When do the things we share breach the boundaries of informative and plummet into the realm of too much information? Was the strange girl in the public restroom simply being informative when she exited her stall while I was washing my hands, looked at me and exclaimed “Ugh! I have another yeast infection!”?
Were countless strangers simply spreading information when they shared the most intimate details of their lives with me, ranging from the complete despair they feel over their mother’s recent diagnosis of cancer, to the gruesome details of what the genitalia of the last person they had sex with looked like? I think the line between “that is interesting” and “I really wish you hadn’t told me that” is thick enough that people don’t simply cross it accidentally. I walk the line nearly every day and I rarely get confused. Which means that when the line is crossed, it is done so knowingly and deliberately. Why then, do people so willingly divulge their private information to complete strangers?
How did the girl with the yeast infection want me to respond? Perhaps she was looking for sympathy and an awkward hug. Maybe she secretly wished I was similarly afflicted so that we could swap our vaginal war stories and possibly our cream. Was she simply venting to me in an attempt to relieve her discomfort and pain? To make situations like this less awkward for myself, I sometimes like to imagine that these strangers just desperately want a high-five. Unfortunately, in having occasionally executed this theory, I have found that a high-five is not what most people are looking for. This is especially true of people who have just explained their mom has cancer. And of people who don’t have hands.
Perhaps we are so connected with the virtual world that we have simply stopped considering the ramifications of our words and actions beyond that. We’re so conscientious about the fact that the things we put online can be preserved on the internet forever, that information transmitted through non-digital means seem benign in comparison. After all, what can I, a mere stranger, really do with information about the Pillsbury Doughboy-like state of your vagina? Well, I can write about it online, for one. But most of the time, I will do nothing. So what services am I truly providing you when you tell me about your gnarly girlfriend’s brobdingnagian clitoris as I stare at you in disgust and disbelief?
I suppose that what it comes down to is that people share what they consider to be private as a way of connecting with someone else. It’s basically a way of sharing deeper aspects of oneself, and in doing so, it often hints at the fact that you trust them. Or maybe people just really enjoy eliciting the ever-so-sexy “I just threw-up a little in my mouth” face. In either case, I would argue that when it comes to privacy, there are two types of people in the world: those that divulge information about themselves as a way to connect and those that wait for a connection before they divulge. I fall into to the latter category.
Despite being a very honest and blunt person, if someone I barely know asks what my inner-most darkest secret is, I likely won’t truthfully and bluntly tell them. Instead, I’d be much more likely to respond with something like “I shot a man in Reno”. In most instances, I am usually very aware of who I am communicating with and how much information I want (and is appropriate) to share with them.
The consequences of being more on the private side of the spectrum is that it often takes longer to connect with new people and vice versa. After all, a lot of people are used to disclosing and hearing disclosed intimate details within the first or second interaction with one another. It can be almost downright offensive when one neglects to participate. But the way I see it, anyone worth getting to know will have the patience to wait a more appropriate amount of time before I begin to reveal what I consider to be private.
When I finally do open up, I think most people appreciate what I am sharing and recognize that it is, in fact, information that I value and don’t simply give to everyone (not to mention that the subsequent high-five feels much less awkward).For those who don’t have said patience, good riddance. From my own personal experience, I think that most people are usually willing to wait for the connection. In fact, I think the last time I met someone that wasn’t, I was in Reno.