A few months ago, I met up with an American friend that I hadn't seen for nearly seven years. She was only in town for a few days, so I left work on time and went to meet her in a bar. I grabbed a drink, sat down and was introduced to her new partner. And then, quite reasonably, she asked me how I was.
"Oh, you know... great," I said. 'I'm the same but different...mostly I work. But that's okay because I really love what I do. I'm trying to cook more. I've recently got into weight lifting actually...that's new! Oh, and I got a cat."
As I reached into my bag to get my phone, so I could proudly scroll through pictures of said cat I noticed a confused look on my friend's face.
"That all sounds...very, err...stable," she blurted.
"I used to always be able to count on you for some juicy drama," she said.
I doubt this friend meant to make me feel as bad as she did. I'm sure being around me in my twenties was a lot of fun. She wasn't wrong, there was always drama... I had surrounded myself with people who had also loved The Drama, and rather than channelling my energy into productive things I would deliberately get into relationships with people I knew were trouble/unavailable/narcissistic.
I wasn't unhappy but, equally, I don't think I was particularly happy either. Drama was a great distraction. In fact, The Drama was almost like a person, a bad but brilliant friend that I had on speed dial. She was reliably unreliable, predictably unpredictable and perfectly imperfect. She was organised chaos.
If this sounds familiar to you that's probably because it's not uncommon to find yourself in drama-intense relationships. In the early 1970s, an American psychologist called Stephen Karpman identified The Drama Triangle.
According to Karpman, many of us are involved in drama regardless of whether or not we think so. There are three roles, he said, in any drama: the persecutor (the one who thinks everything bad that happens to them is someone else's fault and blames other people endlessly), the rescuer (the one who thinks they're pretty stable and says they're helping other people out of the goodness of their heart when, in fact, they do it partly because they worry about not being needed by anyone) and the victim (the one who feels constantly sorry for themselves and doesn't believe they have the power to fix their problems). And, we're constantly switching roles.
Psychology has moved on since the 70s. It turns out that The Drama is actually much more than involuntarily destructive behaviour that we're all condemned to repeat on a loop until we go to therapy.
I recently discovered some research which has found that there is actually a gene for drama. It comes from a study which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience back in 2015 by a group of psychologists and cognitive scientists lead by Professor Rebecca Todd at the University of British Columbia.
Professor Todd explains to me that the gene – ADRA2b – is actually found in "around half of people" so it's "very very common". Those who have it, she explains "may have an increased propensity for experiencing emotions vividly", which means they react more passionately to both good and bad events.
People who have the ADRA2b gene, Rebecca explains, have been found to be more likely to have better memories for emotions, but there is no association between this gene and being more anxious.
I ask Rebecca whether it's possible, then, that having "the drama gene" is actually a good thing?
"Yes, absolutely," Rebecca says. "Obviously it wouldn't be great if you'd been through something traumatic and you kept remembering it in excruciating detail, but our research has found that people who have the ADRA2b gene are more tuned in and pay greater attention to emotionally relevant things in their environment."
Whether or not I have this gene, I don't know. But what I do know is that, eventually, channelling my emotional awareness into being destructive became boring. These days, I'm far more likely to use it for good in my relationships and friendships.
Rebecca adds that what's most interesting about the drama gene is that it might influence our emotional learning.
"We're trying to find out whether people who have it are more perceptive," she adds. "Are they picking up emotional signals from other people more acutely? Could that give them an advantage in their personal and professional relationships?"
I like to think so. And, part of the reason that I regret absolutely nothing about the drama of my twenties is that I feel like I've insured myself against a mid-life crisis by getting so much partying, promiscuity and pain out of the way early on. I appreciate my stable and loving relationship deeply because I know what it's like to have the opposite. I also know myself very, very well and, in particular, I'm very familiar with parts of myself that I don't particularly like and I've made peace with them.
Don't get me wrong, The Drama and I had a lot of fun.
But, right now, I am (to borrow from the odious language of the very worst social media announcements) absolutely thrilled to tell you all that...my personal life is exactly what 23-year-old me would have condemned as "boring and gross".
I stay in, a lot. I cook meals from scratch. I turn my phone off often. I have savings. I am in a relationship with someone who always lets me know where they are and, believe it or not, replies when I text them asking questions. Granted, those questions are more like "what shall we have for dinner?" than "err hi will I ever see you again?". And, I find myself more often giving my friends advice than drinking it up like a tonic for my life.
The chaos of your twenties is where you are wrought, it's what you are made of. Chaos can be good, great even. From it, something is always born. After all, if science is to be believed, the whole universe came from chaos – we were all born from a complex collection of formless celestial matter floating out there somewhere in space.
Between the ages of 19 and 26, I was reborn from the messy ooze of my own life approximately once a year. There was a method to my madness. It was hard work and it was painful but, I like to think that each time I re-emerged stronger and improved and, increasingly, I think that allowing so much chaos into my life has actually served me well in the long run.
What particularly hurt about my friend's shock that my life was now "stable" was, I think, her disappointment that I no longer had a good story to tell - that I I was no longer constantly broadcasting on an Emotional Emergency Frequency for the entertainment of others.
The Drama can be like a devil on your shoulder inviting you to be destructive. It can be exciting, it can be fun and there can be a lot to learn from the chaos but, if you're not careful it can become a sideshow and a distraction from your relationship with yourself.
If you can harness your emotional awareness and propensity to feel things fully, if you can pay attention to other people's feelings and respond to them, then, anything is possible.
The opposite of drama isn't boring, it's brilliant.
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