hen I was younger, I was such a drama-free person. If a friend was making a mountain out of a molehill, I would tell her so. If a teammate came to me with a rumor, I’d tell her I wasn’t there to entertain it. If girls in the hallway were whispering about a fight in the cafeteria, I’d keep on walkin’.
But that was years ago, and I recently had a creeping realization that things had changed, that somewhere along the road to adulthood, I had started to get involved as hell in the minutiae of people’s everyday problems.
During one particularly crazy week this past fall, I allowed one of my close friends to slowly explain why she was stressing about her hookup over the course of five full days. It took another full day to analyze the nonsensical petty text fight between my best friend and this dude she met on an app — who she’d never even met IRL, mind you, but really liked anyway. I halted work early for an over-extended happy hour with a new friend, where she recalled her years-long relationship history including an ex-fiancé she was still forced to see and a rollercoaster trajectory to commitment with her now-husband.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know how it happened. But suddenly, I was telling a new-ish guy about these loose problem threads when it just hit me: MAYBE I LIKE DRAMA.
My brain sputtered, Huh? Noooooo. But also…wait.
I’m a fairly rational being; I am regularly described as calm, collected, level-headed, driven (on the surface anyway). But then again, all the drama-loving signs are there, too: I am a pseudo-peer counselor to my friends; I love people-watching (you better believe I am eavesdropping on first dates while working from coffee shops or grabbing solo dinners at cute date-y bars); I monitor and interpret pop culture news like it’s my job (actually, it is part of my job); I watch The Bachelor; and everyone knows my favorite workday distraction is reading the “relationships” subReddit.
Whereas I sidestepped others’ whines and wails in my younger years, now, if there’s an interpersonal problem to solve, I will often stop at nothing to get to the bottom of it. I am regularly accused of miring myself in messes or chattering about friendships to mend or dating squabbles to sort out. And then, of course, I wrote a book making sense of people’s relationship problems (OMG).
All of the aforementioned, you could argue, show an affinity for, well… drama. When I discovered this, I was shocked. I didn’t like the connotation. What even is drama? And what does loving it say about me?
I’d guess my magnetism for problems stems back to my “good girl” upbringing (doesn’t everything?). Drama was discouraged in my strict circles. I was frequently told that gossip was uncool and others people’s problems were none of my business. As such, I often stuck to my books, my hobbies, my studies and myself. But I can see now that my inability or unwillingness to engage with interpersonal issues led to the sort of introversion that stunted me socially and emotionally.
Eventually, as an adult, I started to prioritize friendship. I wanted to relate to others, and tried my best to be a good friend (whatever that was!). It started slow. I remember sitting under the summer sun of my fifth-floor balcony for six hours with a friend, pouring over a difficult upbringing. I remember sitting on a patio in the late fall, as my longtime friend explained the weight she’d been carrying from her breakup five years earlier. I remember talking Myers-Briggs with another friend to contextualize how her love might be different from the stereotypically mushy pop-culture version, and how she could better relate to her sensitive mother.
As it turned out, at my core, I was still the same person I’d been my whole life; the level-headed one, the rational one, the one friends brought their problems. But instead of seeing their drama as frivolous, as an adult with a new mindset for connection, I was ready to listen (and share mine, too). I began to embrace and accept my role as a problem springboard. If people brought me a problem, I concluded, it was because they trusted me to listen, sometimes to truly help.
Finding one’s role within any social system creates a feeling of belonging, and this, I’ve come to realize, is mine. I’ve now discussed long-distance relationships, old loves coming back from the past, family issues with tons of intricacies, bad dates, work difficulties, worries, misunderstandings. I’d like to think of these acts as mutually beneficial; whenever my friends thank me for listening, I feel appreciative they’ve allowed me a chance to grow.
It took me a long time to understand how people worked. It took me a long time to understand that emotions are often complicated, and how logic and analysis, my natural strengths, could work to bring people together. Whether it’s sorting through conflict, or developing a plan to move forward, it’s important interpersonal work. In that way, “drama” brings me a deep sense of satisfaction; we are all trying to resolve our issues and move forward in the right direction. Every time I flex that emotional muscle, with a friend or a Reddit post, I’m learning and theorizing and growing.
Especially for women, “drama” is often the first puzzle piece of connection and rapport with others. Being a magnet for said drama has also helped me develop a deeper intimacy with those I love, a sense of empathy for the way we all hurt and heal. It’s a privilege so many have afforded me, this glimpse into their lives, and I don’t take that lightly — despite the lighthearted connotations that surround that word in question.
When I reflect on my newly claimed affinity, I’m reminded of my late grandmother, who was a verified social superstar. She’d make friends with a waitress in Sweden and exchange letters and Christmas cards for years. She’d organize dinner parties for eight or ten, simultaneously serving a meal and making everyone feel like her very best friend. My grandma was so full of questions, too. She’d always ask about her friends’ life, relationships, children, and more.
“You’re being nosy, Doris,” my grandpa would say. “No, Ted, I’m curious,” she’d insist. And she was. About people, emotions, how she could listen, relate and help. Embracing those problems is how she found purpose. In this way, she and I are the same.
So, I am finally ready to admit it: I like drama, I attract drama, I even embrace drama. I will be right in the middle of whatever’s unfolding if it means supporting my friends, growing in that understanding of how humans tick, developing empathy and encouraging mutual growth. You could call it human troubleshooting, but if you have to call it drama, I don’t hate being the queen.
Collages by Emily Zirimis.