Sunday, 19 November 2017

Tell me everything

I'm always intrigued by the way some people attract intimate personal confessions from everyone they come across, while others attract nothing but the usual small talk and polite trivia. What is it that encourages people to bare their soul to a complete stranger?

It's somewhat frustrating in my case, because although I'm very curious about other people's joys and problems and peculiarities, and how their lives differ from mine, I seldom invite such frank disclosures. Whatever agonising dilemmas people might be struggling with, they keep it all firmly to themselves.

It suddenly struck me that what puts people off might be my slightly sceptical look. I don't look as if I'm ready to believe whatever someone tells me. I always look a little wary, as if I'm not sure they're telling me the truth. They might be embellishing things, or hiding the unsavoury bits, or misremembering something, or simply making it all up. At my age I've met plenty of people who really were peddling me half-truths and outright lies, so I've become more suspicious and less gullible.

It might also be that I'm a habitually quiet person, and some people interpret quietness as a lack of interest in them. It doesn't help that I'm cautious about asking personal questions that might seem intrusive or embarrassing. Or afraid of triggering a torrent of information, half of which I'll promptly forget because of my terrible memory.

But whatever the cause, people tend to assume I'm not remotely interested in them and barely notice their existence. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I'm always burning with questions I'd like to ask, but for one reason or another they stay unanswered. I just don't have a "you can tell me everything" face. It's more like a "do you really want to tell me?" sort of face. Which is hard to readjust.


  1. a friend of mine always said "ask anything you want, i reserve the right to not answer" you could just ask your questions and see what answers you get.

    i think the people who elicit confidences are often quite skilled at hearing the unsaid and asking about it. I worked with a guy who knew everyone's secrets simply because he listened, didn't offer opinions (ever) and never told anyone what anyone else said.

  2. Sometimes you get more than you bargain for. A friend at work had been complaining on Facebook about migraines. The other day, he was using the microwave in my office and I casually asked him if his migraines were any better.

    Oh.. my.. God! He went on and on and on about his migraines... When they first developed, how it seems worse when he travels, what medications and treatments, etc., etc., etc..

    After he left to go back to his office, I commented to one my office partners, "Note to self: Don't ever ask Mark about his health again."

    (Unfortunately, he's the same way about anything personal. Somehow, I had given him an opening a couple of months ago that enable him to go into great detail about his marital problems.

  3. If we're talking about friends, I agree with Kylie that some people turn to those who don't divulge secrets and who also don't jump at the chance to offer advice. Most people just want to be heard.

    Strangers? Not sure. Maybe if they think they will never see you again, then it's safe.

  4. Kylie: Listen, don't comment and don't tell. Sounds like a good way of gaining people's confidence. And yes, hearing the unsaid is quite a talent as well.

    Mike: People who're insensitive to your lack of interest and just babble on about their personal troubles are a pain in the neck. Though that doesn't happen to me very often either.

  5. Bijoux: It's funny how many people rush to offer advice, even if it's clear you don't want any. They always think they've discovered the perfect solution to your problem.

  6. Being in the right place in the right time is 50% of it..
    Having quodos also helps i.e. A nurse, vicar, counsellor whatever

    But trust , stillness and warmth allows secrets to be told too

  7. I've always thought it might be a geographical thing!
    I live in a "very friendly state" according to some national polls of that sort.
    that means you can find out more than you ever want to know about someone even waiting in line to buy your groceries!
    I used to think it was a matter of loneliness in people but that's not it. they are just that way it seems!

  8. John: Trust, stillness and warmth. That sounds like a good combination.

    Tammy: The Northern Irish tend to be that way too. Start chatting to someone at the bus stop and they'll tell you everything they've done in the last 24 hours.

  9. Having had the sort of job where I needed people to 'tell me all about it'in respect of their work situation I suppose over the years my face has become fixed into a fairly benevolent expression.
    I do get all sorts of confidences...which remain confidential....from people on buses and people met while having a coffee somewhere, but I certainly do not seek them!

  10. Telling strangers makes sense because you will never see them again, so they won't repeat what you've said and you won't see them again. In the past I was often a listening post because I cared and never gave advice, but it seldom happens now because my life is different.

  11. My poor attention span means people could be telling me all sorts of things and I just wouldn't hear; everything having dissolved into white noise.
    I'm less likely to drift off if it's a family member of course, or if the disclosure is particularly interesting.

  12. Helen: Clearly that benevolent expression encourages people to spill the beans....

    Jean: True that if it's a stranger you'll probably never see them again, but on the other hand you have no idea if they'll be sympathetic or not.

    Dave: I thought my attention span was bad, but that sounds a lot worse!

  13. I find that sometimes people spill out their hearts to me but other times they seem intimidated. I have come to the conclusion it is about the way I happen to be feeling. Sometimes I am quite preoccupied, or feel defensive, or am bored with them, other times I am feeling interested in them, or like the look of them or wonder what their story is. If you are interested then just ask them about themselves. When I do that, I find people are nearly always happy to explain. Most of us find our own self just about the most fascinating topic in the universe after all! :)

  14. Jenny: Strangely, I don't find my own self that fascinating and I don't like talking about myself as I assume nobody will be very interested. I'm probably more fascinated by other people and what's going on around me. But yes, you're right, ask other people a few curious questions and they'll often rabbit on indefinitely.

    By the way??

  15. I ask. I also respond if I am asked,

  16. Ramana: Good for you. I also respond. I'm happy to reveal just about anything, except for one or two very personal things I prefer to keep to myself.

  17. Like I've commented before everybody tells me everything. Perfect strangers. I have that kind of face. I often hear "I never told another living soul that, what happened?".
    I am genuinely interested and maybe it shows. I do cry at their sad bits.


  18. Stand in a bus queue in the rain, somewhere out of the center on a winter mid-morning . You'll find someone more than willing to chat, all the way to the Bus Station. You'll hear the oddest things.

  19. www: I was thinking of you when I wrote the post. You have this amazing knack of tapping into people's inner lives and uncovering some extraordinary stories.

    SmitoniusAndSonata: That tends to happen here in Belfast too. People like to chat to complete strangers.

  20. I am one of those people in whom others seem to confide, and it's a quality of which I've become much less fond as I've gotten older. I'm just a lot more selective now about whose stories I want to emotionally invest myself in.

  21. I am useless at questioning people. If someone says, for example, I had to see the doctor, rather than ask why I will wait and assume they'll tell me if they want me to know. Apparently I am misreading people: they are telling me they want to talk but then don't because I don't appear interested.

    People are way too complicated.

  22. BrightenedBoy: The problem comes when someone who's confided in you assumes you're always ready to listen to their personal outpourings but they're not interested in your own. In the end you just have to cut them loose.

    Liz: If someone told me they went to the doctor, I would immediately ask them why and want all the details. In my experience people love to talk about their health problems.

  23. Give and give a nibblet of a confidence and then the person you are talking to may open the floodgates. Sometimes I keep my mouth shut just in case!

  24. Scarlet: A nibblet of a confidence? Like admitting you only shower once a week? Or admitting you're allergic to cats? Yes, it can be wiser to keep quiet if you know the other person is a compulsive motor-mouth.