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The Totem of Chat: When Online Over-Sharing Gets Real

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A few months ago, I met an ex-boyfriend for breakfast. It was just after Christmas vacation, and I'd blogged -- in my trademark, vague but explicit fashion -- about a romance I'd had over the break.

While this particular ex and I dated, he protected both of us by not reading my blog; I had no idea whether he'd started up again.

"So," he asked, "How are you?"

"I'm fine," I replied. "I'm good!"

"How was your break?" He asked. "Tell me about it."

"Um, it was great! I wrote a lot, had a lot of family time... " I watched his eyes narrow and began to detect the purpose behind his unusually earnest tone.

"So, did, um, did anything significant happen?"

"I don't know... " I said. "I went to Philadelphia for a day... Um, tell me about you! You went home?"

"Yeah, it was alright... but before we move on... from reading your blog... it sounds like you're... seeing someone?"

In the odd, over-sharing life of a dating blogger, at a certain point the normally obligatory greeting, "How are you?" becomes thinly veiled code for, "Please spill the beans about that guy who I read on your blog that you're kind of seeing."

It can be an awkward dance. More awkward when I've been intimate with the person in question. But it's odd, too, even with people I haven't slept with. (Contrary to my parents' impressions: a sizable population.)

I don't, actually, know who reads my blog. Most people feel they need to confess readership. (As though there's any other reason I write things online besides the possibility that someone -- anyone! -- will pay attention. "I just had some time at the dentist's office... " they'll say. "It popped up in my Facebook feed and I happened to click over... ")

So, when someone asks how I am in what appears to be that wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way, I'm often unsure what they want to know: is it my mood? Or is it who I am making out with, whether they know him, and if it's still going on or I'm back to my usual state of unrequited and misdirected longing?

Usually, I play dumb. I assume they haven't read anything, that they know just as little about my life as I do about theirs, and force them to bring it up.

Because, if I didn't make a spectacle of myself on the internet, they wouldn't have a clue that I was dating someone -- just as I wouldn't have a clue if they were, either.

But, mostly because it feels much easier to expose myself on the (web)page than it does in person.

It's a preference we tend to blame on technology. In the first episode of Lena Dunham's all buzzy new HBO show, two of the "girls" enumerate our contemporary "totem of chat": At the bottom there's Facebook, and then texting, and then email, and then the phone, and then -- in theory -- face to face. But as one of them says, no one really expects to communicate in person: "That's just not of our time."

But I'm not sure that technology has really changed anything: it's always been easier to communicate at a distance than up close. Ask Sylvia Plath or any of her Confessionalist poet peers: I doubt they went around baring their souls to the average acquaintance, or even their closest friends. They did it, instead, through writing.

Which is what we still do, now. Except that, instead of requiring publication to expose ourselves, we can do it all on our own: via Twitter and blogs and Facebook and name-your-favorite-social-media.

And while interacting in person may not be "of our time," it's still -- in most of our relationships -- a persistent fact. And all the stuff we reveal online -- from a distance -- doesn't just dissipate the moment we see someone up close.

As much, often, as we wish it might.