Ask Polly: I Overshared My Way Out of a Boyfriend!

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Dear Polly,

I don’t know what to do. This past summer I moved from Chicago to L.A. to start my lifelong dream of attending a prestigious film school and meet awesome collaborators. I worked out all summer before, because I felt like that’s something you need to do before moving to L.A., and probably felt more confident in my abilities as an artist and in my physique than I ever have before. Then I met a guy in my program who I fell hard for. When I say hard, I mean hard.

When he finally came out to me at a party, I had already consumed seven vodka-tonics and my compulsive need to overshare kicked in. Not only did I tell him that I liked him but also that I thought he was hot and that I was looking for a long-term relationship. Not necessarily with him, but yeah, still enough to scare any sane man away.

For the past three months, it’s been a Six Flags roller-coaster ride full of highs and lows and mostly extremely lows. I started to develop friendships with other people in the program, and due to either loneliness or because I’m too trusting, I told some of these people details of what this guy and I had talked about. Then someone told him. In my mind it wasn’t too revealing, but to him it caused a lot of hurt and pain because I don’t think he’s totally out of the closet yet, something I didn’t realize (not that it justifies my actions). I’ve been trying to autocorrect and apologize, making him feel like he could trust me again, but every time we start to get close, someone asks him about us or I end up telling someone a detail of what we’ve talked about and he gets very, very upset.

As of right now, he isn’t speaking to me at all, which is terribly awkward because we have to see each other every day. I try and be as nice as possible but then I end up feeling mad at him for hating me and equally shameful for being so bad with men and hurting someone who isn’t as open with their homosexuality as I am. I’ve tried to not let it control me, but I’ve lost pretty much all of my muscle, my eating habits are a mess, and when I should be focusing on film, I’m just very harsh and critical of myself. I should just be enjoying having this time to create. I feel like I’m spiraling.

I’ve never had a boyfriend before, so I’m scared that these tendencies of mine will always prevent me from finding love. Am I a bad person for being such an oversharer? How can I change this so I can start moving forward with guys and not ruin it so early on?

Sincerely,

One Sad Gay Man

Dear One Sad Gay Man,

As someone who has overshared for years and years and years and years and years and years and years and yeeeeeaaars, let me say this: Don’t overshare.

Don’t do it! Don’t even consider doing it. Just stop it. Completely. This is not me saying “Stop being you.” This is me saying: Your oversharing is not just your vibrant personality blossoming all over the place in the fertile nourishment of seven vodka-tonics. No. Your oversharing is an insecure, impulsive attempt to fix everything, make everyone else and yourself comfortable and excited and confessional, and transform the world into a gorgeous kaleidoscope of dancing and manic chatter and nudity and ecstatic supernatural awesomeness.

I know that you see it as innocent when you do it. You say too much — oops! But it’s cute and then everyone else says too much and suddenly everyone knows that it’s okay to tell everyone everything. YIPEEE! Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Instead, you say too much and everyone else thinks, “Whoa, that was a strange thing to tell us.” And then they back away, gossip about it, and don’t trust you anymore. And if they’re insecure and conflicted, too — because who isn’t? — they might even start to believe that you’re manipulating them, that you have nefarious intentions, that you’re a twisted trainwreck of emotional neediness and bravado that’s going to fuck up their lives if they let you.

That sucks because they don’t fucking get it! You’re super-nice! You’re just trying to make sparkly magic happen! I know that Lord, do I know it. But you still have to face the feelings that are compelling you to overshare, and those feelings lie at the heart of why nobody trusts it: When you overshare, you’re not just relaxing and letting your soul fly free. You’re trying to force things. You’re trying to get closer to the people around you too quickly. You’re trying to make sense of some challenge you’re facing among new friends YOU don’t quite trust yet. You’re trying to rally people to your side. You’re trying to see who’s really your friend and who isn’t. You’re trying to get a permanent, comforting answer to the question, “Is it him or is it me? Is he nuts and I’m good? Help me out here!” You’re trying to solidify your place in the world.

What’s fucked up is that you can be totally secure in the world and be pretty damn secure with yourself and you still (impulsively, maybe while drunk) take a wild ride down this Oversharing Chute and then find that there aren’t any more “No, I Really Am Sane, Really!” Ladders, so you can’t climb back to solid ground with the people who heard you overshare. Maybe you still associate the extreme drunken trust fall of college life with solid, intimate friendships, and so you find yourself compulsively trying to access that flavor of intimacy too quickly with new friends via reckless oversharing. And maybe you drink too much without noticing that no one else has a drink in their hands at midnight like you do. And you want everyone to know everything, all the time, because that’s how you’ve always operated and it’s always worked pretty well, even if a few of your long-term friends kind of think of you as an emotional wrecking ball.

I am right there with you. But there comes a time in your life when you have to soberly review how your behavior and choices are functioning in a brand new context. Does my old formula for success still work? Or does it make me seem like a boozy, dangerous secret-spewing clown show? I think if you look closely at your habit of oversharing, you’ll realize that it doesn’t make you more secure and safe in the world. It doesn’t bring steady, trustworthy friends to your side. It erodes other people’s trust in you instead.

I’m harping on the oversharing part of this because it’s the linchpin to a lot of other things for you. You have to stop drinking to excess among brand-new friends. You have to stop trying to please other people and learn to protect and please yourself sometimes instead. You have to stop thinking in black and white terms: “I will be insanely buff and enormously creative and brilliant and everyone will fall in love with me and let me direct their movies and all of it, everything, me me me!” And you have to think about all of the colors in between: Working hard at things that take time, and really trying to savor the work itself, regardless of whether it leads to winning some Hollywood lottery or not. Getting to know people slowly, without seven vodka-tonics cued up, and instead of trying to please and impress them, deciding for yourself who is worth your time and who isn’t, who has an open heart and who is just trying to seem cooler and smarter than they really are most of the time. Some people maneuver through their whole lives in pursuit of status above everything else, and lots of those people live in Los Angeles. They’re not any more malevolent than you are; they’re just controlled by forces they don’t entirely understand, forces that make them fucking bored (and boring!) and miserable, but they never know why.

Telling yourself a story about how your life is a crazy roller-coaster and you’re just a nutty oversharer and there’s nothing you can do about it is another way of being controlled by forces you don’t understand, forces that are making you sad and exacerbate your insecurities.

It’s time to face the fact that not everyone wants the same things you do from conversations and social engagements. God, this was tough for me to figure out! It took so fucking long. I always figured that since I was being very open and straightforward about everything I’d been through, it wasn’t a big deal to analyze other people’s challenges. After all, I told them all my stuff. Why couldn’t everyone throw all of their baggage and issues on the table and sort through it together, you know, for kicks?

That’s what I always wanted. But other people don’t operate that way. They don’t want you to know their life story straight out of the gate. And even though this guy you’ve been seeing maybe isn’t totally out of the closet, I don’t think it’s fair to walk around saying, “Well, he’s not really out of the closet yet,” as if you understand him to be way behind you in the gay developmental stages. You don’t really know what’s working on him. You might assume that his struggle takes the same, familiar outlines of other people’s struggles. But you don’t know.

And people don’t like that shit. Even when you’re just loosely discussing how much you love someone, and you drop in a little “Oh he’s not out yet, so …” No. It’s just not your story to tell, period, the end.

That said, here you are. You’ve never had a boyfriend before. This guy is hugely private and hugely embarrassed by you walking around saying out loud that he’s gay. Is this going to be your first boyfriend? This guy? Whatever his reasons for feeling weird about the situation might be — and he sounds fine! No one is saying he’s bad! — that’s not what you need! Not remotely! YOUR FIRST BOYFRIEND? Come on! That’s like giving yourself a mud pie for your birthday when what you really deserve is a big raspberry-chocolate-mousse cake with sparklers on top, or a beautiful cake so big that it needs to be wheeled in from another room, at which point it explodes into fireworks and a half-naked Idris Elba pops out and sings HAPPY BIRTHDAY to YOU, Sad Gay Man, YOU YOU YOU!

But we’re dealing with more than just a simple matter of personality differences and what you do and don’t deserve. You also have to confront the ways you use other people’s private stories as currency in conversations. Maybe you don’t always feel incredibly valued as a human being without a hot body and great ideas and an entertaining personality. That’s to be expected, since that’s how our culture teaches us to feel about ourselves and each other. Maybe you don’t see why anyone would tolerate you without a hot ass and fun conversation and lots of sparklers exploding all over the place. So you whip out all your tricks at every turn. It’s the only way you know to feel loved and secure and to win other people’s affections: by saying too much. By using whatever you have. You’re a verbal slut.

Boy, do I understand. But I want you to pay close attention to how you feel the next time you slip into this mode. Do you feel good? Do you feel relaxed and calm, or do you feel like you’re talking without knowing what you’ll say next? Do you feel comforted and heard, or do you feel like you’re trying to win approval? Are you drinking too much? Are you listening to anyone else or does that feel impossible in that moment?

When I overshare, I feel like a train running off the track. And when I use the word “overshare” here, I don’t mean talking too goddamn much about my true feelings about myself or the world. Because with most of my friends, there is no too much. That’s the joy of being in your 40s and having old friends who you trust and knowing that you can get a little weird and spiral out and you know everyone involved well enough to know that no one is going to get all huffy and annoyed by it. I stumbled on a phrase in a book by Gilles Deleuze called Nietzsche and Philosophy, in which Deleuze refers to Nietzsche’s concept of “the divine wickedness without which perfection could not be imagined.” That’s how it feels to have a drink and talk a million miles a minute with my friends — like divine wickedness that leads inexorably to some crazy flavor of perfection. We’re all talking a mile a minute, and suddenly I need to remind everyone about that first blowtorch/grinding scene in Magic Mike XXL when Channing Tatum goes from his strange, fast-motion superhero hip-hop moves to this sudden, exquisitely precise slow grind. Then I start thinking out loud — loudly! — about why that hotness can only happen in the context of a movie that’s not remotely romantic, a movie that you’re not supposed to take seriously. This is not you falling for the fucked-up high-capitalist wet dream of “Fifty Shades Darker,” which is really just a self-hating fantasy of yielding all control to a merciless Daddy Warbucks, rendering all sexiness therein the sour kind of non-sexiness that perpetuates your own powerlessness. No, this is something far lighter and fluffier and somehow more empowering in a strange way, too. This is a cheesy dude who knows he’s cheesy, whom you aren’t in love with, who nonetheless does have an undeniable talent for the absurdly, inescapably, stupidly hot, slow grind. And you are the looker, the watcher, which means it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or whether or not you showered that morning. All that matters is his exquisite ASS CRAFT.

So I say all of this to my friends in a flurry, and we cackle, and then I’m tempted to reenact both the fast-motion hip-hop moves AND the slow grind, because it really does seem very important, crucial even, to communicate the nuances of what I’m describing with something beyond mere, inadequate words.

But I don’t do that. Because we’re in a restaurant. And slow grinding the floor of a Mexican restaurant is where the train leaves the tracks. Even if everyone would prefer that I do it, it’s not quite … nope. No. I am letting them down, but I am protecting myself from myself.

So look. You consider your audience, always. You consider your blood-alcohol content. The more alcohol, the more cautious and thoughtful you get about your choices. You consider your gut-level feeling about what you’re doing. Are you all having fun together? Or are you drawing an obscene level of attention to yourself because you’re hungry for attention? How neurotic are you feeling? How hungry is your ego?

You consider whether or not you think you’re going to fix something by saying too much or, you know, humping the dirty corn-chip-covered floor of a restaurant. Are you trying to win more love? Are you trying to convince someone that you’re worthwhile, entertaining, useful, fun? I would argue that I didn’t have a really good, satisfying kind of fun that I didn’t regret until I stopped trying to please everyone around me and stopped trying to get a little pat on the head for everything I did and said. I don’t even think I knew how to connect with people, and love them for who they were, until I learned how to stop seeking approval and understanding at every turn.

But it’s hard! You just moved to L.A. You don’t know these people that well. You want to be in love. You want security. You have a lot to say. That’s who you are. Even given all of these very insecurity-inducing factors, you have to back up and be a little bit more conservative socially. You have to protect yourself from yourself. You’re getting yourself in trouble, and that’s not fair to your heart.

And you have to remember what you deserve. Think of Idris Elba, and fireworks. Think of delicious dopey dudes who aren’t ashamed of themselves or you, who aren’t incredibly private or incredibly offended by your shamelessness. Go back to your excruciating workouts, knowing that you deserve to feel healthy and good about yourself, knowing that you deserve to be with someone who’s excited about you, too. You deserve exuberant, affectionate love and big birthday cakes and EXQUISITE ASS CRAFT.

But don’t forget why you’re here in L.A. in the first place. You are here to cultivate your gifts, to nourish yourself, to build a stronger and stronger connection to the work that you love. Put in some time and focus, and cultivate your love of your work, in silence, alone. Cultivate your belief in that work. Tune in to how much you enjoy it.

And remember, always, that you’re not here to become someone you’re not. People who come here to be someone else are eventually broken by this town. They are all over the place, and they need to be sidestepped and circumnavigated at all costs. Look for the ones who aren’t trying to seem better than they really are, instead. Look for the ones who know what they love and aren’t afraid to say it out loud. Look for the ones who really just want to connect, in a real way, with open eyes. Look for the ones who aren’t afraid to hear you say that you want to find love, you want to be loved, you want love, love, love.

Be like them. Stop advertising your strengths and other people’s limitations, and show them your heart. You’re not a bad person. You’re just an artist, so you want to embrace the “divine wickedness without which perfection could not be imagined.” Embrace that divine wickedness, but put your heart at the center of it, and believe in it. You have a big heart, and it won’t steer you wrong.

Polly

Order the new Ask Polly book, How to Be a Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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Ask Polly: I Overshared My Way Out of a Boyfriend!