‘Okay, I get it! Stop over-explaining!’
If I had a pound for every time I was told this I’d be able to that lovely bum bag I’ve had my eye on for a few months…look, bum bags (fanny packs for my American readers, though that’s funny for us over here every time) are practical and cool, okay? I don’t care what you say!
Anyway, I have a tendency to keep over-explaining things well past the point when the person I’m talking to has grasped what I’m saying. As far as I know, it’s something I’ve always done.
I also overshare. Want to know all about my periods or the mastitis I had whilst breastfeeding or the recurrent athlete’s foot I get every year when the weather changes? No? Oh…are you sure? Because I’ll tell you all about them. I don’t mind at all…
I used to blame all the Sit Coms I’ve watched for the over-explaining. How often is it the case that a character only half explaining something leads to a misunderstanding resulting in all sorts of drama? I figured I’d learned lessons from TV and that was the root of my impulse to talk and talk and make sure every tiny detail of what I was saying was described and dissected and viewed from every possible angle so nobody could possibly misconstrue my words.
But really that only justifies the over-explaining, not the oversharing. I don’t remember any episodes of Friends where there was a catastrophe because of a misunderstanding over Phoebe’s periods or an episode where disaster struck because Monica didn’t explain the problems she was having with her bowel movements to everyone in Central Perk.
And, after talking to lots of other autistic women about it (I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to many autistic men about this subject), it does seem to be a bit of a ‘thing’ among us lot on the spectrum.
I’ve put a lot of thought into it and have analysed how I feel when talking to people and realising I’m over-explaining or oversharing again. I think there are a couple of things going on.
Firstly, I hate lying.
It’s not even a morality thing, as such. It’s more that I can’t bear the thought of someone else believing something that’s not true. To think I might be the cause of such an untruth, is intolerable (except for when I convinced one of my sisters, who’s 12 years younger than I, that I had a pet Siberian tiger called Yossarian living in my wardrobe so she wouldn’t linger in my room when I was busy listening to angsty teen music like Alanis Morissette over and over again on repeat).
Even telling white lies makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and normal social conventions are tricky for me.
‘How are you?’ is a question our society has decided should be answered with, ‘Fine.’ Regardless of the reality you’re expected to either say you’re fine or give a very short and preferably humourous negative response like, ‘A bit tired. I need to stop staying up on Facebook until one o’clock in the morning!’
‘Actually, I’m really struggling and have just had my anti-depressant dosage increased,’ is not an appropriate answer. It doesn’t matter if it’s the truth; you don’t answer ‘how are you’ with something so personal and negative. So, questions like that trigger an internal conflict for me. Should I be honest or should I follow social convention?
But white lies are at least actual lies, even if they’re socially acceptable ones. Over-explaining or oversharing goes past the concept of white lies, though, to lying by omission.
Don’t get me wrong, lying by omission is an actual thing some people do. If your spouse asks who you were out with at a pub and you give the names of a couple of friends who were there but neglect to mention the gorgeous, tanned specimen you spent the evening flirting with, you’re being deliberately deceitful even if you haven’t technically lied.
I, however, feel like I’ve lied if someone asks me where I got my top and I don’t give them a detailed explanation of the saga of how it was delivered whilst I was out and it took three weeks to get back from the neighbours (and I also feel compelled to add that has never actually happened…largely because I don’t leave the house if I can help it and I’m the one who ends up taking in all the neighbours’ parcels).
The compulsion to always be honest is one reason for over-explaining and oversharing. The other is also common to the other autistic women I’ve chatted to.
I spend my life feeling like I’ve missed something everyone else knows. Like there are monthly meetings where all other grown ups discuss how to succeed at adulting and I’m stuck winging it (if there really are adulting meetings you’re all not telling me about, I’m going to be so pissed off). I constantly feel like I’ve been caught on the back foot.
Tyger started back at school after the summer holidays this week. We managed to find his classroom in the morning but it wasn’t easy and I did wonder how everyone else simply appeared to know exactly where they needed to go. However, when I went to pick Tyger up after school there seemed to be fewer parents waiting.
Now, I imagine other people would have looked around at the faces and realised none of the other parents were of year one pupils. With me faceblindness I just don’t have that sort of ability so I waited and waited…and waited.
It turns out, the year one classrooms have two doors into them and the kids go in one set when arriving at school and out the other set (round the other side of the building) at drop off time. This was not mentioned to me at any point. As I was leaving, I did hear one parent talking to another about their child making sure they knew where to collect them so perhaps the children were informed before the summer and expected to pass the information on to their parents (as if an autistic five year old was ever going to do so). I assume any parent whose child hadn’t informed them simply followed the other mums and dads they recognised.
Anyway, I ended up being late to collect Tyger despite arriving early (before the gates were even open). He was upset. I was upset.
And this sort of thing happens a lot. Everyone else just ‘knows’ where they’re supposed to go and what they’re supposed to say and do by some sort of osmosis while I desperately improvise.
The upshot is I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else ever feeling like that so I just provide people with as much information as I can in the hope it will stop them feeling lost or confused or left out. I get genuinely panicked at the thought of somebody else getting the wrong end of the stick.
I suppose I over-explain in the hope others will start doing the same for me and I will no longer feel like I’m playing catch up to all the ‘proper’ grown-ups out there.
Predictably, a blog post I initially pictured as essentially ‘I over-explain stuff because I don’t like lying’ is now over a thousand words. I haven’t even done it intentionally. I’m sorry; it’s only because I want to include you all!