29 March 2011


I still share too much, sometimes. I started learning about not sharing so much when I first started in Al-Anon, where wise women helped me learn how to say no. "All you have to say is no," they said. "You don't have to explain why, or sound guilty, or talk about how you wish you could say yes, or apologize. Just say 'No, that won't work for me.'" I'm still not very good at saying no, but the idea that I don't owe the whole world an explanation of every decision I make was liberating and instructive.*

When John died, I had much to learn about a specific kind of oversharing. I've written about that here before, about the need to explain where Maddie and Riley's dad is even when no one has asked, about elaborating on my single status when no such elaboration is needed. When I keep things to a Need to Know basis, I'm more comfortable as are most people to whom I'm talking. I don't mean close friends here, but just the people one encounters in everyday life: the checker at the grocery store, the librarian, the customer service agent on the phone.

It's that kind of oversharing about John that I still sometimes can't avoid. I want so much for everyone—even those people with whom I intersect in only the most incidental of ways—to know that I had a partnership once, with a person who was a devoted father, an individual full of ideals and character, good grace and humor, and love, so much love. I don't feel unworthy on my own, or less than, it's not that. It's just that it was such a pleasure for everyone he encountered to know John, and such a pleasure for me to have him in my life. I miss sharing that with everyone I know, and even with the those I don't.

I was on the phone yesterday with a mortgage broker. He was really nice, and we soon discovered that we are both parents of twins. We did the twin-parent bonding thing. Then he asked me bunch of really personal questions because that's what people do when they need to get all up in your credit. I mentioned that I had some money available in the form of a life insurance policy that I could liquidate. He asked me the cash value of my policy. Instead of simply telling him how much was left in the account that I got when John died, I said, "Oh, the policy isn't on me! It's on my husband. It was on my husband. Then he died!"


We quickly moved on to a discussion of the other places I stash my vast sums of spare cash, and the moment was gone, but yeesh.

As I reflect on this particular moment of oversharing, however, it's clear to me that this was not one of those times when I wanted, needed to tell a stranger that I had once had a partner. This was a moment of fear and vulnerability. I'm thinking of buying a house. This is scary business! It's a huge decision and a life change, one that I was not sure I ever wanted to make again. And while it feels right to be strongly considering the option and I have all my ducks in a row and I'm perfectly capable of doing this on my own, it's still scary.

On an emotional level, I miss John. On a practical level, I miss shared risk. I am lucky to have many good friends (including one who acts as my stand-in spouse when I need one; I'm looking at you, Erk) and a supportive family who are happy to discuss things with me, help me work through things, make pro and con lists with me, and gently tell me when I might need to consider another point of view. But at the end of the day, they are not there to enjoy the daily ups and downs that are the result of that decision making process. There's a simplicity and ease to always getting my way in life's big decisions, but all the responsibility can also feel like a burden.

This is not to minimize unpartnered life or glorify marriage. It's just to say that my marriage was good to me. My partner was good for me.

*The conundrum of then writing about that on a blog—home of more oversharing than any other form of communication—is not lost on me.


carosgram said...

I think that one of the issues we still have as a culture involves 'what kind of person doesn't have a partner?". As a single woman I have people ask if I am dating anyone, if I have ever dated anyone, 'don't you want to marry again?', etc. I know the kind of unspoken pressure you may feel to explain why you are a single mother and to make sure everyone knows 'it's not your fault'. Hope you find a way to cope with this in a way that feels good to you.

django's mommy said...

Ha! That is SO something I would do- I often have to suppress the urge to tell the guy bagging my groceries, mowing my lawn, etc. that my husband died, I'm not divorced, I did not CHOOSE this road!

Now that I'm moving cross country to be with my boyfriend and embark on an all-new adventure, I am fairly certain that people will look at me, my boyfriend, and my son, and assume we are all biologically related. I'm anticipating many awkward moments where I blurt out "He's not my son's father" or my son says, "He's not my daddy. My daddy died!" Yippee.

carolyn said...

Re: your last line, just this very morning I was reading a blog (Beyond Blue) about very personal issues -addiction + depression not the least - that had this line
"First of all, who gave you my diary? (Oh yeah, it’s online.)"

One of the first times I was out in public after my husband died, and totally not used to the scenario yet (uh, still not, @ 20 months) and someone asked how he was, because she knew he had been sick, but not how sick, and it totally took me by surprise and I was all "Ugh, he DIED" in a withering tone. Her response: Blink. Blink. Crickets.
Yeah. Talk about awkward.

Still not so great at knowing what to say. Part of that is that there is no easy way to mention it, have someone respond appropriately, and then move on. It derails every conversation because it is so huge. Even for people who, really, have no reason to care.

Peg said...

I know exactly how you feel but in a different way. We recently adopted my two nieces after my sister and her husband were killed in a car accident. People will innocently ask me how many kids we have (checkout lady, etc.) and I feel like I have to tell the whole story. I have no idea why the need to overshare is there but I just can't help myself. It has led to many an awkward moment. If you figure out a reason or solution, pass it along :)

Dr. Smak said...

Talk about a lead balloon. Kinda kills every conversation, subtle as an atom bomb.

I do it too. There are so many reasons why, seems to differ depending on the day. Sometimes I think I'm tired of being the only one who lives in a world where terrible things happen.

Jay Cosnett said...

I remember you once scoffed at my concern that I might out-overshare you. Not sure if you've read my blog lately, but I suspect I may have you beat. And, you're right, that's not necessarily a good thing.

On the other hand, for me it is raw and new enough (14 months+) that I don't necessarily give a flip about freaking someone out, if there's a reason for it to come up. I was at a professional/social event, talking to a friend I knew well (and who "knew"), who was with some people I didn't know. I was talking about working half-time. One of the people I didn't know said something like, "Gee, I'd like to work half-time--how can I get that deal?" Not in a mean-spirited way, but I just blurted out, "Have your wife die on ya'!" She turned white as a ghost and asked, "Is that what happened?" I smiled, patted her on the shoulder, said, "Yes," and then I went on about how it's working, how Social Security Survivors benefits helped, etc. And it seemed OK. But if she's permanently offended or something, I can't say I really care a whole lot. Part of why I don't care is because, well, I'm just not a very nice person sometimes (!), but a lot of it is that I'm on somewhat of a crusade--people treat death and cancer and solo parenting like it's contagious and spread through words. Like if we don't talk about it or acknowledge that it happens, it won't happen to me. Until, of course, it does (or some other life-changing loss) and then we're the ones who are lonely and isolated, wondering why no one will talk to us. Which to me is completely idiotic, if for no other reason than the simple fact that the death of a loved one is probably one of the most universal human experiences there is. But instead of that bringing us together, it pushes us apart. Wrong, wrong. Very bad.

Out-overshare me? Just try. Game on.


Fairlington Blade said...

Hmm. I do that from a different end. Both of my twins have autism. I know you know, but in the rare event that someone else reads a comment, I thought I'd put it out there. Hey look! I'm over-sharing two sentences into a comment.

Far too often, I work in the info when I don't have to. Sometimes, it flows from the conversation. If you're talking about preschools, well, my kids go to two preschools. A regular one in the morning and afternoon and a special needs program in the end.

It feels natural to me to talk about my kids' autism. Your kids are learning to walk. My kids are learning to handle social interactions with peers. Over time, it became a conscious thing. My kids have autism and they're great kids! Their preschool classmates love them, especially Secondo. Yeah, I'd love it if I didn't have to prompt a response when a peer says Hi Secondo! But, it's part and parcel of my kids and I think their sweet nature helps.

So, yeah. I overshare. Deliberately. I think it's good for more parents to be aware of kids like mine. And I would venture the opinion that other folks need to know that sometimes, one loses a loved one far too early.


Hannah Im said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hannah Im said...

I so sympathize with you, but at the same time I rather envy you. You still have a mind that wants to reach out to people, that wants them to know the real you! That's a beautiful thing, even if you do have to curb your sharing.

Living for so long in Korea and having a complicated private life has made me a compulsive "undersharer." There are advantages to being private, but sometimes I wish I still had my simple mind.

Peace to you :-)

MJ said...

Oops, somehow I put this on the previous post, so here it is again:
If you mention that your husband died and the other person feels awkward, that's their problem, not yours. I recently asked after an acquaintance's mother and learned that she had died a while ago. I said "I'm so sorry" and she said "thank you," and then we moved on. It's too bad that you feel bad when people don't know how to respond. I guess it would help to come up with a way to follow up an awkward silence. Maybe you could say something like "It was very sad," and then get back to the original subject of conversation - e.g., to the mortgage guy say, "It was very sad. But at least we can put the insurance proceeds toward buying a new home."

Julie said...

I think maybe sometimes you feel the need to explain to others where the kids' dad is because you are a single mom, and in our culture "single mom" brings to mind a "single dad" somewhere out there, which then people infer "divorce" which can also lead to "xyz was a shitty person" and in your over sharing, you want to make sure people understand that you did not pick the wrong person to marry and have children with. You picked the right person, a good husband and a good dad, and a really terrible thing happened. And you maybe want to make sure you differentiate between your single status and say...mine.

Anonymous said...

I'll just dive into some oversharing here--my father died of a drug overdose while shooting up when I was eight. I did not ever meet him before he died--the plan was for me to meet him when I was 13 (also sort of wierd, I know). These circumstances have lead to some oversharing. If someone asks about my father and I simply say "he died" then people assume I knew him before he died and offer all kinds of sympathy--which I felt sort of bad about because I didn't know him--so when I was quite young still I would cheerfully say something along the lines of "it's OK--I never knew the guy!" which of course most people don't think is OK--so it would end uncomfortably. So then I switched to just saying "he died" with no further explanation, but then people wanted to know how he died--also not a comfortable subject--and also a subject that leads me to want to explain that he didn't raise me--I was (and still sometimes am) sort of afraid people would think less of me for having a father with a drug addiction. Now I say "he died" and do my best to change the subject. Most people let me do that without pushing further. If people push further I say something like "it's a long wierd story", or "it's complicated". I'm still not at all pleased with how to handle it, but I have at least gotten to the place where I don't feel like I owe others an explanation to prevent them from feeling badly for me for the wrong reasons.

GretchenJoanna said...

I stumbled upon your blog I think by way of Left Handed Housewife's. And this subject of "oversharing" reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton quote that hints at one reason why we might say what feels like too much:

"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of wisdom of a mustache."

Thank you for letting me read your diary, my fellow human.