May 18, 2009
Back Off a Little
Whatever happened to small talk? And why must I keep reminding people about personal boundaries? Seems as if more and more I find myself in uncomfortable conversations with people who tell me way too much about their personal lives. Or they ask personal questions about my life because they happened to have overheard me talking to somebody else. Is this a by-product of the tell-all television that seems to dominate our airwaves? We do still use airwaves, don’t we?
Somebody here at work keeps asking me about my mother’s health. That my mother has some current health issues is common knowledge in my department. (Valve replacement is scheduled for June 3rd.) I missed some work while Mom was in the hospital so I expect the usual “How’s your Mom doing?” But this person is asking probing questions like, “How do you feel about it? Are you coping OK?” or “How is your Dad taking it?” or my personal favorite “Is your Mom scared?”. Gee, do you think she’s scared? It would be different if these questions were sincere. The true intent is to get information they can tell others so it seems like they are in the know. Don’t make my personal life fodder for your gossip. I have friends and family that I talk to about personal things.
Conversely, I have been in conversations where acquaintances have revealed everything from the fact that they are in therapy to the fact that their spouse needs to take Viagra. I didn’t ask for this information and I can’t believe your spouse would be happy about you sharing that last little tidbit with people you barely know. I was at lunch last week with a co-worker who went on and on about how she never got her father’s approval and how it has totally screwed her up. She says she spends her whole life trying to get him to acknowledge her worth.
I just don’t know what to do in situations like that. My first inclination is to say “Whoa, please don’t tell me this stuff.” People who tell you this sort of thing when they barely know you really don’t want your advice. They want attention and sympathy and if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I’m not a very sympathetic person. Although packaged a little more nicely, the gist of most of my advice is “Suck it up, quit your crying and do something about it.” In this particular case my advice was “Get over it, you are a grown woman and you can’t continue to blame Daddy for everything that goes wrong in your life. Take responsibility for your own happiness.” It fell on deaf ears.
The irony is not lost on me that my lament about “sharing too much” is being posted on a publicly accessible blog. But somehow blogging is different. I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s different, but it is. I don’t have to be responsible for my readers’ reactions to my words. I don’t adjust my message. It’s pre-packaged and it’s out there. People who are uncomfortable with what I am saying can simply stop reading.