Like an overdue periodontal visit, my columns occasionally strike a raw nerve.
Such columns are written with a bit of trepidation and typically submitted to editorial after deadline due to anxiety. Many have been published against my initial better judgment, but I am compelled to do so because the topics are universal and relevant.
Even so, they sometimes cross an intimate boundary of personal or familial guilt-by-association, and some say they fall into the TMI category.
But do they?
Such was the case last week when I wrote about Nubs, my step-dad in Florida, who is dipping his toe into the world of dating after half a century of marriage. Social media users and voicemail callers accused me of exploiting him, harboring resentment, being a control freak, and – my personal favorite – pimping him out.
There was also feedback from lovely women throwing their companion qualifications into the hat. However, the most outlandish email came from one woman’s adult son:
“My mom is in her late 70’s and would be an awesome match for your father. She lives in Boca Raton for half the year and is the best cook. She golfs, volunteers, and loves animals. She’s in great shape. My best friends have been calling her Mrs. Cougar since high school if that gives you an idea about her. She hasn’t dated recently and your father sounds like a fit.”
The email went on at length about how to find this woman, asked if I wanted pictures, and ended with saying it was great there are “older men” out there who will still pick up the tab for their dates.
If that isn’t the hardest red flag I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is.
TMI came into play when one woman left a phone message saying no one is interested in my self-centered stories, along with something about more important issues and events to be addressed. I called back to suggest she voice the important issue and event recommendations to our newsroom, but the person who answered hung up before I could get my name out. Twice.
Sharing delicate situations may be thought of as “hanging dirty laundry in public,” but it’s the easiest and most genuine way to make a point or back up an assumption. As far as the above-mentioned trepidation, that’s also known as unmasked vulnerability, which is scary before anyone even sees, says, or reads anything.
Look at Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, and wife of England’s Prince (for now) Harry. After suffering a miscarriage, she wrote a fact-based column for the Nov. 25, 2020, issue of The New York Times. Markle pointed out that in a room full of 100 women, 10 to 20 of them will have experienced miscarriage.
Sure, there are books, podcasts, and support groups for these women, but that statistical number is staggering. But instead of being applauded for baring her pain to bring awareness to something most of the rest of us probably can’t fathom, Markle was attacked. Her piece was labeled self-absorbed, inappropriate for her position, too personal to put out to the world, and other descriptions boiling down to perceived TMI. I can only imagine the level of painful vulnerability it took to write what I consider to be a public service announcement of the most generous and meaningful type.
So where does all of this leave Nubs?
What I’ve discovered is some readers were uncomfortable with the thought of my 84-year old step-dad looking for meaningful companionship instead of a playdate, just as many of Markle’s readers were uncomfortable with the thought of a healthy young woman miscarrying. No one has to face their discomfort if topics like senior dating or miscarriage, both of which are common, are mostly ignored. We won’t get into ageism or body image, but in these cases, it’s directly tied to TMI.
What we don’t know or read about can’t make us uneasy. It isn’t just in politics (think #BLM), it’s every day, all day, vulnerable, real-life stuff.
My Nubs deserves to be happy so I’ll continue to listen and offer my opinion about his dating life. And, I’ll remind myself that when it feels like TMI, it’s most likely because I’m uncomfortable with what’s being shared and not something for me to judge.
Mrs. Cougar will even make it into our next conversation, along with the other contenders. Hopefully, it’ll all become easier than that first shot of dentist-chair anesthetic or my next out-of-the-comfort-zone column.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.