Athlete Lolo Jones is famous for two things – being a double Olympian in hurdles and bobsledding, and being open about her faith and decision to save sex for the boundaries of holy matrimony. She shared that decision with Bryant Gumbel in 2012. It’s a choice she has come to regret nearly a decade later.
At the time, Jones’ confession catapulted her from “Olympic athlete” status to celebrity status. Jones is an incredibly beautiful woman by any standards. The public was enthralled with the idea that a woman who can probably have any man she likes would choose to keep herself for one man she hadn’t even met yet. But the 38-year-old admitted to comedian Kevin Hart on his YouTube Show “Cold As Balls” that it hadn’t exactly brought her the type of attention she enjoyed.
“That killed all my dates after that,” Jones said of publicly discussing her virginity. “Like didn’t even have a chance. Before, at least I had a chance. Before, I’d like, tiptoe. ’Okay, when’s a good time to tell him? Do I wait until he sees my personality a little bit? Or do I just drop the bomb?’”
I’m sure at the time Jones felt she was just being transparent about her faith and her life. There are many people who see public transparency about private matters as being “authentic.” Who likes being thought of as a fake? Who likes thinking of themselves as fake?
Jones learned a hard lesson, but one I think most Americans who spend a lot of time on social media need to understand. It’s possible to share too much of your private life. Not everything is for public consumption.
There are some things you share with groups of people and there are some things you share only with your trusted confidantes. When you reveal too much personal information about yourself to people in social situations, it can engender disdain. It feels aggressive rather than honest.
The problem is that so many people have forgotten how to have genuine relationships and too many think “intimacy” means complete an utter transparency. The instantaneous gratification of social media culture has given us a false sense of familiarity with people. On social media, oversharing is often rewarded. It warps our notions of how to form connections. We think it is the sharing of personal information that builds affection, but in reality the only way to build real connection is with time and care.
The other reason it is important to temper your sharing is that if you share too much too early, like Lolo Jones you will be stuck with that impression for the rest of your life. Jones’s introduction to American celebrity should have been about her athletic prowess, but because she chose to get so personal so quickly, her revelation is now handcuffed to her credits wherever she goes. Young and naive, she just wanted to share an important part of her life with the world. Instead, she ended up being defined by it because Americans are too ADHD to accept nuance in our celebrities. We want a character and the one you give us is the one you’re stuck with forever.
Snoop Dogg is the OG rapper who wears slippers everywhere and smokes weed in public.
Pamela Anderson is the fake blond with big boobs.
Tim Tebow is the guy that prays.
Lolo Jones is the virgin.
She’s so much more than that, obviously. But because she shared too much of her personal journey with the world too soon, she is now doomed to be defined by it in public for probably the rest of her life.
People don’t need to know your every secret. It’s okay to keep some things to yourself. It’s preferable. Let your personality and the time you spend with people define your character for them. Your personal story is an onion and it must be peeled back layer by layer. That way the aroma gently unfolds. Slicing that onion right away will just cause people to recoil.
Sometimes oversharing is a sign of narcissism. People who overshare can tend to believe no one else in the world has experienced their level of tragedy/excitement/success/whatever. They think that because the people they meet don’t tell those stories it means they don’t have those stories at all. In reality they do – because we all do – but they are smart enough to abide by the unspoken social agreement that too much too soon is indeed too much too soon. Narcissists don’t imagine that there is a world in which people simply keep their deepest feelings private when meeting strangers.
I’ll close with this story.
As a young intern just out of college, a group of us were sitting around the office one day, shooting the breeze and taking advantage of a rare break to trade stories about some of the nutty things our parents did or made us do when we were kids. Phillip’s mom went through a vegetarian stage and he had to sneak hot dogs at his friend’s house. Rhonda’s parents made them drive across the country to see the world’s biggest ball of yarn. George’s dad was obsessed with hosing down the driveway. We were having a great time laughing at ourselves and our parents when Steve piped up with is “nutty parent” parent story, quite out of the blue.
“Well, when I was 10 my dad loaded up our whole family into the car and tried to drive us off a bridge in St.Louis.”
It’s not that no one cared, or that’s not a very tragic story. It’s that it was way too personal of an experience to wedge in next to stories about soy burgers and road trips. It didn’t engender sympathy. It made us wary of Steve. It was jarring. Not to mention it completely derailed an otherwise fun conversation.
It isn’t being inauthentic to choose to be discerning about the personal things you share about yourself. It is human nature for genuine connection to develop over time. Stop sharing so much with the world on your social media, or your online office chat spaces. It’s not endearing, it’s disturbing.
And you don’t want to end up like Lolo…spending the rest of your life having to talk about the most personal and private aspects of your life.