Keeping secrets

I keep people’s secrets. I even keep them after our relationship or friendship has ended. Only if the secret was potentially damaging to someone (else) would I reveal it.  I have yet to find myself in a situation where I needed to come forward because I had crucial information, that is, where I needed to tell someone’s secret.

Not everybody is like this.

Many years after the fact I learned that someone betrayed a confidence. You wouldn’t expect to find out something like that so much later but I did, by happenstance. I was startled, then very annoyed. You see, the secret wasn’t even mine. I had told it to someone close to me only after I got permission from the person whose secret it was. I revealed it with their blessing so to speak. It was the kind of secret anyone with any sense – and a decent working conscience – would know not to repeat. What irked me was knowing I’d told someone else’s secret – even with their knowledge and permission – and the person I told blabbed.  My hand was in it. Had I misjudged the character of the person I told? If so, that was on me. The corker is the secret wasn’t anything the blabbing person was entitled to know. It didn’t involve them and would have no real impact on their life.  Their action – repeating the secret – betrayed not one but two people.

The thing is once a secret is revealed, there is no longer any control over it. I have no way of knowing if the person I told repeated it with any caveats, such as: “I shouldn’t be telling you this but…” or “Don’t tell this to anybody else…” or “I was told this in confidence so I am trusting you…” Perhaps they didn’t add any caveats at all.  I  have reason to think they didn’t. Maybe they just told it like it wasn’t any big deal. Or to get attention. Did they tell it after we were no longer in a relationship? That’s my best guess. That they didn’t feel a sense of obligation to me – or the person whose secret it really was – any longer.

I think the things we learn about other people when we are close to them are sacred and not to be treated lightly if and when we are no longer close. If they are revealed to anyone else, it should be done with care and thought.

Many years ago a friend told me that someone was upset with him because he’d repeated their words to another friend. He defended his action to the unhappy friend by saying in so many words, “Anything you tell me is as good as telling her.”  While the words weren’t intended for my benefit, I damn sure took them to heart. This was the first I was hearing of his belief. I didn’t want anything I said to be “as good as telling her” so from that day forward I took care with what I revealed, more than I would have had I not heard this.

Sometimes people tell their spouses everything and it’s a good idea to know if that’s the case when talking to one or the other. I’m not sure what I think about that. If I was friends with only one of the pair – let’s just suppose in a hypothetical situation – I don’t think I’d much like this tell-spouse-everything policy. Maybe I’d say, “Look, if tell you something, are you going to tell [husband/wife]?”  Generally though, I don’t think you should have to assume, outside of married people, that your private words – your secrets – are going to be revealed.

Once, long ago, a very close friend, a platonic friend, casually mentioned she’d been discussing my sexuality – specifically where I fell on the sex scale – with a good friend of hers, someone I’d never met. I was not at all happy.  Why was my friend discussing me like that with someone I didn’t know? A stranger?  She seemed surprised by my reaction and was more defensive than apologetic. Which was odd, because my friend was intensely private herself and would not have liked me talking about her that way to pals of mine, I was sure of it.

It’s a funny thing what people consider should be kept private or not. And today, with so many feeling compelled by social media to reveal so much in order to hold people’s attention, privacy and discretion can seem like antiquated, silly ideas.  When you have a blog, you particularly need to deal with this, especially one where you talk about your life, your feelings, your emotions, your experiences, your private business. How much to reveal? What is off limits?

I decided early on – and have held to it – that I wouldn’t put anything on this blog that I wasn’t comfortable with ANYONE – EVERYONE – reading. That’s my measuring stick. I have to assume I am talking to anybody at all and I have to be okay with that. If I may, I’ve noticed that among bloggers, sometimes something happens that causes a person to a) make their blog “private” so that readers must request permission to see it or b) disappear entirely.  I have to assume, when either of these happens, that the blogger felt they revealed too much or caught some kind of unpleasant backlash for what they revealed.  (Which isn’t to say a blogger couldn’t go private or disappear for other reasons, just that I guess feeling exposed or over-exposed might be the likeliest reason.)

I had another close friend, someone who went out of their way to tell me they didn’t discuss details of their relationshipswho seemed proud of that fact, who subsequently discussed me with casual acquaintances of his. Had he not made those big statements, statements that set me up to trust him, I probably wouldn’t have been quite as put out. In time I had an opportunity to point out this discrepancy of his, to remind him of what he’d said. He looked a bit sheepish and didn’t really have much of an explanation for what he’d done. My point was if you were going to talk about me – if you felt you must – at least make it to someone close to you, not casual acquaintances. (And maybe skip the big pronouncements about how discrete you are.)

It pays, usually, to know how someone else treats secrets. What value they place on them. If they recognize that a private revelation IS a secret and deserving of consideration, deserving of respect.  You can’t always know, no matter what another person says about it.  Sometimes revealing secrets is just a leap of faith.

11 thoughts on “Keeping secrets

  1. Tim Willow

    Great post. The world revolves on gossip, I think. The caveat is fostering them illusion that secrets have not been told as the perons the secrets are told to does not tell the person they involved . Perhaps a reason why reality shows can be popular as they depend on that -social gossip – always getting back to the person involved.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you. I think there might be a distinction between gossip and secrets, or maybe I would just like there to be. Sometimes people tell their secrets to strangers – the person on the plane or the one they meet in a different state or country – just to minimize the chance it gets repeated to anyone of significance. Then again, people use secrets as social currency, as you suggest.

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      1. Tim Willow

        We could digress on this to early tribes and how gossip engendered trust, ironically. Your last comment reminds me of Chaucer – the pilgrimage as part of telling secrets to a strange priest as local priests couldn’t be trusted with information about affairs and such. But an interesting subject one which naivety led me down a similar path 🙂 if it was naivety!

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  2. Becky Ross Michael

    You make some very good points, here. I think that it’s too easy, when sharing “secrets” with others, to think that they feel the same way about privacy that we, ourselves, feel. We must be careful to not make that assumption. And you’re certainly right, that social media has added a huge challenge to this issue. I think that many people reveal things this way that they wouldn’t in person, all the while knowing that everyone/anyone can see it!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Becky, quite right; we assume other people feel about secret-keeping like we do – sort of the way we think the word “love” means the same thing to other people (wrong!😐). On the social media front, I think perhaps it’s actually that people don’t really think they’re talking to everybody so much as a select audience that exists in their mind. I compare it to the safety/anonymity people think they have when driving in their cars. There’s a remove in both cases that gives a false sense of invisibility or protection. People say things on social media that they’d never say standing on a stage in front of an auditorium of people – yet it’s really much the same!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you Marie! Unfortunately with blogging, I suspect you don’t know you’re revealing too much until after the fact when responses roll in. And you’re right, it can be tricky deciding what “secrets” to tell, especially when they’re not solely your own.

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  3. Kate Crimmins

    Sometimes secrets or gossip is a negotiating tool to ingratiate them with someone. I learned early (then relearned it again and again) that secrets are only secrets when only one person knows. I confronted a friend who blabbed about a medical condition I was wrestling with. I hadn’t come to terms with it yet but had all these people giving me sympathy. I was pissed beyond words. That was the last straw. I rarely confide and like you, I blog about things that are not secrets. Sometimes I am stunned with what people share.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I would feel just as you if somebody told something so personal without permission. (If I was sick, I really don’t think I’d want many people to know; people treat you differently and that might not be what you want or need). I do share a certain degree of “secrets” on my blog but consider them mine to tell, especially the things I tell about my family, even when they’re not flattering to them.

      I DO know people who spill secrets that aren’t theirs to tell, just to get attention. It really pisses me off.

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