Thursday, January 23, 2014

Secrets, Lies and Things That Just Aren't Anyone Else's Business

I'm good at secrets. I kept a lot of secrets for a lot of years, not only my own but other people's as
well. I still keep a lot of other people's secrets. I am trying, within the context of not boring people into paralysis, to keep a few less of my own.

In this new world of 24-hour social media, not everybody needs to know everything about everyone else, and we're certainly under no obligation to share the intimate details of our lives. But deciding not to share something is not the same thing as keeping a secret. I've been thinking a lot lately about where the line between privacy and secrecy falls.

As best I can tell, the line is a lie.

Let us say, for example, that you are having dinner with an ex, and would prefer not to tell your best friend about it, because your best friend will tell you (kindly and truthfully) that this is a bad idea. So your best friend calls, and you have a long conversation, and you just don't mention that you're going to be seeing That Person, because why would you even get into it?

The way I figure it, this is secret-adjacent. It didn't come up, you didn't mention it, and if the dinner really is innocent, there won't be anything to tell except that you saw That Person and it was fine.

It becomes a secret when your best friend says, "What are you doing tonight?" and you tell a lie. Because lies are like potato chips: no one can ever stop at one. The first lie creates the need for a second, and a third, and a whole fabric of conceit that winds up changing your friendship, if only in the subtlest of ways. A lie is the compounding of a secret, because lies have to be secret, too. Do it long enough, and eventually you don't remember what the truth was in the first place.

The easy reaction, then, is to say, "No secrets, no lies." But the mechanics of human relationships don't allow that. Sometimes, to avoid hurting someone you love, or to save something important, you really do have to keep a secret. Sometimes you really do have to lie — as long as you don't allow yourself to forget the truth. (For further discussion, I refer everyone to Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.)

As I navigate my new less-secret life, though, I reserve the right to say, "I'd rather not talk about that," and I will do my best to take it as a complete answer from the people around me.

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