Featured photo credit: Flickr user Kris Olin via Creative Commons
I write about myself online, constantly. Every day. Often I get paid for it! Oversharing is my job. I write about myself, and that necessarily means I also write about the most important people in my life. Even more than my immediate family, I write about my boyfriend, Alex. As I type this, he’s chopping potatoes for dinner. I’ve asked him before but I decided to reconfirm: “Are you okay with me using your real name when I write about you?” He said yes, and then added that he enjoys it, laughing that he “likes the attention.”
In today’s world of ubiquitous Facebook profiles and increased use of other social media outlets, from Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat, oversharing is the norm. We take selfies and write status updates and tag our friends. We publically share both the mundane (“just finished my laundry!”) and the profound (“brb existential crisis”). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m not a person who particularly values privacy. Some others do prioritize privacy, and not just for political reasons.
Collage by Eugenia Loli.
When I first starting dating my ex-boyfriend, I didn’t think to ask if he cared whether I blogged about him. I just assumed that it was okay, because I was so used to posting all my thoughts on Tumblr, without filtering much. Eventually he told me that he didn’t want me to use his real name, so I switched to calling him “the boyfriend”. Later I had to amend my practices again, when he pointed out that I used blogging as a proxy for actually talking to him. It was easier for me to share an issue with a public audience, knowing that he would read it, than it was to say directly, “Hey, we need to talk about this.” That was a bad habit, and it indicated a problem with the relationship in general.
I learned from this, so when Alex and I started getting serious, I let him know what I said at the beginning of this article: I write about the people in my life, and a substantial amount of that writing gets published. He explained his boundaries—don’t share anything too graphic or weird—and that was that. I don’t feel limited, because I’m not about to go Rachel Rabbit White on everybody’s ass and write about getting fucked at the Adult Video News Awards (commonly called “the Oscars of porn”). Sometimes I dream about being that audacious but it’s not really me.
Attendants at the AVN Awards, 2015. Photo by Dave Jax.
Author and former blogger Emily Gould writes, “One of the strangest and most enthralling aspects of personal blogs is just how intensely personal they can be.” She explains her foibles in a essay, “Exposed”, for The New York Times Magazine:
“About a month after [a breakup], my best friend, Ruth, and I created a new, anonymous blog on which we wrote to each other […] At the beginning, we didn’t tell anyone it existed, but then we decided to add a sidebar of links to other sites we liked, and a tiny amount of traffic began to trickle our way. […] I knew this wasn’t smart in the same way that I knew that dating a co-worker wasn’t smart, but my curiosity won out. I wanted to know what would happen if I showed myself as little mercy as I showed everyone else. [Gould used to be the editor for Gawker, an infamously cutthroat website.] ‘I’m bad at describing sex, or maybe everyone is,’ I wrote at one point, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying!”
After Gould broke up with another boyfriend, he “wrote an article […] about how violated he felt when I wrote about him on Heartbreak Soup, quoting extensively from my blog posts to make his points.”
Photo by Michell Zappa.
Here’s the important thing: Everyone has a different level of personal information that they’re comfortable sharing. If you’re going to talk about your partner online—and let’s not kid ourselves, online is always public—then you should ask them how much disclosure they’re okay with. If you feel scared to ask them outright, then you’re not ready to be in a relationship with this person (or maybe they have abusive tendencies).
Being able to discuss and verbalize consent is crucial to a healthy relationship. Posting pictures on Facebook may not seem like a big deal, but 1) to a private person it can feel invasive and 2) being able to healthily navigate the little things will set a precedent for healthily navigating the big things.
A couple of minutes after I re-asked Alex about whether it was okay for me to use his name, he added, “I don’t mind, but I appreciate that you ask. It makes me feel safe with you.” I was thrilled to hear that. I want him to feel secure, to feel cherished. I feel safe with him too, because he always makes sure to ask about my needs.
Too long; didn’t read? The gist is that communication is key. But hey, you probably already knew that.