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24 December, 2008

Boundaries, over sharing, TMI, and of course, pizza

Last night, I went with a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) to my favorite pizza place in this town (which shall remain nameless). We were greeted at our table by the server, who is a guy that I have seen there regularly for about 5 years now - ever since I started going there (who shall also remain nameless, though we did find out his name). One thing about this server, that I have noted, and even commented to others, is that he is very good-looking. It does not trouble me in any way to make this observation to you. He just has sort of the movie star kind of looks. A subset of the people who have gone to this place with me have noted that he is almost certainly gay... not that there's anything wrong with that (of course not).

We ordered a large cheese pizza, and a large Greek salad. Anticipation building, since I really, really love this place!

The conversation, for some reason, was related to the issue of "boundaries". I think the topic originated with respect to writing blogs, or online journals, and what exactly are the lines of what is acceptable, or what is too much to say. I have always tended to err on the side of over sharing. True in my face-to-face relationships, and also true in my web publications. As you know from previous blogs, I have even inadvertently deposited "Google-able" information about people here without meaning to do so. For example, there was the time that I was talking about my daily fist fights in elementary school with one friend (who is now a VP at a large financial institution). At one point in time, I started finding blog hits on that entry, which had been directed from Google searches on the individual's name. That's great, huh? Can you imagine if he was meeting with some new client, and they decide to joke around with him, and say "So, I hear you used to be quite the little fighter in grade school?" Ugh.

On this topic of boundaries, in an effort to illustrate that it is truly a continuum, and that I am not at the far end of the TMI scale, I referenced a previous brief girlfriend of mine from about a year ago (who shall remain nameless). This woman was probably the most over-the-top person I have ever met, and it almost seemed like she had an unavoidable compulsion to speak about her own private life, and that of anyone she knew, until she had successfully made everyone uncomfortable. I had been talking about how the first time she met Edna; she started talking to Edna about how she and some other boyfriend of hers first had sexual encounters. Yes. I kid you not. This was a fairly routine occurrence, and it got to the point that I needed to provide her with a detailed list of the specific topics that were off-limits at each social gathering. However, like a leaky boat, she always managed to find a boundary to violate. She would even tell service personnel about our private life, or just spurt out some completely embarrassing non sequitur. It was unavoidable. In no small part, this contributed to the timely dissolution of that relationship. Though, it was a very useful experience for me, and I learned a lot, because I think that in most of my previous relationships, I had always been the over sharer. Now I know how it feels to have privacy and boundaries disrespected, and I think it made me become more conscientious, in a way that a simple reprimand had never previously done.

So the waiter had partly overheard this conversation in his passing by. He'd also overheard me talking about my experience of meeting the big-mouthed ex's father. That encounter had made me understand it all. Within the first 15 minutes of meeting this (70 year old) man, he proclaims "I never wore condoms! I like to ride bareback!" Yes, the crab apple does not fall far from the tree.

So, our (presumed gay) server hears this, and he can't help but do a double-take, and come back to the table, and ask if he heard what he thought he had just heard. We decide that if he's going to engage in the conversation, there will be little harm in filling him in on what he had missed. What we did not realize was that somehow this would dramatically alter the dynamic of our interactions into a realm that I have never experienced with this server in 5 years of visiting the restaurant.

I had always thought of this guy as quiet, serious, brief, and a little bit moody. There would be times where he would be a little bit clever and make a wise joke that a server might make. But for the most part, he had always seemed standoffish.

Something that I had said, not sure if it was about condoms, or boundaries, caused him to open the floodgates! Before we even knew what was happening, he is suddenly telling us a story, and it goes something like this (I am sure I will be inaccurate, here, since it's tough to remember, given the sheer magnitude of the story):

Chapter 1 (delivered during the salad):

He tells us that he was dating this... girl (ellipsis included to indicate that he seemed to pause before saying "girl", in a manner that made one wonder if he performed a gender substitution). The girl was a friend of his, somehow. In fact, I think he said she was seeing someone else, but then started hooking up with him. On one occasion, they're all out somewhere, and she introduces him to the boyfriend, in a way that was extremely uncomfortable for him - violated his boundaries of privacy, I guess? And that it was weird and that they'd only had sex a few times (6, to be exact, according to him). End of Chapter 1.

We are laughing and discussing how bizarre it is that he felt the urge to share this tidbit with us. What about my story snippet caused him to want to open up and really tell us things you should not be telling a "customer"? Who knows... who... knows?

But wait, there's more.

Chapter 2 (delivered during the pizza):

He comes back to the table, at a time that one would expect to be the "How's everything? Can I bring you anything else" phase of the dining. But no! He smirks, and leans toward my friend, and says, "So... let me ask you something. I want to get a woman's perspective on this..."

Um... okay. This is unconventional, but we're all ears.

And then he launches into a level that you cannot possibly imagine a server would even be able to do, for sheer cause of not neglecting the other tables in his area. He proceeds to tell us a story that goes something like this:

"So, I've been seeing this girl. And we've had sex like only about 6 times. And one night, we're having sex, and all of a sudden, it gets too much for her, and she's like 'Stop! Stop!', so I stopped and I got my clothes on. And I leave. Then she calls me, and she apologizes, and says that she wants me to come back. But at that point, I am already home (I'm forgetting stuff here). So then, we have this plan to go on a camping trip together, and we decide that we will still go on the camping trip. As friends. Because clearly everything was too weird. But we already had the plans. So we go, and we're driving in the car, and (paraphrasing big-time) we get to the campsite, and she doesn't want to do anything but sit around and read her book in the tent. So I decide to go surfing, since we're camping on the beach. (At some point) we are taking a drive, and she wants to go find this park, and it is in the opposite direction of where we are going, and we end up driving for hours. And then we get into a big argument. (Cut forward again) And one night camping she starts telling me that she wants to be with me, but I don't have any condoms, so that isn't going to happen. So she gets upset, and then in the middle of the night, she elbows me to wake me up, and tell me I am snoring. I leave the tent. Then at dawn, even though our trip wasn't supposed to be over, we decide to cut it short and drive home, and don't speak to each other for 5 hours."

Okay, so I have butchered the story, and you cannot possibly imagine the enthusiasm, and detail that he provided. But you get the picture.

Then, he's asking us, "What should I do? Should I try to be friends with this girl?"
My friend asks, "How long ago did this happen?"

He says, "Four months"

Why is he relating this old story, so vividly? How bizarre.

We tell him that he cannot be friends, and that it sounds nutty, and that he should walk away.

He says, "You really think? No way I can be friends with her? Damn... what can I do? This whole thing was fucking nuts. And she was the first girl I have dated in about 3 years! My last girlfriend killed herself!"

Holy shit. Stop the press.

I just wanted some pizza.

Chapter 3 occurred during the end of the meal, and I think he realized he'd gone too far because he asked us if we were still enjoying our meal. So he had some sense of the line he crossed. And when we were leaving, a few more "sharing moments" occurred, and we decided to find out his name, because, if you are going to know that much about someone's personal life, you ought to know them by first name.

The interesting thing to me about this whole experience was not just the awkwardness or oddness of it. But why did it happen? What did we say or do that triggered him? It's a bit ironic because we were talking about over sharing, and this was for some reason a catalyst for him to do just that. We were trying to figure out (mostly out of curiosity) if he was actually gay? Was he doing the word substitutions throughout the entire story? The nature of the story, and the players, did not give strong evidence either way. We were trying to figure out if he was actually trying to cruise one of us, though not sure which of us it might be!

Another interesting thing is just how wrong impressions can be. When you have a business relationship with someone, e.g. server to customer, you know nothing about that person. The image that people project in a work environment may typically be so radically different from whom they really are. That is probably also true in the context of co-worker relationships, though there are probably far more opportunities for those barriers to be breached, and for you to gain insight into the person. But who they are with their friends, family, loved ones? Impossible to say.

So I guess I consider it something of a gift that life gives us, if we accidentally stumble into someone's usually private realms.

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