Who doesn’t love to dream?
In this case, I am not talking about daydreaming or setting goals you hope to achieve one day. Sure, those are fun too. It’s nice to think about writing that novel, buying a beach house or yacht or summering in a Tuscan villa (Ahhhhh, Tuscany!), but I am talking about the dreams we have no control over, the ones at night while we are sound asleep.
Dreams can be crazy, nonsensical, sometimes even terrifying, but they play out in vivid fashion most evenings like blockbuster movies in our minds, making even the most mundane topics or tasks somehow fantastical.
Adding to their mystique, dreams are one of the few things scientists can’t really explain. They have theories, of course. Maybe our subconscious mind is trying to work out a problem for us or even warn us of things to come? Both of those theories make sense, but neither is verifiable. I can’t imagine how they ever will be. So without any concrete evidence on why we dream, our riveting REM rhapsodies will always remain our own little pieces of personal magic.
And that is how they should stay — personal. For as magical as our dreams are to us, you know when someone says, “You are not going to believe the dream I had last night!” the next few minutes of your life are going to be totally mind-numbing and filled with feigned interest, fake laughs and with you saying things you don’t mean like, “That’s wild!”
Hearing about other people’s dreams is just as painful as being shown your friends’ vacation photos. (Oh, that’s nice! You took 17 photos of the same cliff!) We are all indulgent to this practice, and we are so genuinely happy the other person had a nice time, but really the only thought running through our heads is, “When is this going to be over?”
It goes both ways, and we have been guilty of being the perpetrators of this and being perpetrated upon.
Please don’t get me wrong. Your dreams, my dreams, even our dogs’ dreams are all very interesting and absolutely amazing pieces of mental cinematography. Countless filmmakers have tried to recreate dreams on the big screen, but few have done it well because it is so hard to do, and they have visual tools and special effects artists at their disposal. So when we just try to retell it orally, we have an even bigger challenge in downloading and relaying this magic in our minds. It’s nearly impossible to make someone else experience your dream in the same way you did. So it usually falls flat.
But still we try. And we feel especially obligated to tell someone who is a character in our dreams all about it.
So it typically comes out something like this:
So you and I were in Downtown Mobile but we weren’t really in Mobile. We thought we were, but it wasn’t, you know what I mean? And we were eating cotton candy, which is weird because I hate cotton candy, and my Uncle Jeff showed up — you don’t know him; it’s my Mom’s brother — and he was talking to us but then he just disappeared and we didn’t know what happened to him and the next thing you know you were talking to a rat and I said, “Why are you talking to that rat?” and you said, “I’m not. It’s my dog.” And then the next thing you know we were at the beach but there was no sand, just grass and then I woke up. Isn’t that crazy?
(Uh huh. That’s wild.)
The other thing that really ruins the retelling of dreams is we hold back. We only tell each other the G-rated ones and hold back the juicy ones, because we don’t want to look like psychopaths to one another. Which is smart, but imagine how interested we would all actually be in each other’s dreams if they went something more like this:
I dreamed we were on a girls’ weekend in Seaside, but then suddenly I got hungry and there was only original Pringles in the red can in the kitchen and I hate the red Pringles, so I killed all of you with a machete and dismembered you and ate your body parts on Bunny bread slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise until I was miserably full. You guys were delicious and I never eat sandwiches! Isn’t that wild?
(Yes, yes, that is truly insane. But sign me up for hearing about all of these crazy dreams of yours, psycho! Also, I don’t think I am going to be able to go on the next girls’ weekend.)
Maybe we don’t necessarily go all Jeffrey Dahmer on our friends in our weirdest dreams, but we all have had some really crazy ones that we know we should probably just keep to ourselves. And when we are going through some sort of trauma it always seems like our dreams are more vivid and stressful or even violent than when things are going smoothly.
Of course, we all have different thresholds for what is disturbing, as evidenced by an exchange my husband and I had early in our relationship.
Frank has always really enjoyed his dreams like they are a hot new series on Netflix that he binge-watches every night (and loves to tell me about). He will occasionally even start laughing mid-morning, and I’ll ask him what’s so funny and he’ll say, “Oh I was just thinking about the dream I had last night.”
Shortly after we started dating seriously, my mother passed away and I was having particularly horrible nightmares at the time. Dave Chappelle was still starring in Frank’s dreams apparently, while I was hoping Freddy Krueger didn’t show up in mine.
So when he woke up one morning in a sweat and said he had a had a horrible nightmare, I couldn’t wait to hear what had been so terrifying to a man whose dreams usually bring him such joy.
This is what he told me:
When I was competing in swim meets when I was a kid and we traveled to Birmingham, we always used to stay at this Holiday Inn in Hoover. And it was just really cool — there was a lake and all the parents, the kids, everyone just loved it. (I was thinking this was about to become “The Shining” but apparently it was even worse — to Frank at least.) But in my dream, I went back there and the hotel was gone and the area had gotten all gentrified and there were all these nice houses and high-end condos and breakfast places that served $8 orange juice. It was just terrible.
I remember looking at him and saying something to the effect of, “I have been having dreams about wolves literally ripping my body into four different pieces and eating those pieces and your ‘nightmare’ (air quotes) is about overpriced orange juice and gentrification?”
Wow, Frank. That’s wild. Really wild.
After over 10 years of marriage, he knows my thoughts on hearing dreams, and he only tells me the really good ones now. But I think he is still haunted by the “Gentrified Nightmare of the Hoover Holiday Inn.”
Move over Freddy Krueger, hello high-end condos.
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