This blog is written in honor of M, who, after reading last week’s blog, said something to the following effect:
“Haven’t you met anyone who just shares way too much?”
Yes, M. Yes, I have.
In fact, I haven’t just known that guy; I’ve been that guy. That Guy Who Shares the Wrong Things With the Wrong People. That Guy Who Knows No Boundaries.
I’m not ashamed to admit that. We all come from somewhere. We all have things to learn in life.
I come from my family — more to the point, the Italian side of my family, which played a larger role in my life than the Polish side. And I don’t care what anyone says about the following being “stereotypical,” because the simple fact is that the Italian side of my family does know when daughter Sophia’s been robbed blind by her loser boyfriend, Aunt Contessa stops taking her “special pills,” and cousin Vinnie, conversely, takes a dump. Names and details have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent, but you get what I mean.
Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t have a loving family. I’m simply pointing out that some people are more comfortable with this level of information being shared with and known among a group than others, and that comfort level can change at any point in one’s life. I’m also asking you, dear readers, to keep these things in mind when you consider how a person becomes the person she or he becomes, because the company you keep — whether by blood or by choice — does affect you. It’s not a matter of blame but of illustrating the simple nature of existence: Patterns of learned behavior can go unquestioned for a long time — sometimes even for one’s entire life.
I’m actually surprised I didn’t learn the importance of boundaries, of privacy, much earlier in life. I’ve always been somewhat secretive by nature — sometimes with the right things, thankfully. But sometimes with the wrong things, too. And Lord knows I’ve trusted plenty of unsavory types who might’ve used my “secrets” to exploit me at many points along my life’s journey. In the end, the only way to keep a secret — in fact, the only way to actually have a secret, if you really think about it — is to tell no one, someone much smarter than me once said.
But I actually didn’t experience life-altering, smack-you-in-the-face-obvious betrayal — at least, not of this particular flavor — until I was in my 30s. Around that time, people I entrusted with a very personal secret used it — at least in part — to drag my name through the mud and otherwise make my life a living hell (as much as they could, anyway). And while yes, their behavior was their choice, I’d been stupid and I suppose desperate enough at the time to have confided in these goons, and I’m responsible for that — namely, not respecting my own boundaries properly.
Here’s a part of this “boundaries” equation that’s always going to be tricky for me, though, even if I’ve flushed most (if not all) of the goonage out of my life: I happen to be a writer. More specifically, I’m the type of writer that believes perhaps one should do something useful with the things she’s learned in life and share them, in the hopes that those looking for a light in the darkness as I once was will find it. And I’m a huge fan of the quote by Anne Lamott that goes, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” If that tells you anything about me. And it should.
It’s a tricky balance, maintaining one’s personal boundaries while at the same time using one’s experience for the purpose of self-exploration as well as education. Boundaries as a writer are a whole other can of worms — if you’re the kind of writer I am, anyway. I think part of it is about control; if I decide to share something publicly through writing, that’s fine, but if I’ve entrusted someone else with that something as a secret and that person shares it, that’s uncool, mostly because I didn’t choose to make it public; that other person did. But over the past few years, I’d say it’s become clear to me that certain things in everyone’s lives really should probably remain private. Some of these may have been obvious to you, but again, just keep in mind that where you’ve come from is different from where I’ve come from.
Here are just a couple of those “certain things” most hope you (and me) would just keep to yourself:
1. You sex life. There are very few people who should ever know anything about it. Period. Or maybe exclamation point. Part of the problem is, women grow up watching asinine programs like Sex and the City — oh, yeah, bwotches, I went there! — and think this type of information sharing is key to female bonding. And guys grow up thinking talking about women like pieces of meat is somehow key to male bonding. Let me tell you what it is actually key for: making those who engage in this sort of behavior look like ignorant, inconsiderate morons. I’m not saying people shouldn’t talk about abuse, curing sexually transmitted diseases or contraception. I’m saying keep the sexcapades where they happened. If people wouldn’t tell their friends about their conquests if said conquests were present, that’s a pretty good indicator that they shouldn’t be speaking about it. And if those conquests wouldn’t care if this sort of information was shared or were even there when it was shared, those sad people clearly haven’t figured out proper boundaries, either (not to mention self-respect — but if they had that, they wouldn’t be sleeping with the likes of Herpes McSyphilis, now, would they?).
2. You’d be better off keeping your finances to yourself. Let me tell you from experience that there are few things worse than confiding in someone that you got some kind of raise, bonus, severance, inheritance, whatever, and not even a week later, that same person asks you for money. (That was an awkward conversation.)
There are more, of course — and most would point to religion, politics, health issues, and even sexual orientation as being some of them, though I’d disagree to varying extents — but the most important point here is to know your own personal boundaries. Think of it this way: If the thought of your worst enemy knowing what you’re about to tell Sally in Accounting makes you uncomfortable, don’t tell Sally, because you never know when she might become your worst enemy. It happened here, folks. (Again, names and details have been changed to protect the, well, in this case, not-at-all-innocent.)
The one thing I can be grateful for with respect to my 30s’ eye-opener is that I was already growing conscious of the fact that I was feeling uncomfortable with certain information being in the hands of others in general, some more specifically. What was I doing that raised my awareness and led me to make some different life choices — choices that went against the behavior I’d grown up around and subsequently imitating in my earlier years?
Until my memoir is finished, my friends, that part of the story must remain a secret. 😉