Sam McRae was recently on a second date with a woman he’d met online. Over lunch at a Mexican restaurant, the Atlanta-based attorney could feel the date going off the rails. When the woman asked where Mr. McRae’s brother lived, he gave her a detailed account of his family’s dynamics. When she inquired about his job, he unloaded about how the pandemic tanked his business.
“I totally dumped every thought and worry I have had over the past year onto this poor woman,” he said.
Even though he could see his date’s eyes glaze over, he couldn’t stop monopolizing the conversation. “I didn’t let her get a word in,” he said. “I cut her off and told her about my entire mental health history dating back to childhood.”
Although they agreed to go on a third date the following weekend, she contacted him a day or two later to say she didn’t see the relationship going anywhere. He didn’t go out with the woman again, though he did apologize to her for being a bad date.
“I realized I needed to talk to a therapist to unleash my inner worries in a safe environment, rather than inflict them on my Bumble dates,” Mr. McRae said.
Oversharing — exclusively talking about personal matters and neglecting to volley the conversation back and forth — with someone you meet for the first time can be awkward and even damaging, said Debra Fine, author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk.” It can also lead to remorse and compounded stress as you stare at the ceiling at 4 a.m., kicking yourself for torpedoing your date.
“You can put yourself in a number of compromising situations when you share just too much information,” said etiquette expert Elaine Swann. Spilling sensitive details about your finances, bad-mouthing family members, bashing colleagues — these things can affect your date’s perception of you permanently.
As singles slowly return to dating it’s exciting to be arranging drinks, dinners and cafe meet-ups again. It’s tempting to be totally transparent in conversations, but being too loose-lipped can leave you feeling self-conscious about the first impression you made.
Sharing too much information can also provoke some people, especially if they’re not expecting to approach a sensitive topic on a date. “Sometimes we go through battles and crises that can be a trigger for someone else,” Ms. Swann said. She encouraged us to be mindful of what we share about our lives as you get to know someone new.
It can feel tricky to toe the line between being authentic in conversation (“How are you doing?” “I’m hanging in there, but barely.”) without giving too many intimate details that overwhelm another person, said Phoenix Jackson, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Oakland, Calif. But holding back becomes harder when one is chronically stressed, as, say, during a global pandemic.
“Part of the problem is that we’re mostly exhausted, and it’s just harder to filter in that state,” Ms. Jackson said.
Self-control depletion — also known as ego depletion — occurs when you expend your mental resources managing one behavior, which leaves you with less willpower to monitor subsequent behaviors, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. When we’re not stressed, it’s easier to handle our impulses and keep our emotions in check. However, when your brain works overtime handling emotional strain, you might find yourself saying more about yourself than the other person wants to hear, as Mr. McRae experienced.
If you’re grieving, experiencing setbacks at work or are overwhelmed by other significant stressors, “that could definitely deplete your resources and make it more likely that you engage in oversharing,” said Ginette Blackhart, a psychology professor at East Tennessee State University who has studied self-control depletion.
Even if you aren’t stellar at exercising restraint now, it doesn’t mean you’re forever doomed to terrible first dates. Studies show that you can increase self-control with practice, Dr. Blackhart said. The more you train yourself to be mindful with the things you say and do, the easier it’ll be to stop oversharing — at least until you get to know the person.
How to stop oversharing
Give yourself a time restriction
Talk for a few minutes — roughly the time it takes take a few bites of an appetizer or enjoy a sip or two of wine — then pose a question to the other person, said Ms. Fine. This will help you avoid dominating the discourse. “Whether you’re oversharing or just stating your opinion about the New York Jets, if you go on for more than three to four minutes, you have become a monopolizer,” she said.
Reflect before writing or speaking
Before you divulge information with the person sitting across the table, Ms. Swann recommended asking yourself: “Is this something I really want to share with the world?” She said we can prevent embarrassing social slip-ups by going into social situations prepared with topics to talk about — and some to avoid.
How to recover from oversharing
Make it right
When you find yourself opening the floodgates with a date, Ms. Fine recommended saying something like, “Oh dear, I have no idea why I blurted that out. Forgive me.” “The key is to acknowledge you’ve overshared and throw the conversation ball back,” she said.
Lighten the mood
Give a warm smile or make a joke. Do something that indicates “that you understand that they’re not just there to be overshared with,” Ms. Jackson said. As a guideline, Ms. Jackson said we should aim to share three positive things — how you learned to knit a scarf, how you mastered a TikTok dance routine, how you finally streamed “Citizen Kane” — for every negative one. This will help keep the discussion from becoming too gloomy.
Bridge the conversation or change the subject
Once you’ve recovered your composure, it’s up to the oversharer to restore balance, said Ms. Fine. She recommended saying something like, “Well, I’ve told you a lot about what’s happening in my family. Fill me in on what’s happening with yours.” You can also change the subject altogether, she said. Say, “So anyway, what have you been watching?”
How to handle someone oversharing to you
Shift the conversation
If someone you just met is making you uncomfortable, Ms. Fine recommended saying something like, “Hearing about medical procedures isn’t really my thing. What else has been going on with you lately?” She also suggested disclosing something about yourself like, “You know, I’ve had a hard time during the pandemic too.” Then go ahead and talk about yourself for a few minutes.
Politely excuse yourself
Perhaps you meet someone at a mixer and, after an initial spark, the conversation starts to fizzle. “It’s always OK to end your conversation with someone,” Ms. Fine said. The key is to first acknowledge what you’ve heard — “Wow, your roommate sounds like a real piece of work” or “You clearly have some passionate opinions about Phase Four of the M.C.U.” — and then give a quick few words explaining why you have to leave.
Extend compassion to yourself and others
After fumbling his date, Mr. McRae realized he needed to take a break from the dating scene and focus on himself. He reached out to old law-school friends and started getting together with them for drinks on Friday afternoons.
He’s confident that having a robust support system will make it easier to for him to connect with someone in the future. “I feel like I can start looking to date again and not see this one person as, ‘Oh, they have to be everything to me right now because I have all these human needs of connection.’”
In the meantime, he said, we should all cut ourselves some slack if we overshare on a date, and practice a little patience with those who overshare with us.
“Be gentle with yourself, and, as much as you can, everyone else who you encounter,” Ms. Jackson said, “because you just never know what’s going on with another person.”