“You told her?” I said to a friend who is in the middle of a prolonged separation from her husband.
My friend is a wonderful listener. One on one, we have talks of such range and depth, I often feel like I’ve left the therapist after we have lunch. Unlike me, in a crowd, she’d rather watch than take the limelight. While I might set my husband’s car on fire, tell the world about his sins, or write a plot based on our breakup (were he to do to me what hers dared) she is internally grappling with a range of emotions.
“Yes,” she said. “I had to.” I was surprised to hear her say since she is a very private person.
“She asked what happened. I didn’t know what to say.”
“People ask you that?”
Even extroverted me, who is an impulsive blurter-outer of all and sundry phrases, was shocked to the core. I might wonder what happened but even I would restrain from asking my boss, co-worker, or fellow nursery parent, for the details.
“You won’t believe how many people ask,” she replied.
Fuming for my friend, as news of the latest installment of intrusion came, I did what I do when I have observations on humanity. I tweeted.
Note to self: “What happened?” is NOT the reaction when someone says she is SEPARATING FROM HER SPOUSE. #duh #yeesh (not me, a friend). #fb
— Mohana Rajakumar (@moha_doha) September 16, 2013
Immediately a few people Tweeted back, wondering why “What happened?” is a less than optimal response (the feed). In short, the question seems a poor cover up for obvious nosiness.
No doubt the fishbowl nature of expat life makes me queasy at the idea of people in the carpool, workplace, neighborhood having more information than they need. In a social setting where people know the most intimate details about each other, where you go on vacation and with whom, how long cars have been parked in a spot in a neighborhood, who is eligible for a promotion, who was fired and who really did resign, I cringe every time my friend says she didn’t know what to say when someone asked her what’s going on.
Yes, I understand that life’s tragedies will come out eventually. The very nature of the word means they are not something we can hide from.
Surely we all cringe at the over share of details during these traumatic moments; changed Facebook statuses, Tweets, or otherwise.
Word to wise, (as I’ve learned from another acquaintance’s loss, a year plus now, of a baby she never discussed with me): friendship has a variety of meanings, depending on the individual. If someone wants you to know the back story of a particular personal event, s/he will tell you.
Until then, best keep the quest for details to writing related tasks.
PS my short list of optimal responses to life tragedies:
- “Sorry to hear that.”
- “Can I help in any way?”
- “You’re an amazing person.”
- “This too shall pass.”