Thursday, 5 June 2014

Are lonely people oversharesey?

Relationships grow when we share information about ourselves - the process of "getting to know" someone is learning about their background, their beliefs, their hopes and fears and what makes them tick.  As the "getting to know" stage evolves into a closer friendship, we learn more and more about the other person and they in turn learn more and more about us.

But you can't force a friendship to develop more quickly or become closer by sharing more information sooner.  It's an organic thing: much like a growing plant sends out each new leaf on its own schedule, so that information comes out bit by bit as we get to know and trust each other.

I've had a couple of encounters with really oversharesey people in my time, both online and in the real; people who were just trying to be friendly, but came across as the bearers of too much information. (Well, with my ropey ability to read people, they may or may not have been just trying to be friendly.  But let's give them the benefit of the doubt.) Often they were people who were lonely, either due to the social shenanigans that come with autism or because they were isolated for other reasons.  I think possibly they were, consciously or not, trying to hurry along the connection-building process by sharing too much, too soon.

Some researchers from Charles Sturt University have been looking at how people who describe themselves as lonely and those who don't use Facebook differently.  They found lonely people tend to disclose more personal information about themselves (from their relationship status to their address), while the people who already feel connected are more likely to share their religious or political views.

This can be a trap for the lonely in two ways.  Firstly, oversharing usually won't make a relationship develop more quickly.  It can backfire, making you look desperate and scaring the other person away.  But perhaps more importantly, it pays to be cautious about who we trust with our personal information.  One reason the getting to know you dance is a slow one is that it's about judging whether it's safe and appropriate to trust the other person with details about yourself and your life.