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.


  1. OMG - I can not believe how much you sound like me. I can hear myself saying those words. I hate whining and I hate attention seeking idiots who blubber all their troubles. I use to listen but that gave a green light to me being their therapist so now I usually cut them off quickly. You are right about TV- too much airing of personal dirty laundry. This was a great post.

  2. Blogs are a completely different animal -- no one is cornered and held against their will; their participation in your personal ups and downs is at their own discretion.

    LOL! Rae's "attention seeking idiots" sums it up nicely. :)

  3. Rae - They really leave you no choice but to give them the cold shoulder. Isn't that where the phrase "Talk to the hand!" came from.

    G - My readers fall into two categories. People who started out as strangers and have become friends or close friends and family. I don't tell co-workers or casual acquaintances about my blog.

  4. You have exquisitely pointed out the reason I loved being the only female in an office. The menfolk babbled on incessantly about sports and not much else. They knew I wasn't interested nor could I add anything interesting so they left me out of the conversation. I got to work in peace. Yay!!! I did learn a lot about Texas Rangers baseball though.

    Then I worked for almost three years in a female-only office. I had to quit before I lost my sanity. I wished they had saved it all for a blog.

  5. I have met people for the first time,that literally begin telling me how they were molested as children within the first 2 minutes!
    Sorry,but all I can think is,''re in your 30's now,think you might be able to get the @#$% over it?!..
    It's their standard method of centering all future conversations on themselves,and a convenient pre-excuse for acting like irrational morons.
    Blogs are absolutely different..No captive audience.

  6. Speck - Now that you mention it women do seem more prone to "tell all" than men do. Shouldn't surprise me after the cattiness training grounds that high school was.

    Sling - See. That's what I'm talking about. Some people show no hesitation in airing their most personal information. What are you supposed to say to that? "Hmm, really? Well, um, you catch that Yankees game last night?

  7. Please visit my blog. I would like to honor you with an award.

  8. I'm still laughing/surprised at the Viagra comment--why on earth would someone tell an acquaintance about that?? :)

    I agree with you on this...I steer clear of the workplace gossip, for the most part, for just that reason. I really only need to know personal stuff about my family and friends...and then only sometimes! *grin*

    Oh by the way, in response to your comments on my blog:

    1. Not driving everywhere is AWESOME--I haven't had to drive in several years now! :) We get around with buses, trains, and the occasional taxi.

    2. We do have a mall in downtown Chicago--it's called Water Tower Place. We also have tons of shops and stores, including Borders and Sears.

    3. The nearest DQ is about 5 blocks from our apartment...just opened up...whoo hoo! *smiles*

  9. Rae - Awww gee, thanks for the award. I really appreciate it.

    Miss HP - My rule of thumb for avoiding gossip is to ask myself wheteher I would be saying what I'm saying about someone if they were standing right there with me. If not then I have no business saying it.

    And thanks for the answers on city living. The idea of having no car is so foreign to me. Here in Detroit we avoid builing a public transportation system in order to sell more cars. Hell, we drive to the DQ which is only three blocks away.

  10. Outstanding piece!! What a pleasure to read, thank you.

  11. Chica - why thanks. Nice to meet you.