I know I’m the sort of person who could hobble around with my foot in a huge cast and, when concerned friends and acquaintances asked me what I’d done to myself, be annoyed that people are so damn nosy. If I’d ever had children, I would have walked around 8-months pregnant and raged against those who asked such personal questions as when was my due date, and did I know if it was a boy or a girl. I’m fully aware that this means I’m what some might euphemistically refer to as a “private person,” rather than “an uptight, prudish weirdo.” However, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one in the world who is often quite shocked by the information others will freely offer me, information I did not ask them to provide and that I would have to know someone for five or more years and have at least shared an apartment or a house, if not a bed, before I myself would divulge. And if I were going to divulge it, I would certainly take a look at my surroundings, figure out whether or not this was the appropriate place to discuss such a thing, and give my listener a bit of warning, set him or her up for the fact that This Is Serious/Embarrassing Shit, not act as though this is a conversation about the weather.
I’ve never been quite sure what it is about me that inspires people to tell me all that they do. I’m pretty sure I don’t look like a Father Confessor, and I most certainly am not going around saying, “I’ll tell you something really weird about myself if you tell me something really weird about you” (memes notwithstanding, of course). Nonetheless, I am treated to such information as that from a former colleague of mine who told me, right there in our open cubicles, within hearing distance of bosses who might have picked up on it if they’d had their ears open, that she saved all the condom wrappers every time she and her high school boyfriend had sex, writing the date and place on each one. She was not a life-long friend of mine. I knew her for exactly a year, socialized with her the way work colleagues do (party here, happy hour there) and basically never saw her again once she left the company. But there she was, giving me this information.
That information is pretty weird in and of itself, but okay. She was a teenager when she was collecting her condom wrappers. I pretty much forgive all weirdness at that age, as long as it doesn’t hurt or kill anyone. She thought this guy was the love of her life. I’m sure she expected they’d get married and have children. (And then what? Her children are flipping through Mom and Dad’s scrapbook pleading, “Tell us again, oh please tell us again how it happened the night of ‘Mom’s kitchen, 8/5/88?’”) Somewhat, I suppose, forgivable behavior for a 17-year-old, possibly having sneaked into the R-rated Blue Velvet at age 14, acquiring very strange ideas about love and romance. However, by age 26, she was married to someone else. She had already established for me what an ass that former boyfriend had turned out to be. At this point in her life, telling anyone about those condom wrappers wasted on a jerk should have been as embarrassing as showing up to high school in nothing but Scooby Doo underwear. Yet, here she was, sharing it with a colleague she barely knew, in a place where any number of people could have listened in and possibly sued her for sexual harassment.
Then, there was the friend (not one of those “friendly-friends” as we called them in my 20s, which for me would have been a man with whom I’d shared more than conversation, but “just a friend,” one with whom I’d never even shared a house) who blithely informed me with absolutely no warning (I think before this information came out of his mouth, we were just generally complaining about family members and the things they do to drive us nuts. Maybe that was a warning? Maybe I’m just completely out of tune when it comes to “about-to-receive-really-strange-facts-from-friend” detectors) that his brother had told his mother that he’d given a venereal disease to his wife, a VD that he’d picked up having sex with a prostitute (well, that one certainly beat my “my-brother-is-driving-me-nuts-because-he-hasn’t-returned-two-phone-calls” story).
My god, was this more information than I ever wanted to know about a man I’d never met. It was more information than I wanted to know about my friend. I mean, what kind of a man, in this day-and-age, who has a family, still sleeps with prostitutes, and what kind of a man over the age of eighteen, would call his mother up and tell her such a thing? Obviously, the kind of man to whom my friend was related. I quickly forgave my friend for being related to such a man (you should see some of my own relatives and hear what they do – not that I would tell you), but I didn’t forgive him for the fact that I might one day meet this brother, and what would I do then? All right, the brother and his wife and two kids happened to live in Iowa (and I didn’t have plans to go to Iowa anytime soon – still don’t), and it isn’t as though my friend is likely to invite me to any family reunions, but still. At least he’d had the foresight to tell me this when we were alone in a car together, traveling down to D.C. We weren’t in an open office space. That wasn’t much comfort, though. What if we’d been in a terrible accident, because I was so shocked by this news, an accident in which I’d been unhurt? What if his brother had flown from Iowa to visit him in the hospital where I sat by the bed in which he lay with two broken legs and bandages around his eyes, while guilt oozed from every pore of my body? Or worse, what if he’d become a vegetable, and his brother had decided to sue me for everything I was worth? Would I have the wherewithal not to stand up in court, shouting, “Who are you to take away all my David Bowie CDs and fancy kitchen gadgets, you VD-ridden, prostitute-loving, adultery-committing mama’s boy, you?!”
More recently, I’m in the very early stages of a budding friendship with a woman I like very much. She’s everything I’m not: tough, confident, very attentive to others, a fantastic mom to two fantastic kids, and wonderfully outspoken. But maybe she’s just a little too outspoken. She stopped over at my house one evening while I was doing the dishes, and right there, as I was wiping down the counters and chattering on about what foods I like to cook, just about to offer her some tea, she announced to me that when she was in college, she tried to kill herself. Just like that, as though she were saying, “I was doing dishes tonight, too, before I came over.” I don’t know: is it just me, or isn’t this the sort of thing that one normally leads up to before allowing it to flow from brain to tongue? Shouldn’t we have been having some sort of general discussion about depression, or maybe have been to see a movie that triggered such a conversation? Or maybe she could at least have told me that college was really rough, and she suffered from depression, but I didn’t get any of that. She then went on to give me some details I could very easily have lived without and to say how she completely sympathizes with anyone who chooses to take his or her own life.
Couldn’t we, you know, if not shared a house together, at least shared a few more meals, maybe a movie or two, even a couple of blog posts, before hitting me with such heavy stuff? It isn’t that I don’t want close friends feeling comfortable enough to talk to me about such things. I do, just as I want to be able to discuss such things with close friends. However, we aren’t that close yet. And if we’re not that close, I at least want some warning that this is coming, some sort of, “I’ve got something really weird to tell you, and it’s hard for me to talk about it, but I’m enjoying getting to know you, and I’d like you to know,” or at least, short-hand for that, something recognizable as, “Sit down, because this is disturbing.” But I didn’t get any of that, and now our friendship has taken a whole different turn, one that’s left me a little uneasy. We didn’t climb up that big hill on the roller coaster first; we just went right down it, upside down and everything, completely unprepared. I’m cautious in a way I wasn’t previous to that conversation. Meanwhile, she’s never mentioned it again, carrying on as though we’re still in the “So, where’d you grow up, and would you like to have lunch sometime?” stage.
So call me an “uptight, prudish weirdo” when you ask me where I went to college and I reply, “That’s none of your business.” Or look at me as if I’m such when you decide to tell me all about the sex change operation your grandmother has elected to have at age 75, and I cut you off to tell you I don’t want to hear it. I’d rather be known as “Ms. Uptight, Prudish Weirdo” than “weird, private, inappropriate-at-this-time information receptacle.”