You're at happy hour when someone nudges you and launches into a story about a dream they had last night. They can't remember how it started or ended, only that it was so trippy, so random, so messed up. You're so bored.
Meandering, disjointed tales about our subconscious narratives are self-indulgent and dull. We should all possess the self-awareness to question whether or not our dreams pass the "should I tell someone about this" test. But that's easier said than done. If you feel the need to share your dream about eating American cheese off Ryan Seacrest's chest, or running away from your orthodontist (who's just a giant set of teeth!), then here are nine critical dream-telling rules to keep in mind — so you can keep your friends, too.
1. Make sure you actually remember your dream
And do it before you hold some unsuspecting listener hostage. If you don’t recall the dream's basic narrative arc from start to finish, then you don’t remember enough to retell it. No fragments, no exceptions.
2. Surreality is nothing new
Dreams defy the laws of physics and metaphysics. People morph into tarantulas. Traffic jams become tea parties. You start out as a character in your dream and end up as an omniscient observer. If you think any of this happened in your waking life, then please see someone. Otherwise, bizarre phenomena are par for the course. Welcome to REM mentation.
3. Same goes for randomness...
Sure, you think it’s weird that you dreamt about Zachary Guy-Frank, who moved away in first grade and brought the class un-flavored pie (“it’s just regular pie!" he insisted). But his randomness holds no value to anyone else, unless they were also present for the regular-pie bafflement.
4. ... and perversity
If you wear a human head as a hat or have sex with a cat in the real world, then please stop doing that. But your dreams aren’t subject to standards of ethics or ickiness. In the words of Missy Elliott, get ur freak on.
5. Just know your audience
I.e., you may not want to spill everything to your Tinder date. Those with whom you share your dreams should be people who either already care about you or get paid to listen to you complain. Is there a faster way to make someone swipe left on a fledgling relationship than by prattling on about yourself for no clear reason? (No.) Also, keep in mind that you open yourself up to psychological evaluation when you divulge the entrails of your mind.
6. Consider your own dream-telling ability
If you can’t recount a real event without going off on a tangent, then do you think you tell dream-stories any better? You don’t have to share your dreams aloud to keep them alive. Plenty of soul-searchers find great value in penning dream recaps. And then, of course, there are online dream forums. Let's give it up for these private and/or self-contained endeavors.
7. Embarrassing sex dreams are fair game
If you had an uncomfortably vivid sex dream about the IT guy and can’t stop blushing about it, then you should definitely tell another co-worker. Work gets boring. (All other rules still apply, of course.)
8. Mind the 60-second rule
This rule applies both to the dreams you shouldn’t share and the ones that provoke uproarious laughter. Eliminate the elements of your dream that bog down the narrative — peripheral characters, changing landscapes, erratic time jumps. Once you trim the fat, there's no way you have more than a minute’s worth of solid, entertaining material.
9. Silence your inner Freud
"But what does it mean that I married my cousin who turned into my accountant who suddenly lowered me into my own grave, which actually turned out to be the orchestra pit at a Jadakiss concert?" Probably not much.
This is not to say dreams are devoid of meaning. Recurring dreams, nightmares, acted-out dreams, demon-haunted dreams and pre-death dreams may all have psychological or other diagnostic significance. And — I know — creative geniuses write songs in their dreams. And we’ve written plenty about lucid dreaming as a vehicle for living out fantasies. I get it.
But your standard-fare “so crazy, right?” dreams are devoid of meaning worth exploring with an audience present. Most neuroscientists agree that the bulk of dreaming thoughts are the refuse of consciousness. Can't get your dreams off your mind? Plenty of Freudian disciples will gladly go deep with you.
One more thing: I'm not a monster. These rules apply to literal dreams, not figurative ones. Go share your hopes and aspirations with the whole subway car. People love that.
This story was originally published in 2016