May 27, 2014

How to Have a Private Life in a TMI Culture.


About a year ago, I contacted a former therapist’s office hoping that he still had my old records. (I had been a patient of his when I was in my early teens.)

He was no longer there nor were the records, but his former partners and his old office manager (who also happened to be ex-wife) was.

Before I could say good-bye and thank her for her time she said seemingly out of the blue, “By the way, did you know he was fucking his patients while he was married to me?” Stunned and knowing quite what to say to that, I quickly said my goodbye and hung up.

A few days later I shared my bizarre experience to a close friend. She listened, nodding her head in empathy and commented, “Gee, is there anything some people won’t share today?”

Apparently not. Today, it’s possible to know more than we ever wished to know about people. In many cases, we don’t even have to know them or ever have met them to get the most intimate details about their lives. Celebrities especially millennials are notorious for broadcasting every detail about their lives-no matter how seemingly private or mundane-via social media.

However, it isn’t just the young who are guilty of this.

Even so-called mature intellectuals are guilty of letting go into TMI (too much information) mode as witnessed by the notorious tweet made a few years go by the acclaimed writer, Aylet Waldman, who informed the world that her Pulitzer-prize winning husband, Michael Chabon, gave her HPV which she claimed he contracted from his first wife who also happens to be a well-known writer. Whether she had their permission or not remains a mystery, but as one writer pointed out, “You now know more than you ever needed to about celebrated novelist Michael Chabon.”


However, it isn’t the antics of celebrities which surprise me the most but the utterings of every day people I barely know who reveal things that make Waldman’s tweet look positively private by comparison.

As someone who writes about various aspects of my life, I am always torn by my reaction. On one hand, I like openness and think it’s better than my mother’s generation who came of age in the 50s and 60s when no one ever shared details of their personal lives. However another part of me wonders if the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction.

While I have chosen to share some things about myself that would have had both my mother and my late grandmother fainting dead way—namely, my depression, past sexual abuse, and even a failed attempt at polyamory while I was an undergraduate at college—there are certain limits as to what I will share both as a writer and even amongst friends.

I truly believe that each of us needs to have a private sphere that is only for ourselves and a very select few people to share it. An air of mystery, even a slight one, can actually be alluring.

I thought about that this month as I read that May 19th was the 20th anniversary of the passing of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The fascination with her has always intrigued me ever since I was a child. Even today, a generation of young women who were babies, or not even born, when she died are enthralled by her.

While part of that may be due to her status as a former First Lady, as well as her role as a fashion icon, she was also someone who carefully valued her privacy. She did not do interviews and rarely spoke in public. Her secrets went with her to the grave. While it’s possible that people would have been interested in her no matter what she did, it’s hard to think that level of fascination would have been so great had she had her own reality show and detailed her every movement on social media.

We don’t have to be just like Jackie, but perhaps there is something to be said for a little restraint. At the very least, we can just think of it as good manners. It’s easy to forget, but there some people who feel very uncomfortable or on the spot when someone is sharing the most intimate details of their lives. Plus, part of the fun in meeting new people is getting to know them gradually over time: TMI is the direct opposite of that.

Also, we can even think of ourselves as being a bit different or apart from the crowd; in this day and age of constant updates, endless photo streams of lovers, pets, family members and letting everyone know our business, keeping some mystery and privacy is an act of rebellion.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Pixoto




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