Illustration by Erin Taj

How to Reveal Your Own Uncomfortable Truths

Unburden yourself without burdening everyone else.

There’s a reason the charming and subtle art of taking and sending dick pics has become ubiquitous among adults of the internet age: We’re people who desperately want to divulge personal information about ourselves whenever possible, but don’t have a clue how to do it. Expressing our wants and needs is a lost art for those of us who can only post gifs from RuPaul’s Drag Race to our Tumblrs, hoping that one of our friends will pick up on how horny or exasperated we are. We’ve lost the ability, but not the need, to effectively communicate the truths that bare the ugliness of our souls to those who number among our friends.

My mother and father, a pair of the most adult adults I’ve ever met, were no better at this than most of my 20- and 30-something friends are today. When, in their 50s and 60s, respectively, they decided to divorce, the conversation was abrupt, and conducted on Christmas. “Your father is not going to be living with us anymore,” my mother explained to me, my siblings and the very uncomfortable former co-worker my parents had invited up for the holiday, before allowing any of us to open our presents. When asked years later why she chose such an inopportune moment for what, to some, might be a devastating declaration, she said simply: “You were all home.” Well, I think we can do better. If you’re being pressed by your friends, colleagues or acquaintances to provide information about your life or are filled to the brim with Maury-like news you just can’t keep in any longer, here’s how to drop those truth bombs:

So you broke up: Even in the case of an amicable breakup, announcing to the world that your relationship is over can sometimes feel like an admission that you’re an unlovable trashcan fire with a closet full of toilet porn and a fondness for Zach Braff movies. However, unless you’re the kind of sociopath who decides that a Facebook-status conscious-uncoupling letter or brunchtime summit with the friends you’ll inevitably be splitting would make anyone less uncomfortable, you have no option but to break the news and make like a ghost. (To be clear, nobody is suggesting you ghost on your relationship itself — that type of behavior should be punishable by a never-ending barrage of TV spoilers.)

When your significant other no longer shows up to weddings, séances and the like, simply say, “Oh, yeah, they’re not coming around anymore.” This kind of nonchalance says one of two things: “Something really bad happened, please don’t ask about it” or “I left them in the desert because my black heart knows no mercy and you’re next,” neither of which begs a follow-up. If you’ve been in the kind of relationship where people might actually miss your former bone buddy, break the news to members of your inner circle and allow them to disseminate the information to people you are less fond of and rent fewer vacation houses with. While it might be tempting to inform everyone you know via Facebook relationship update or rainbow vomit Snapchat, doing so opens you up to a deluge of unwanted sympathy and messages from virtual strangers.

So you’re in the hospital: If you find yourself dealing with an illness or hospital stay worth mentioning to your loved ones, this reveal should be a two-parter. First, let the members of your inner circle know. You don’t need to make individual calls to every person who might be worried about why you keep Snapchatting from the hospital (but maybe refrain from doing so!) — you are sick, after all — so an email or text message that’s light on emojis will do. Follow this up with a social media post in which you can explain to your distant cousins and hotter exes what’s going on and wait for offers of coffee, casseroles and screenings of Steel Magnolias to roll in. There’s no need to detail every step of your illness or treatment if you don’t feel so inclined, but leaving out too much key information has the potential to either devastate those closest to you when they inevitably find out what’s really going on or prompt your aunt to call every morgue in town trying to find your body, when you’re just checking in on that erection that’s lasted more than four hours.

So you need a big favor: At some point or another, we all need our friends to lend us a hand — whether we need a loan or someone to hold onto enough of our biological material to clone us in case of a jet ski accident. As awkward as it is, this is always the kind of news that needs to be delivered in person, and preferably not in the presence of casual acquaintances, colleagues or Airbnb guests. Deliver the request one-on-one, while sober, and as directly as possible. Could you get turned down? Sure. Could you find out that your friends have your back, no matter what? Does this collection of your skin samples and hair dolls I’ve been keeping answer that question for you?

So you’ve got some personal history to reveal: There’s nothing worse than having something in your past weigh on your present. For me, it was being born a ginger — a condition I’ve trying to cover up by diligently shaving my body, tip to tail, day and night. For others, it’s knowing that your dad is the Zodiac killer and writing a meandering book about how your parents got divorced and your dad wore glasses and had a woodshed, or whatever. While, as a graduate of some of our nation’s most feelings-y liberal arts colleges, I generally advise telling everyone your personal business whenever the mood strikes, doing so in this case is just a waste of time (and space on people’s Kindles). The unfortunate truth when it comes to most people out there — your friends included — is that they don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about you when you’re not around. They’re not as interested in your sexual history as you think they are, they’re not invested in how your dad got so good at cryptograms and they’re not particularly worried that you once did spice at a String Cheese Incident show. If your secrets are weighing heavily on your conscience, your own birthday or wedding is a great time to share the news — you’ve already got the whole gang there and they’re more or less obligated to give you good active listening face and maybe a back rub or pastry or something.

You don’t have to live the rest of your life as a buttoned-up creeper to avoid having your personal issues ruin important moments for others. Sharing and caring go hand-in-hand, so let your friends lend you a shoulder to cry on, a kidney or a beat-up copy of Beaches — just don’t force those around you to pretend you’re not ruining their child’s christening to do so.