In the last couple of weeks, I have been interviewing friends for my PWR 2 project on communicating romance through technology. Perhaps what surprised me the most was not their answers to my questions, but rather the fact that I did not know about much of the information. True, some of my questions would not come up in casual conversation, such as their satisfaction rating on a scale of one to 10, but I realized that I often don’t try to pry into my friend’s romantic lives as I once enjoyed doing. This made me realize the hidden nature of many romantic relationships and my support of this characteristic, which I had unknowingly been helping to develop.
If you asked me whether my friends and I talk about dating, I would definitely say, “Of course!” It’s a common topic of conversation in most friendships. In fact, people enjoy talking about other people’s relationships even when those involved are not present. For instance, the other day, I overheard the discussion between two girls about a friend who felt uncomfortable with her dating life, because both of her sisters were in serious relationships.
Of course, the act of being envious of another’s relationship doesn’t really make much sense. Although people may discuss aspects of their relationship, the outside world has a controlled view of the relationship. For instance, have you ever been surprised by a friend’s breakup? This might have been easier to predict if your friend had come to talk to you about an issue. Even then, that first conversation might catch you off-guard because of our expectation that those in relationships seem happy unless stated otherwise.
In fact, I find that this privacy should be essential in any relationship. I’m not asking people to lie to their friends about the state of their relationships, but I feel that people often fall prey to the opposite and tell too much, which can hurt them and their partner. As someone who really enjoys getting to know other people, it’s often difficult to ever feel like there can be too much to know about someone else’s life or relationship. However, danger comes with disclosing every detail. The person confiding in you may use that discussion as catharsis, which can be positive in the moment, but have unexpected repercussions.
This cathartic moment for one person leaves their partner out of the loop. For instance, sometimes a partner’s small, annoying habit may get hard to bear, making it tempting to confide in friends. After sharing with friends, it’s easy to feel like a problem has been resolved. However, sharing directly about it with your romantic partner often happens inevitably if it becomes an actual issue of concern. In the time it takes to tell others about that problem, you could take action towards solving the problem directly instead.
It’s definitely hard not being able to know everything about a friend’s life and not being able to tell your friend every last detail, but sometimes it’s essential to the development of another relationship that those confrontations happen first, before you get the play-by-play. So, don’t feel obligated to tell your friends everything, and don’t feel offended when your friends want to keep some things private!
Contact Serena Lin at serenal ‘at’ stanford.edu.