling just as my filter clicked in. That’s a deal I have with my brain, because it’s always after I start to feel drunk on storytelling that I go too far, and it quickly gets awkward as everyone tries to find some place to look other than at you or the person you’re talking about.

    It’s a moment that can happen in any storytelling duo, but I feel like there’s slightly more at stake when it’s a significant other.

    If your sister over-shares in the heat of the storytelling moment, you might get mad, maybe you don’t talk to her for a few days or weeks, but you know she’ll always be your sister.

    But when it’s your partner, and you have to ride home together, share a bed, and continue to let them see all those awkward, embarrassing and stupid moments, moments that you now know could be made public, the transgression feels more damaging.

    When you are a storyteller, the worst feeling is having a willing audience, but no material. Its tempting to believe that any material you can get find is fair game because, come on, you’re a STORYTELLER and IT’LL BE FUNNY and EVERYBODY IS WAITING. But don’t let ignored boundaries send you from couples storytelling, into couple’s counseling.

    Couple’s Storytelling. It’s a thing. Seriously.

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