Tuesday, June 30, 2009

please, people, please

This is one of those issues that I don't know if it's just me and I'm a Bad Person for feeling unhappy/put out by it, or if on the other hand I'm too nice for not saying something about it.

I have an acquaintance. I won't quite call her a friend. She and I have to work together in a volunteer capacity.

Earlier this week, I was involved in a volunteer-group meeting where she was present. I was told, "plan on the meeting being no longer than an hour" which was fine with me, seeing as it was coming at the end of a long day of teaching and research work.

Except. My acquaintance (Let's call her MA just to make it easy) decided at the end of the meeting she needed to "share." She brought up an issue that was IN NO WAY related to the topic of the meeting. (It was about a rather horrifying medical procedure she'd been through, and the aftermath).

Hand to God, it took her 45 minutes to spin out her story.

All the while I was sitting there, thinking:

"shutupshutup please finish up let me go home I'm tired I have to do my piano practice for today I need to wash my hair I'M TIRED I really don't want to be hearing this it's icky and sad and it's making me sad and please please please shutupshutup"

No one else was saying/doing anything, so I just sat there, feeling stricken, occasionally nodding and making little neutral sounds while my mind frantically tried to find one of its happy places to go to.

(This was a very horrifying and graphic description of a botched surgery and its aftermath).

And after I got home, I was sad and twitchy the rest of the day, thinking about the stuff that person had been through. Felt kind of depressed all evening (though that could just be because it is OH MY GOODNESS HOT here right now, and because I'm watching some of the new legislation ram its way through Congress and I'm fearing that next summer, I won't be able to even cool my house to the really-too-toasty-for-me 76* I currently keep it at.) And I had bad dreams - like really bad dreams, like the kind where you call up the people you love next morning just to convince yourself that it really was just a dream and they are in fact still alive, kind of bad dreams.

And I blame my unhappiness partly on this person's frantic need to SHARE.

Look, I don't want to know those kinds of stories. I will ask if I want to know. I feel somewhat offended and taken advantage of that this person used what was supposed to be technically a business meeting to seek attention from others. And to bring the whole room down.

And I never know how to respond to these things.

And I never know if I'm over-reacting to the oversharing. Oh, I never SAY anything, but I sit there feeling overwhelmed and sad and not wanting to listen and wishing I could run far, far away.

And so, here is my question: Am I too selfish with my time, to feel imposed upon because MA needed to tell everyone in the room intimate medical details? Am I being insensitive or unsympathetic? (I wonder at times - and I say this with some trepidation because I know there are people who read this blog from time to time who have relatives who have actually been diagnosed with this - if I could maybe be a wee bit farther along the Asperger's Syndrome spectrum than normal people, because I can't seem to feel content to sit there and nod and smile and tell myself, "Bless her heart, she just needs to share" when someone pulls this. No. I want to stand up, say, "This is making me sad and I don't want to hear it" and walk out and go home instead. But I don't, because I'm a big wussy in some ways.)

Is it normal for people to want to share sad gory details of their life?
Is it normal for other people to willingly be an audience to that?
Am I weird or messed up in the head for being unhappy over that, for feeling like those 45 minutes of my life were stolen from me, for feeling like I have lots of tough stuff that goes on in my life that I NEVER tell ANYONE because I think if I told someone I'd feel like I couldn't handle my own stuff.

Is it wrong for me to feel a little envious of the attention the chronic sharers get? I'd love to have people listening that raptly to me, but....I just can't do that. I can't share all the deep dark stuff in my life.


The Fifth String said...

Is it normal for people to want to share sad gory details of their life?

Unfortunately, I think so. Worst offenders that I've seen are women who, upon hearing of another's pregnancy, immediately regale her with horror stories about their labor and birth pains.

Is it normal for other people to willingly be an audience to that?

Jeez, I hope not. But I think it might be, if only for politeness and not wanting to stir up a ruckus.

Dave R. said...

"Share" is what you do if you have something useful or good, and want others also to benefit from it. What this woman wants isn't to share, but to tell and then receive from others pity commensurate with her self-pity.

Relating the situation to your professional life: if two people in a class are conversing about something not related to the lecture or the course material, in the process disrupting the learning process for others, and you ask one of them if he or she would like to "share" with the rest of the class, you're obviously being sarcastic.

This woman's relating her intensely private and intimate troubles to a captive audience, without being prompted or asked, is cruelty under the guise of sensitivity--aided and abetted by her knowledge that YOU would be perceived as cruel if you were to get up and leave.

Alli said...

Hm.. If she'd taken 5 minutes to share her story (which would've still made it inappropriate) I might say you were being selfish with your time. But 45 minutes in what was supposed to be a little over an hour long meeting already... she's the one being selfish.

And you're not the only one who's had the "oh please shuttup!" moment during a meeting like that... :-)

Kate P said...

Man, that's one of the reasons I hate going to meetings (regardless of how much they are necessary). Discretion is dead. I blame TV talk shows.

Mr. Bingley said...

I think Kate's on to it. The whole talkshow expose all your intimate details bit has completely destroyed any sense of propriety. No one needs to hear other peoples shit, especially when it's randomly tossed out there in an attention-whore fashion.

If I may quote Tom Lehrer:

Speaking of love, one problem that recurs more and more frequently these days in books,and plays,and movies on, is the inability of people to communicate with the people they love. Husbands and wives who can't communicate; children who can't communicate with their parents, and so on. And the characters in these books, and plays, and so on, and in real life, I might add, spend hours bemoaning the fact that they can't communicate. I feel that if a person can't communicate the very least he can do is to shut up.

As my father used to say, "we all got problems, chicky baby."