How often do you talk about personal things?
October 24, 2012 4:49 PM   Subscribe

How often do you talk about personal topics with friends, co-workers, etc...?

I feel a little strange sometimes because me and one of my male friends almost never talk about personal things and if we do we both sort of just reply awkwardly like "oh that stinks," or "sorry to hear that."

Other guy friends and my good female friends talk about stuff like that as if it was nothing. Or, even people i work with start spouting that stuff out to anyone who will listen(then again i work with a bunch of gossiping old women).

Do you keep personal things to yourself, or do you talk about them a lot? Do you have to know someone a long time before you do?
posted by ohtimorousme to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Erhm - it really depends on the person (coworker? friend? bff? my partner?) and the type of information being discussed (why can I find the TPS reports? what I had for dinner? what body part the surgeon is going to have to cut out? the story of my traumatic childhood and how therapy has helped me deal?).

Is this a question specifically about your male friend, or disclosure in general? Can you give more information about what, specifically, you are concerned about? This question feels too broad and big, otherwise.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 4:54 PM on October 24, 2012

It was kind of both, about my guy friend and about personal topics in general. I just feel a little weird bringing up personal topics with him, he's just not very chatty and kind of awkward if i bring any up. But if i bring stuff like that up to anyone else they become very chatty about it. Could just be his personality though.
posted by ohtimorousme at 5:00 PM on October 24, 2012

For myself, it depends on the audience and also the issue. I am more likely to talk about personal topics with close friends or family members, in private, and less likely to talk about personal issues with coworkers at work, or if we hang out.

My close friends are pretty open to talking about our issues, and we value and seek out each other's input. In my experience, women are more likely to talk about problems, and men are less likely to ask for advice or talk over an issue at length, without seeking a solution-- men are more likely to bring up a personal problem as it relates to our relationship ("I am having X problem which will result in Y") or if they think I might have an answer due to my experiences. This does vary depending on the individual.

I personally am loathe to discuss personal matters with coworkers at all, to the extent that it bothers me to answer where I live, what I do for fun, etc. Due to dysfunctional and/or homophobic workplaces, talking about myself has not worked out well in the past, so I'm extremely wary about doing so now. I do recognize that most coworkers are being friendly when they ask me what my weekend plans are, so I open up a little. Again, in my experience, men as coworkers are more likely to ask about something we know we have in common (the radio program we're listening to, work experiences in the past) and women as coworkers tend to ask more personal questions (are you married, where did you go to school.) Again-- highly variable and depends on the person.

It sounds like your guy friend might be open to discussing personal questions. You could ask, "Hey, can I ask your advice about a personal problem?" And go from there.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:03 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coworkers: not fucking ever no never oh my god why would you ever do this no no no.

Friends: whenever, idk.
posted by elizardbits at 5:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

I just feel a little weird bringing up personal topics with him, he's just not very chatty and kind of awkward if i bring any up.

Ah. Well, there's your answer. If you are uncomfortable bringing things up with him, and feel that he seems awkward about it, then you've already picked up on a cue. The reasons why could totally be variable - maybe you two have different perceptions about the intimacy in your relationship, maybe personal topics in general make him uncomfy, maybe what you are saying hits close to home, so he clams up, etc - but you can trust yourself and your ability to suss out the implicit tone/meaning within your overt communication.

Everyone's approach to self-disclosure varies, as do their comfort levels with intimacy. If you are noticing that talking to him about personal stuff makes you feel weird, then don't. You've obviously picked up on the hint that he's uncomfortable about it. The reasons why may never be known, and may have absolutely nothing to do with what you've done or said or anything. It's may just be about him or with what's going on with his life. That means that it is now the time, and is totally cool, to scale back and make things more casual or formal or professional when you talk to him. You did pick up on that cue.

And, communicatively, that is why that cue exists.

So -- I think that you, yourself, actually picked up on the answer/explanation for your own question, even if you don't know the reasons or rationale behind it. Which is good! It means you're really communicating! So, I hope you don't get too stressed about it or anything. It sounds like how you talk about things is rolling along just fine.
posted by sock puppet of mystery! at 5:26 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the connection you have with the person. I have some co-workers I am very close to and we have cried and laughed and shared sex secrets. And then some friends I keep everything light and don't allow myself ot be vulnerable with because I cannot trust them. I definatley lean towards more of the sharing side, especially "taboo" topics, but I am comfortable with that. if I am sharing with someone that is not also sharing or showing empathy (let along discomfort) I would keep things light and shallow.
posted by saucysault at 5:29 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't discuss personal things with co-workers - -- except neutral things like that my husband and I enjoyed the movie we saw, or are going to anniversary dinner tonight.

It is just as tricky to deal with friendships gone wrong in the workplace as with romantic relationships gone wrong there. So sharing can give you a big case of regrets later. And it is also good for one's mental health to be able to step away from personal stuff into the workplace, and vice versa. Lastly, it is a good deal more professional to talk to people at work about . . . the work.
posted by bearwife at 5:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a coworker who constantly overshares. I hate it. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable, and has reached the point of him emailing me really awkward things he's found about me on the internet and then sharing his own "issues" as well. Recent (totally random, unprompted) email included details about his testicles. Do not do this. Please.

Friends? Totally depends. Some friends I'll tell most anything, others I wouldn't dare. Some of my friends are gossipers so I tell them nothing at all.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:33 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is just as tricky to deal with friendships gone wrong in the workplace as with romantic relationships gone wrong there. So sharing can give you a big case of regrets later.

Learned that the hard way.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:48 PM on October 24, 2012

I talk about personal stuff at work but I only have a handful of coworkers and we work for a small company *and* we're all serious oversharers, so I think we're an extreme case.
posted by crankylex at 5:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, stuff you bring to work gets used to make work decisions. If you want people at work to make work decisions based on your personal life, talk about your personal life at work.

Me, I don't talk about anything at work. The weather gets a lot of discussion.
posted by winna at 6:15 PM on October 24, 2012

I've never understood the notion, widely recommended here, of walling off your work from the entire rest of your life. At almost every job I've had, at least a few co-workers have been friends of mine, or have eventually become friends.

So really it's case by case. I see no problem with talking about personal things with a co-worker who is also a friend, though probably not while I'm at work. And temperamentally I'm not much of a discloser anyway.

Incidentally, about those "gossiping old women" you work with: it might be worth examining some of the sexist/ageist assumptions embedded in that phrase.
posted by tangerine at 7:09 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a benefit to making yourself seem human and approachable while still maintaining a bit of distance. With co-workers and people I know in a professional capacity, all that is on the menu are the 3-5 hobbies that I am willing to disclose plus whatever non religious/political current events I can glean from newspapers or magazines.

I also have the skill to gently guide people who gossip and over-disclose back to neutral territory. I am a central/visible person, so if I just said "oh" or "sorry to hear that" in response to disclosures from other people, they would find it very peculiar and off-putting. But it is critical that I maintain rapport with a diverse group of people, which might not be necessary for most people in the workplace.
posted by 99percentfake at 7:57 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if we're talking coworkers then I really try to just talk about things that are relatively neutral or that I already know everyone in my small workgroup is on the same page about. Mostly I talk about gardening, the weather, and work. This makes me "the quiet one" in my workplace, but we're all scientists so it's OK to be the quiet one. Some of the people I work with like to talk about politics but that shit makes my blood boil so I avoid it as much as I possibly can.

With friends, it just depends on the friend. Different friends tend to get exposed to different slices of me.
posted by Scientist at 8:29 PM on October 24, 2012

My roommate and I talk about personal things all the time. We sort of knew each other through highschool, and decided to room together. So this is our second year of rooming together, and we've bonded so much that we can talk about anything with each other.

I'm usually able to talk to my cousin(girl), and one of my best friends(also girl) about personal things too, but since I don't get to see them, it's pretty limited to either SMS or once in a while when I can see them.
posted by thegunner100 at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2012

I'm like this too. I was raised in a family where you were discouraged from talking about your personal problems, especially "family problems", outside of the family, and also in an area of the U.S., the northeast, where there tends to be a higher degree of formality between strangers or everyday acquaintances. Consequently there are very few people (like one person actually) that I would ever tell my personal troubles or business to. It does get awkward because I live in the southeast now and people here are much more free about sharing their personal lives and problems, even to strangers. My coworkers often tell me things about themselves that I'd rather not know or just plain don't care about, and I think they sometimes feel that I'm overly reserved or standoffish because I don't really talk to them about personal subjects.

My point is that your friend may have just been raised to reserve personal topics for people who are very very close to him only, like family members or maybe one very close friend.
posted by katyggls at 9:37 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work in an office with all females, and I'm a guy, and let me tell you, it gets SO ANNOYING realizing how awful they are at separating their personal life from their work life, and trying to drag me into it too (my personal life is MINE, but I don't like lying... so it's tough). I really wish they would learn a bit of professionalism, but I don't see it happening any time soon. Don't know if it's a female thing or we're just a disfunctional office, though.
posted by Yowser at 11:32 PM on October 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

My answer would depend on what you include in "personal things"? Does that include any aspect of your non-work life, or only negative/controversial parts (dysfunctional family members/religion/political views?) Can you clarify?
posted by EatMyHat at 11:53 PM on October 24, 2012

Nearly nothing at work. Other friends pretty open, but probably twice as open with women as with men.
posted by ead at 12:09 AM on October 25, 2012

This is a personality-thing, not a gender-thing.

My colleagues and I chat a fair bit in the office, but our really private stuff is kept private. One guy does talk a lot about his personal life, including some really quite private stuff like stuff that went down with his girlfriend etc. The rest of us chat a lot about movies we have seen, what we got up to this weekend, roommate dramas, moving house etc. I suppose to some people this might be considered to be sharing personal stuff, but it's not private stuff. Personal is a very elastic term and can mean whatever you want it to mean.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:13 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Never at work. In my personal life I am much more likely to talk to my female friends, although I have some fairly open male friends too. I find that men are more likely to have the reaction you describe though - "Sorry to hear that", maybe a sympathetic nod at best. Women are better at helping dissect a topic at length.
posted by drunkonthemoon at 4:51 AM on October 25, 2012

Sock puppet of mystery! hits on an important concept: intimacy. It isn't a binary thing where you are intimate with someone or not. There are all kinds of intimacy- fraternal, romantic, emotional, sexual, collegial, athletic and so on. Our relationships are defined by how many different arenas we share intimacy. And we build relationships by testing the intimacy waters to see if it feels comfortable to share intimacy in the different areas of our lives. It is perfectly OK to be great friends with someone in a couple of areas of our lives, but not others. The key is tacit or explicit agreement on which areas we are intimate.

As an example, I have a very good friend that I made at work with whom I share a great many areas of intimacy and commonality, but we don't work well as drinking buddies. Our styles don't match. That doesn't damage the other places where our relationship works.

As a rule, I don't like to share very much personal stuff at work. But there are a few people I am friendly with, and over the years we have had very intimate conversations. But it's an odd thing, that while the conversations were about personal topics they did not really veer into the emotional territory. It seems like there is a line where it is appropriate to share things about our personal lives and families, and being emotional about it. I don't know if that's my own line, or a cultural thing in my workplace, or an overall cultural thing where I live.
posted by gjc at 5:53 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Totally depends on the friend and the depth of our relationship. Some folks will share their whole life history on a first meeting, others take years and years to open up at all.

I will say that being comfortable with conversation about personal things is one of the signifiers to me of how close a relationship actually is. If I can't talk about personal matters with someone, I consider them to be in the "casual friend" or "friendly acquaintance" category rather than a close friend.
posted by tdismukes at 7:53 AM on October 25, 2012

With friends, rarely. With co-workers, never.

Disclaimer: I'm British, so, you know. We tend not to.
posted by Decani at 9:42 AM on October 25, 2012

My coworkers and I (including the boss) talk about pretty much everything at work: sex, religion, politics, our periods/bodily functions (rarely, but it happens), last night's drinking, etc... I try to tone it down a bit with people I'm a direct supervisor to (they're mostly still teenagers, so I try to keep a bit of distance), but we're all still pretty open. I think it's weird that people have arbitrary limits on what's ok to talk about at work. If your role at work is based on your personal life, you either have shitty, judgmental coworkers, or you're making some bad life decisions.

With my friends, the only limits I place are on things that would hurt other people, like gossip. But beyond that, no holds barred.
posted by hasna at 12:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree that this is a personality thing mostly and will differ by person and by relationship. There are distinct gender trends though, so don't look too harshly on people generalizing by gender.

In a nutshell: YMMV!
posted by pahalial at 5:25 AM on October 26, 2012

Varies vastly depending on who it is and what we're talking about. With my coworkers, I'll discuss my interests (I'm starting to have semi-frequent conversations about video games and related geekery with one of my coworkers) and will reveal details about my personal life as needed (for example, the particular reason why I need to switch my schedule around or take time off on a given day; it's a gossip-prevention tactic), but I don't talk about anything deeper than surface details or the odd "Man I'm tired; I had X college event over the weekend." Gossip goes around a lot; I ignore and neglect to participate in it. I'll participate in factual discussions that interest me, but I have no interest in what Jane Doe in HR was doing over her lunch break yesterday.

With others, it depends. I have a couple friends I complain to about this and that, but when I do I preface beforehand by saying that I either just need to complain or am actually looking for advice to solve whatever problem I'm dealing with. Some topics I don't discuss at all, or mention only to one or two close friends if those topics happen to be bothering me at the time that I see said friends.

To answer your question more directly: I tend to keep personal things to myself, and yes, it generally takes quite some time before I feel like bringing up personal things is an okay idea. With coworkers, though? Never.

Every friendship is different. You can be great friends with someone you never discuss deep personal topics with.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:49 AM on October 26, 2012

« Older What's the skinny?   |   Why is my family being so cold to my SO? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.