Stripping down over dinner
I recently had dinner with a journalist friend, a man I hadn’t seen in several years, someone I knew more or less in a professional context, who I mostly mingled with at group events, who I often saw dressed in wool sweaters and corduroy pants. He always struck me as reserved, thoughtful and just this side of shy. A sort of Clark Kent en permanence.
What a surprise, then, when my friend walked through the door of the trendy restaurant he had suggested in a T-shirt and tight jeans, looking relaxed and cool and — dare I say it? — sexy. So sexy, in fact, that I spent the night blushing and stammering, a flustered version of my usually collected self.
Over dinner, he asked me about my life in the time since I’d last seen him, and he seemed to genuinely listen to my answers. He asked about the book I’m writing, and not just generalities but specifics: plot points and character arcs and the misgivings I have about certain story lines. He nodded through all of it, his gaze fixed on mine as I spoke, and I found myself answering his questions in great depth as I peeled away my protective layers.
I normally consider myself a reserved person, and even when I am desperate to reveal information about myself, I can’t seem to help but hold back. And, yet, there I was, telling this man intimate details about my life.
Someone once told me that the human condition tends toward confession. We all want, deep down, to expose ourselves. All it takes is good questions and careful listening to convince a person to lay his or her secrets on the table.
Like my friend, I’m also trained as a journalist, and I know this to be true. I’ve listened to people confess excruciatingly personal information then sit back and shake their heads, as if they’d been in a daze.
“Why am I telling you all this?” they say.
So you can imagine my consternation when I found myself leaning against the booth in the trendy restaurant, my dinner barely touched, and asking my friend, “Why am I telling you this?”
Jonathan Franzen has an apt scene in “The Corrections” where two women who meet on a cruise ship spend the evening together while their husbands are off napping or playing blackjack. The women, Enid and Sylvia, consume too many fruit-flavored cocktails and wind up swapping overly personal details about their lives. The sense of intimacy lasts as long as the buzz, and by the next morning the women are embarrassed in each other’s company: “Enid and Sylvia resumed relations stiffly, their emotional muscles pulled and aching from last night’s overuse.”
On the first day after the date with my friend, I found myself still flustered, still confused why even thinking about the previous evening made my heart race. All that sharing had seemed thrilling and titillating and somehow very dangerous.
By the second day, though, I began to feel less excited and more exposed, as if my own emotional muscles had been overworked. By the third day, I realized my mistake. I’d been caught up in the heady seductiveness of oversharing, and suddenly I felt like I’d spent the evening in my underwear. ¦