As I was reading the latest issue of Time Out New York (thanks, mom!) on the subway this morning, I turned to an article called something like, "What Your Trainer Is Really Thinking." It was basically the results of a poll the TONY people took among personal trainers in NYC.
I won't not bore you with the details, but I did notice one question regarding what people tell their trainers (similar, they said, to what people tell their bartenders or hairdressers). And I quote:
(For the record, "attempted murder" is only considered "the normal stuff" in New Jersey.)
- That their balls were the size of raisins.
- Women telling about their sexual past with other women.
- Coke habits, threesomes, attempted murder (true story) ... caught cheating - you know, the normal stuff.
Anyway, it got me thinking about all the things that we share with other people. Or, more to the point, the things other people feel it's all right to share with us.
I wrote a column a few years back about how I discussed other people (even just innocuously) to make myself look better, and I apologized for betraying the confidence of those whose information I shared with others. At the time I had an amazing girlfriend who tore into me, and deservedly so, for talking to other people about her, even though I hadn't necessarily said anything bad. It worked.
What do you do, however, when the problem isn't people talking about you, but, rather, people talking to you about themselves?
I'm sure we've all been in the middle of a conversation with someone and they'll suddenly say something like, "The first time I was arrested..." or "Losing my virginity was..." or "You remind me of when I had that UTI...." And you're thinking, "I didn't need to know that."
My parents were once at a dinner party at which one of the guests, during a lull in the conversation, chose to announce that he had only one testicle. This did not help the lull. My parents laughed about it for years afterward, which I can only assume is the karmic reason I have only one testicle.
Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Anyway, my point is that we have all had someone tell us things we really didn't need to know about them. And I'm wondering what it is that drives other people (and, yeah, ourselves) to just unload the most personal information on the unwilling psyches of friends, neighbors, bartenders, taxi drivers, personal trainers, etc. Also puzzling, of course, is the question of what makes some people think it's okay to talk about these things in public places? I mean, you're not only regaling friends with this information - oh yeah, really fascinating story of how you think your boss might have been hitting on you and how that's gross because he's gotta be, like, 40, or something old, but he is kind of cute, and that time you made out in the bathroom during the company party was pretty good - but you're letting the rest of us in on it, too.
I don't know. Maybe nothing's sacred anymore. I mean, who am I to talk, right? Month after month, I share (most of) my secrets right here on the Interweb for anyone to read. And yet no one, with the vocally impressive exception of my mother, has said word one regarding my sharing too much information. (Heck, there's even an abbreviation for it - TMI - that dates back to before text messaging meant everything was abbreviated.)
I guess it's cathartic, in a way, unburdening your soul, especially to friends, whom you ostensibly can trust. Or at least you can trust they won't use the info to steal your identity or your socks or something. They will laugh about you behind your back. But you'd do the same to them, admit it. That said, they will also offer you moral (or immoral) support because they're your friends. If you can't share with your close friends the story about going to the hotel room with one of your buddies and the methadone addict, who can you share with? Actually, maybe you should keep that one to yourself.
Hey - here's an idea - maybe you should keep all of them to yourself.
We humans seem to think, most of the time, that a) if what we have to say is important to us, then it must be important to others; b) feeling the need to share is all the reason we require; and c) telling the truth is a defense to everything.
First of all, that last point, while theoretically admirable, is a bunch of hooey. I once wrote a column in college on this very point. There's a darn good argument to be made that simply the truth of something is not enough to justify its being uttered. Anyone who's ever said, "I thought you wanted me to be honest," knows what I'm talking about. It's the same with TMI; just because it's entirely true that you once spent $250 on a bootleg DVD of Mick Jagger eating a plateful of blintzes, that doesn't mean you have to tell anyone, ever.
As to the first point above, I think it's just a fact of human nature. We're just programmed to be auto-centric. I mean, until science proved otherwise, it seemed to make sense that the Earth was the center of the universe. The same way it seems to make sense that each of us is the center of our own universe. We're not measurably smarter than they were a mere 1,000 years ago, so why imagine our psyches are that different? I mean, I think it's fair to say that I'm the most important person in my life. What I think we often fail to take into account is that the same is true for most other people. My uncle once told me, "not every story is an anecdote." I once told my ex-roommate, "not every situation is a crisis." And I think the lesson here might well be, "not every thought is an epiphany."
Regarding our need to share (or, rather, other people's need; this obviously doesn't apply to anyone I know), this may hint at a deeper problem with our society - we've become slaves to immediacy. "I want dinner," in five minutes you can head to McDonald's or throw that Ms. Paul's fish stick in the microwave. "I need to know what Chinese New Year is coming up," just hop online and 30 seconds - boom (it's the Ox, by the way). "What's the weather supposed to be," Internet, cell phones, cable TV - none take more than a few minutes. "I haven't seen a woman smack a man with a baking sheet in days," again, the Internet. So it just makes sense that we've been conditioned to feel that if we have a need, we simply meet that need.
What we seem to have forgotten these days is patience. It's a common joke at a restaurant if the food's late - "What are they doing back there, growing the lettuce/milking the cow/slaughtering the elephant?" The thing is, once upon a time, the answer was "yes." I mean, someone still does those things (or at least machines do), only with the convenience of refrigeration and interstate commerce and air travel, etc., by the time we've ordered that grilled cheese, lettuce, and elephant sandwich, the slow part's been taken care of ages ago.
So the answer's "no," when you think to yourself on the bus, "did that girl on the cell phone really just have to tell all of us about her ingrown toenail?" But she had no patience. The rules of etiquette would dictate that maybe she share that information once she's not surrounded by strangers who really would have all been happier not knowing and not caring. But that would mean actually waiting until she got off the bus!!! How dare I suggest such a thing? She's on the phone now, she needs to share it now, and she doesn't know you anyway, so who cares?
Now, I don't pretend to know if it's worse to hear intensely personal information from a friend (or colleague) you're going to have to see again or by a stranger whose life you couldn't care less about. Honestly, it might be equal.
Which brings me back to the point I made above: "maybe you should keep all of them to yourself."
And now, while you're pondering that, I'm gonna go home and watch Mick Jagger eat a blintz.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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1.12.09 @ 7:53a
Thanks, Adam, and now I won't tell you about the time......nevermind.
1.12.09 @ 12:04p
Excellent piece, Adam, and a great reminder to all of us who occasionally engage mouth without first engaging brain or social filters. I am guilty of same, but I do avoid cell phone conversations in public places. It drives me crazy to stand in line or be held captive some other way behind someone talking loudly about anything (but especially personal info).
1.12.09 @ 12:06p
Yeah. I think a good majority of my friends are aware that if I'm on a train or something, I'll answer the phone, but I'll say, "I'm on a train," and they know I'll call back when it's not gonna bother other people.
Sadly, I have never meant "I'm on a train" in the Risky Business sense.
1.12.09 @ 1:42p
But it'd be fun if you did. At least once.
1.12.09 @ 2:37p
In all fairness, the signs they have up in the NJ Transit trains do not expressly forbid sex. Though, in keeping with the theme of my column, I feel like that's sharing way too much with the people around you.
1.12.09 @ 3:39p
For the record, "attempted murder" is only considered "the normal stuff" in New Jersey.
Yes. Yes it is normal. Yes. Yes I do live in New Jersey.
I think people are generally so self-absorbed that if a conversation centers around anything other themselves there is a complete lack of interest. It also might depend on moods. I love to hear other peoples conversations while they are shouting into their cell phones. The one sidedness of it is so much fun to imagine what's being said to them.
1.12.09 @ 7:15p
I was in the sauna the other day. Unfortunately, it's a co-ed sauna.
So I go in and I sit in the corner and there's one guy, prolly mid-late 50s, in there. I have no reason or desire to talk to him, but I guess because of our proximity, he thinks it's a good idea.
I learn that he likes the pool very cold instead of lukewarm.
I learn that he drinks beer and eats brats a lot more in the summer, when he's grilling with his buddies, so he gains more weight in the summer than winter.
I learn that he pigs out quite a bit between Thanksgiving and New Year's, but because he works out a lot, it doesn't matter.
I learn that his wife doesn't like to swim, but she likes that new aerobics class and goes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Now, I'm not being rude, but the signals are there: head down, not making eye contact, acknowledging the statement but not offering one of my own. We are not conversing, mister, because I don't want to. Nor is his asking me questions about myself as much as he's downloading unnecessary information. He's friendly enough, but I don't want to make new friends in the sauna.
This goes on for about 5 minutes or so before he finally leaves. He wishes me a good day, and at that point I looked up at him and smiled and wished him the same.
Sheesh. You know, sometimes, it's okay not to talk.
dr. jay gross
1.13.09 @ 8:33a
Stroking egos...self-stroking that is, tells volumes on ones loneliness. I don't think I want anyone to know any of my desires, proclivities, or secrets so I don't talk....I listen. Our 'small' world demands instant communication. Technology is 1,000 years ahead of our ability to understand it....or ourselves.
1.13.09 @ 9:45a
For the record, whoever critiqued my saying in paragraph 2, "I won't not bore you," that was 100% done on purpose. It's a joke. (I can't believe I'm explaining this.) People say, "I won't bore you with the details," but the details in this case weren't boring, so I wrote "I won't not bore you." Next time, assume I said what I meant.
I don't usually respond to my critics, but I felt this one needed correcting.
Oh, and go Eagles.
1.13.09 @ 9:58a
When someone says, "to make a long story short," I always have the urge to say, "Too late."
Having said that, I think part of the problem with shaing is that some people are more secretive in nature, don't like to share, while others of us don't believe there should be any secrets. If you are an open book then you don't have to lie to people just to mess with their uninteresting and petty minds.
1.13.09 @ 10:32a
Oh, well, I obviously keep few secrets from anyone. (Have you seen my columns?) But I think maybe the trick is to share that stuff (in person) only with people who ask.
It's like that scene in "Breakfast Club," where Aly Sheedy's character dumps her bag out, and Emilio Esteves' character later tells her, "I didn't dump my purse out on the couch and invite everyone into my problems." I think people sometimes do that metaphorically without being prompted. If I care about you, I'll ask about you. If I don't, then you probably shouldn't be opening up to me anyway.
1.13.09 @ 7:51p
See I disagree here. People ask "How are you?" to be polite, but if you respond by saying, "miserable, my life sucks, I want to kill myself," most people will be horrified because they really didn't want to know. When people would meet my father and ask how he was he would always say terrible. It was amusing to see the look of horror on the faces of unsuspecting people who suddenly felt trapped into a conversation becuase they felt they had to say something more and they simply didn't want to.
Maybe I'm just a person who enjoys it when people implode before my eyes because I secretly, or not so secretly, dislike the majority of the human race. When someone rambles on and tells me TMI about themselves I relish it because you just know some day I'm going to use that in something I write. So please, feel free to share with me.
1.14.09 @ 9:50a
I once experimented for a week by not saying anything when people would tell me something. You'd be amazed at how a) it took a while for anyone to catch on and b) they would just continue to ramble on to fill the silence. You can learn a lot more than someone would normally be willing to tell you simply by not responding.