Friday, 1 March 2013

Talking Boundaries

One question that came up during Seraphapalooza was about boundaries. How much should girls in romantic relationships share about those relationships with their Single friends and acquaintances?

And my feeling is, practically nothing.

I'll go easy on the truly love-struck. Chatty people love to talk about the people they love. It probably increases our endorphins. Chatty new mothers prattle about their babies. Chatty grandmothers bring out the photos of their grandchildren. Chatty teenage girls interpret the utterances of their idols with the enthusiasm of graduate students of linguistics. Chatty professors go on too long about their star students. When we were engaged, B.A. talked about me so much one of his friends told him he had to stop or he wouldn't be invited round any more.

But the truly love-struck, though dull, tend to tell us happy things. It's the people who have gone past the shallow sugar-coating of the creme brule that is Human Relationship who tend to tell us things that make us squirm.

We really should not be saying personal things about our boyfriends and husbands to anyone else without a really, REALLY good reason. A really good reason is that one has grown afraid of one's boyfriend or husband and wants another woman's opinion. Another good reason is that one is not sure how to handle a boyfriend's or husband's sexual demands and wants another woman's opinion. A less compelling, but still valid, reason is that one is unsure how to get along with her boyfriend's or husband's family.

These conversations are best held in private with ONE woman friend, perhaps a best friend, or an older married woman, substitute-aunt, friend. Super personal information about boyfriends or husbands, i.e. men who trust you not to make them laughingstocks, is not good material for girls-together-having-drinks. It is just as horrible for a woman to share intimate details about a man with a group of women as it is for a man to share intimate details about a woman with a group of men.  

Meanwhile, I think it is incredibly insensitive to have any complaining conversation about a boyfriend with a woman who has no boyfriend and about a husband with a woman who doesn't have a husband.  There is also the virgin factor. It is rude, disrespectful and incredily unladylike to tell women with very little sexual experience information that they will not understand or are not prepared to handle.

The fastest way to derail a woman who is dying to tell you things you don't want to know, is to raise your hand and say "Whoa, TMI."

"TMI", in case English is not your first language, is an acronym for "Too Much Information." It is a reproof, but it is a very gentle reproof, and should do the trick. And the other women around may be very grateful to you and back you up right away. If she persists, and she is a friend, say "No, really. I feel uncomfortable hearing such personal things." And if she still persists, she's in line for a row. Don't let her row with you. You row with her. Draw the line. Tell her you do not want to hear about her sexual life; it forcibly puts images in your head you don't want there.

Meanwhile, I wonder if a lot of terribly abusive relationships aren't prolonged artificially because the woman gets rid of her actually useful anger and disappointment by venting them in conversations with her pals. How much better if she just spoke to one friend, and that friend gave serious and solid advice!

Anyway, sound off in combox.


SCG said...

Ugh, yes to the insensitive part! I have an acquaintance who's dating someone and she likes to complain about how he's not [fill in the blank with the complaint of the day] enough and then tell me and other Single gals that "you're lucky not to be dating someone! It's soooooo hard to have a boyfriend, especially one who [doesn't call 9000 times a day because he's caring for his aging parents or some other perfectly valid excuse].

MaryJane said...

I guess I must be blessed with good friends, because I have never had this problem. Having dated a man, on the other hand, who shares too much info about me with other people... ugh.

(Incidentally, I think priests should be giving this kind of Seraphic advice to men, rather than telling them it is ok to talk about the girl with their friends and family because in human history courtship happened in a community and now we are living such isolated lives, it's terrible, blah blah...) double ugh.

Anonymous said...

First time to comment here... I think you need to be careful saying not to talk about romantic kinds of things. Having open conversations about small stuff (where you went to dinner, whether you like this guy, what you aren't sure about, how cute you think he is) sets the stage so that it's easy to have big conversations (sex, break up or not, interpreting odd conversations/behaviors). If you err on the side of keeping things too close, it makes it harder to broach the subject when you really need friends there. And establishing a norm of communication makes it easier for friends to know when to call you ( out for possibly doing something stupid. I'm not saying you need to talk about everything, but I think regular communication is good. I'm single (perhaps obvious) and I would think it was strange if a girl friend didn't mention anything about her new bf. I do agree that intimate details are TMI - married or not.

c'est la vie said...

I see Anonymous's (?) point but I think a distinction has to be made between the early stages of dating and serious commitment, ie engagement or marriage.

At the beginning I think it is important for other people to know what's going on, because if you're getting involved with someone manipulative or emotionally unhealthy in some way, often friends and family are the first to warn you before it goes too far.

But I think Seraphic is talking about people who are in serious relationships and revealing the very private personal information of another without good cause, which is certainly not very nice.

Seraphic said...

Hmm. I allowed Anonymous comments for just that one post!

But, yes, I did mean truly personal stuff. As you see, I gave the love-struck a pass. It is okay, and indeed a good idea, and enjoyable, to tell your best pals who he is, and where you met him, and what he said at the party, and if you think he might ask you for a coffee, and how coffee went, and what you did and what he gave you for Valentine's Day.

Beyond that though, you're talking best friend, and not girl-talk, territory. I keep thinking about a rather tasteless moment on an Edinburgh bus where the English girl behind me finished her litany of what she and her boyfriend did for Valentine's Day with "And then we had a little shag." I so did not need to hear that, and I bet her pal didn't either.

c'est la vie said...

Ugh.Definitely TMI.

Although not as bad, I also find it TMI when people with whom you are not especially close insist on giving detailed and gory descriptions of their own or their nearest and dearest's latest medical procedure. So much for asking, "How are you."

A little discretion goes a long way...

isobel said...

I too dated a man who shared personal information about me with his friends while we were dating, so I can now basically assume that any personal detail about me is public domain among his circle, since we have broken up. Ugh. Seriously cringeworthy.

I learned some of these lessons the hard way. There are two particular things I learned.

1. If I learn something unpleasant about a man I'm dating and want to just blissfully ignore it and proceed dating, rather than talk to a trusted friend about it, that is a major internal alarm-sounder for me that something's not right.

2. Like SCG's friend, I over-complained horribly to one of my best and sweetest friends about troubles I was having with the first guy I dated seriously. I was inexperienced with dating, it was a very poor match, and I felt overwhelmed, inadequate, and insecure. (did I mention it was a poor match?) She eventually pointed out that I should be having those conversations with my then-boyfriend himself instead of unloading my worries on her. I think that observation saved my friendship with her (thank God), and it opened the door to better communication not only with that guy, but every guy (even the good ones) I've dated since. It's helpful to talk to friends, but I think you also need to go to the source of the issue when necessary, because it can be very instructive.

Domestic Diva said...

I once dated a guy who was controlling and disapproving of many things I did. I had poor boundaries at the time (nothing immoral) and was very confused about the whole dynamic. Consequently, I kept putting up the stop sign when he brought up talk of marriage. I wanted to be discreet about our struggles, but one night I was out with some girlfriends who asked when we might be getting engaged. I said I wasn't sure, that I couldn't figure out why I wasn't ready to say yes, when one of them said, "Does he pressure you?" I said that he did, and they all said they could see it. It led to my describing the dynamics of our relationship and their affirming that a) they saw that too and b) I was right to be putting the brakes on the relationship. I have always been grateful for their support - all the world and my family too was saying this was such a wonderful guy and I should marry him before he got away, but these gals supported my breaking off a relationship that would have otherwise become a disastrous marriage.

Sunnysaffer said...

I was once dating a guy who admitted he had gone out for dinner and "made out" with an old girlfriend (we had been dating exclusively for several months). My first instinct was of course to break up with him, but I said I needed some time to think things over. Cue my best friend saying to me "We are so lucky (our boyfriend's names) would never cheat on us. I nearly bit my tongue off in supressing the urge to blurt out what my boyfriend did. I didn't, we broke up and my friend (and family) still think of this ex as a wonderful guy, but that it just didn't work out. This I believe was the correct thing to do as I was not struggling to understand my situation or to make a decision and telling my friend would have been a spitrful thing to do. If I had however been unsure of what to do next, I think sharing this information with my friend would have been the right thing to do. Sorry, a very long post to make the point that context is important. What can and cannot be shared depends on the situation.

Seraphic said...

Sunny, you deserve great praise for preserving your boyfriend's reputation when you knew you would end the relationship! I can definitely imagine how tempted you must have been to spill your guts, and I hope I would have behaved as well. (Not just in not telling people in what he did, but also in breaking up with him.)