Back in February of last year, I posted on my Safe for Public Consumption Blog about secrets, and how I rather like them. Or, I guess, more accurately, how I think secrets are necessary and helpful at times. And in the last couple of days, I’ve had occasion in my life to revisit the idea of secrets, but within a sexual framework, so I thought I’d bring those ideas over here and maybe extrapolate them out, if you don’t mind indulging me in a bit of rumination and such.
First of all, know that I have secrets. I could share them with you, but then I’d have to kill you.
I like secrets. It occurs to me as of late that secrets, for the most part, are portrayed as negative. Secrets have become classified as things that can cause damage or hurt, and the people that possess secrets are shady and nefarious and generally up to no good. Honest people who live their lives in a morally upright way have no need for secrets.
Nonsense, I say. Secrets are neutral. They are merely information stored. Memories of past events, knowledge of future events, thoughts on the same–they’re just air, or vibrations, or brain wrinkles, or whatever it is thoughts are made from. What makes them “good” or “bad” is subjective. We attach the value judgments. Certainly some secrets are harmful, but not all, and I wonder why to assume they are has become the default setting. I disagree wholeheartedly with the notion that the things we keep secret are by default harmful, and that we can’t be both honest and secretive at the same time.
Secretive. Even the word sounds nasty, doesn’t it?
Once secrets are exposed, they change the way other people look at us–sometimes for the better, but sometimes not. It’s why I feel that it’s important to be careful with whom you share your secrets, if at all.
I love the story that came out quite some years back about Jack Nicholson. He discovered a family secret: the woman he thought was his mother was actually his grandmother, and his mother was the woman he thought was his older sister. Jack’s response? “I’ve often said about them: Show me any women today who could keep a secret, confidence, or an intimacy to that degree, you got my kind of gal.”
We love transparency. We expect our governments to operate in the open, we demand access into the private lives of public people, we don’t tolerate our loved ones keeping anything from us. But mostly we just want someone to tell us what’s going on. Everything that’s going on. We want in. We don’t like being out of the loop.
The thing is, secrets are private things. As in not out in the open. Not for public consumption. Mine, and mine alone. I remember when The DaVinci Code came out there was a whole brouhaha about the “secret Vatican archives.” Yes, they do exist. Oh, the uproar! The Church is keeping secrets! What’s in those archives that they don’t want us to see?
Some poor schmuck from the Pope’s office had to explain (again) to the dimwitted press and the panty-knotted public that the word “secret” in this case means “private”, as in not open to the general public. What’s in there? Just a couple of millennia worth of very old, very delicate documents that could easily be destroyed by the great unwashed running their grubby mitts all over them. You can see them, if you have the necessary qualifications and you ask. Nicely. Lots of museums have private collections (of varying degrees of irreplaceableness) that you can’t just walk in off the street to see. They’re secret. I mean, we know they’re there, we know what’s in them, but if we want to see them for ourselves we have to get permission. We have to show that we can be trusted with the material. And here’s the thing: not everyone gets in. It’s how secrets work.
It was the best definition of “secret” I’d heard in a long time, and it made me rethink secrets in general.
I have secrets, but if I choose not to share them with you it’s not because I’m up to no good, or that my secret is something I’m ashamed of. The problem isn’t the secret itself, nor is my lack of openness a defect of my character. If you aren’t in on something that I consider private, the problem is probably you.
Perhaps I haven’t told you my secret because you lack the sophistication and intelligence to grasp the subtle nuances of the secret. The people I’ve told the secret to are people who’ve already proven that they have the intellectual maturity to pull the secret apart, study it, reassemble it, and study it some more before making any decisions about it. You prefer to take things on their face value–usually because it’s easier, but mostly because you’re just not terribly bright– stating with great authority that what It says is exactly what It means, while failing to go beyond the surface and find the truth hidden under the layers. You seek the sensational. You think the secret is a nail, so you become a hammer.
The secret is complicated.
It could also be true that you have little emotional control or stability. The secret I’m holding, should I share it with you, will become for you a juicy little nugget of delight, and you’ll be so tickled to your very marrow that you’ll have to tell someone else, or explode. You take childish delight in feeling that you know something others don’t; unfortunately for the secret, you have to tell it in order to let others know that you are in this small way superior to them. It doesn’t matter that the secret didn’t originate with you, or that by telling what little you know you’ve given away a part of that perceived power. Because you have to let the world know that you know, you cannot know.
The secret requires self-control.
For some, I can’t let you in on the secret because you are, in the end, rigid and unyielding in your own sense of rightness. The secret requires that you set aside everything you think you know, everything you believe, and open your mind to see beyond your own narrow world view. You have to be accepting and understanding, empathetic and intuitive, and you are probably lacking in one or more of those areas.
The secret doesn’t require your judgment.
I’ve been thinking about it some more since I posted that over a year ago, my brain tickled by conversations about marriage and intimacy and how much you share with your spouse, and how much you should share. Should your partner know everything?
I don’t think so. In light of what I wrote up there, I still believe in privacy, and my husband does, too. He does not read my e-mails, look at my Facebook account, read my FB chats or Words With Friends Chats or my Twitter feed. None of he. We share the computer but use two different browsers, and he doesn’t even open mine without permission. He could, but he does not.
I offer him the same courtesy. Unless he says to, I don’t go into his accounts, read his e-mails, or look at his chats. We share the contents on occasion, but not always. He has friends of both sexes that I’ve never met and vice-versa, and neither of us feels the need to pry or spy.
I also tell him a lot of private, secret stuff because I can trust him with the information, and he does likewise. But not everything.
There are things I don’t tell him about, and things I don’t share, and they have nothing to do with any of the reasons above. He’s proven that he has the intelligence to handle my secrets and private thoughts. I know of all people that he is emotionally stable enough to deal with the things he finds in my head. And God knows he’s proven himself to be one of the least judgmental men I’ve ever met. He’s been completely un-shocked by things that would have sent a lesser man running for the hills.
So why do I still keep parts of my life secret from him? I guess the simple answer is that it pleases me to be able to do so. And part of me worries that if I tell him everything, I’ll have nothing left that’s me. Some of my secrets are powerful because they belong only to me. If they don’t have any bearing or effect on my relationship with him in any way, then they are not harmful and keeping them should be my right.
I mean, if I don’t let you in on a secret, it’s not about how much I like you. I might be protecting someone else’s privacy, I might be protecting my own, and then again, it might be that, unlike Jack, you can’t handle the truth. And that’s okay. I know there are secrets that I’m not privy to. It’s the way of the universe, and it’s as it should be.
I put forth the notion that everyone is entitled to keep secrets. Secrets themselves are not bad to have, and if you have some, you should treasure them. You should hang on to them if only as a touchstone reminder that we live in a world where privacy is a diminishing commodity.
In the Internet age, transparency is all to easy and I wonder if keeping secrets is going to become a dying skill, like cursive handwriting.