As a teenager, I lived in breathless anticipation or sickening dread of the inevitable drama with a capital D that Monday mornings brought with them. Who had hooked up with whom that weekend (and where and when)? So-and-so called someone a nasty name. Did you hear Sally broke up with her boyfriend … or did her boyfriend break up with her? At an all-girls prep school, drama was the default setting. Now that I’m a young-adult author, drama is my literary milieu; it provides the conflict that makes a plot. But that doesn’t mean I want it in my real life.
You expect drama from teenage girls. They’re all self-consciousness and hormones and disdain. But why does it seem some adults never made it out of that overwrought stage of life? There’s the colleague who sends interoffice memos about a shortage of English breakfast tea bags in the break room; a friend who must be talked down from the ledge every time a relationship, no matter how brief or insignificant, ends; a relative who reads your delayed acceptance of his Facebook friend request as a line in the sand. Why are some people addicted to drama?
Exciting or Exasperating?
There are certainly times when drama is sincere or even justified. Events are devastating, lives are changed, circumstances overwhelm. Sometimes drama is even pleasurable. Clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Ducharme offers our media culture, which—no shocker here—thrives on drama, as an example. “Drama creates publicity,” she says, pointing to the precipitous ups and downs splashed across celebrity magazines and reality shows. “A little bit of drama,” she says, “can be fun.” It can shake you up and cause you to look at things in a different light. Drama becomes harmful, however, when it becomes uncomfortable, often for everyone but the instigator.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “dramatic” behavior as “intending or intended to create an effect.” Therein lies the reason dramatic people tend to grate on our nerves: consciously or not, drama queens are angling for a response. When someone uses excessive emotionality as a way to garner attention, the people around her, while perhaps initially sympathetic, often ultimately feel manipulated.