What improv taught me about relationships
I’m a serial monogamist. From the ages of 18 to 22, I was pretty much always seriously dating someone. It wasn’t ever something I thought about, really. Until last May, when I graduated college and returned home to the suburbs of New York City to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. I broke up with my then-boyfriend in order to concentrate on my own ambitions, which was was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
A couple months into the job search I began to feel hopeless and lonely, spending my days at home sending emails and cold calls while my parents were at work all day. One afternoon, I took a break from barraging strangers’ inboxes to peruse my Facebook page, when I came across a link to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s homepage. I knew about UCB through Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, and through my experience writing comedy spec scripts back at school — but I had never considered enrolling in classes. On a whim, I registered for a class that would begin the next week. I’ll give it a try, I thought, maybe it’ll cure my boredom.
And thus began my romance with improv. I began reading every article and watching every YouTube clip of improv I could get ahold of. I attended shows in dirty basements across Manhattan, drinking PBRs and watching performers create scenes out of audience suggestions. I learned more about my relationships and myself than I ever could have anticipated.
You’ve got to be comfortable in your own skin
When you’re on stage in a scene, you don’t have time to second guess or be critical of your ideas. Your goal is to move a scene forward in the funniest and most original way possible, and your brain is moving a mile a minute. You don’t have time to ask yourself “will people find this funny? Is this stupid?” You dive in and go for it.
I’ve taken that and applied it to my dating life. I can speak my mind and be confident in my opinions and jokes without the affirmation of a significant other saying “that’s so funny” or “you’re right about x, y and z.” Before, I searched for that validation and I got it through relationships. Boyfriends would read my scripts and laugh at jokes and only then would I truly believe I was funny. With improv, you find your sense of humor and learn to exclaim your jokes with confidence rather than shrink into the corner wondering whether your joke about the stupidity tandem bikes is funny (duh, of course it is. It’s a tandem bike. It’s hilarious.)
In order for a relationship to work, you have to be willing to give and take
In an improv scene, you depend on your scene partners to exercise the improv concept of “yes, and.” If your partner begins a scene exclaiming that the checkout line at Target is long, it’s established that you are in a Target store. It’s important to say “yes” and to go along with it. Then comes the “and” part: building on it. For example, you could say, “I know, but where else will we buy a kiddie pool?” This adds an element to the scene: the purchase of a kiddie pool. You’re always building off of each other instead of correcting them or clashing with them.
“Yes and” is something that I’ve learned is key in relationships. You’re saying yes because it’s important to be supportive of your partner, but you also need to be sure your voice is heard and you’re contributing and growing from the relationship. If you just say “yes,” your scene won’t progress.. You need the “and” to move your scene, and your relationship forward.
Keep things in perspective
My past relationships went from zero to sixty in a month or two. Everything moved so fast. I was meeting parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, when I barely knew the guy. Every fight was catastrophic, every disagreement ended in tears. Highest highs, lowest lows – I was experiencing my emotions in extremes. Improv has taught me that no matter how hard you bomb, you’re always going to wake up the next morning. There’s always going to be another show, another audience, another day. I learned that sometimes the best remedy to a fight is to take a deep breath, sleep on it, and talk it out in a few days — rather than scream, cry, pout, or give ultimatums.
All this is not to say that I didn’t like the person I was back in my Relationship Days, or that I’m swearing off love and parking it on the sofa in sweatpants. I’ve just figured out that my relationship with myself is the most important relationship I will ever have. It’s just me, myself, and my repertoire of impressively raunchy jokes. You’re welcome, future boyfriend.
Claire McCastle is a native New Yorker, Michigan alum and lover of all carbohydrates. You can always find her by the snack table or at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
[Image courtesy UCB]