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Sociability • Friendship

The Difficulties of Oversharing

We hear so much about the difficulties caused by those who cannot be intimate, who seem incapable of disclosing anything of what they genuinely feel, it can take time to register the opposite but no less grave problem: those who cannot keep enough of themselves to themselves, those whose hunger for closeness overwhelms their concern for their own safety, those who will, in a poignant bid to hold others’ attention, lay out – within minutes of a new encounter – secrets that they would have been wiser to take to the grave.

This isn’t to deny the fun that oversharers can bring to social life. These won’t be the types talking about the economic contraction or where they last went on holiday. Contact with other humans should be about getting to the marrow of things, they believe, which is why we will quickly get to hear about their ex’s sexual difficulty, the vicious row they had about their mother’s will, exactly how much they earn, the troubles they have with their digestion, their favourite bedroom position and the nature of an early childhood trauma.

The difficulty lies in the toll these divulgences impose on oversharers themselves. An evening of entertainment is too often followed by a shame-ridden awakening. Now that the laughter has dissipated, they may feel as though they were seized by an impulse with which they don’t identify; an urge to invite others into their deep self without the strength to impose the barest of checks on who they might be.

A painful developmental story tends to lie behind the compulsion. We share too much when we have been too lonely; we fail to understand the risks of over exposure when we have suffered in environments in which so little sincere or real was ever exchanged. We rush to confess because no one showed us a steady, composed route to intimacy. To the isolated former child, no alarm sounds at the thought of having an unbarred conversation with a character who came into our lives twenty minutes ago – such is the promise and lure of togetherness. There is no kind of armour in this direction, so often did the pain and danger come from elsewhere.

We might with time make our peace with remaining somewhat more mysterious, we might more judiciously weigh up the benefits of a sugar rush of disclosure against the slower satisfactions of safety. We might tell very few people indeed what is going on for us in love, with our health or with work, not because we want to be unkind or boring, but because our first priority has become to look after ourselves. 

We don’t have to answer too many intrusive question, nor – as importantly – do we need to ask them. It isn’t – we can learn – any reason to panic if we are still talking about what someone did over the weekend or their favourite kind of gloves after the first course. We don’t have to feel boring for ending up in many a boring conversation. We aren’t dull at heart, we’re just calmly working out (in a process that could take months or years) whether we’ve stumbled on one of those very rare characters who truly deserve to hear from the deepest parts of us.

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