Thursday, October 2nd 2003

posted @ 10:22 pm in [ ]
People tell me stuff. I’ve had random strangers confess crimes to me on the bus. Brand new co-workers have taken me to lunch to tell me about their incredibly tawdry lives, completely unsolicited by me, or pulled me into their offices to ask me whether they should declare bankruptcy. Fresh acquaintances have discussed with me in great detail their sexual dysfunctions, alarming things they’ve survived, physical and psychological, and other incredibly personal stuff like they were paying me $120 an hour to lie on my tufted leather couch. I’ve never been sure why.

Needless to say, this is one of the major factors that makes my life weird. It’s not the #1 factor, but it’s certainly in the top 10. There’s something very surreal about having people expose themselves to me like that. Enough people do it, though, that I have of course attempted to analyze it.

Lisa once hypothesized that it had to do with an impression that no topic is off limits–maybe I make it seem like the stakes of saying something outrageous to me are relatively low (and they probably are–what the hell), and then when I don’ t freak out at what someone just told me, he feels free to pile some more on top of that. But how does he know I won’t tell the frickin’ world? I won’t, but how does a near stranger detect that? It may also have to do with the fact that although I don’t like to talk about my own feelings, and my own problems are annoying to me, I am fascinated by what vexes others, in an almost voyeuristic way. Only my problems suck. Yours are incredibly interesting.

Usually, despite the surreal-ness of it all, this kind of thing is harmless. People tell me outrageously personal things, it’s weird but interesting for me, and I frequently learn something about the human psyche. Every once in a while, though, it brings up a human dilemma. Several years ago, for example, I found out that half of my favorite couple was having an affair with one of my friends, who told me all about it. At first I was devistated. After that wore off, though, I had to decide what to do, since I couldn’t un-know that information. Part of me wanted to tell the other half of thecouple, but I thought that the only thing worse than hearing that kind of news would be hearing it from someone other than your spouse. So instead, I decided I wasn’t going to make any effort to hide or assist the affair itself, and that I would try to support the individual people involved as much as I could. It was going to be a train wreck and they were all going to get very badly hurt, which they all did. Eventually, the couple healed after a great deal of hard work, but I lost the friend because she thought I had replaced her in the affair, which of course I hadn’t. But none of the folks involved were all that rational at that point.

Anyway, I’m thinking about this today because I have a co-worker who is sort of verging on being my friend, and I don’t think he’s okay. I know why, I know what’s missing and what he wants and what has recently happened to him, and I sense his hurt consuming his life. I have some important things in common with him and I want him to be okay, but getting involved enough to draw someone out of their sorrow costs. It costs time and energy of course, wear and tear on your own psyche, sometimes your own sweat and tears, but it can also break your heart even if you do everything exactly right. On the other hand, I think if you see a fellow human being slipping off into darkness and you realistically think you can, you should try to offer a lifeline of some kind. Sometimes, though, you just make it worse by drawing attention to the fact that he has stopped treading water.

I guess the upshot is, I’m a pretty good listener, but at what point do you have to stop just listening and DO something? I haven’t been able to work out the answer to that yet.