Keeping secrets

When I was around eight or nine, a neighbor who was the same age told me that her family was going to be moving, but that it was a secret and I couldn’t tell anyone. I imagine that this must have been upsetting news because that little girl and I were purportedly very good friends; nonetheless, I dutifully kept it to myself. Some weeks after I’d been sworn to secrecy, my mother told me that the neighbors were going to be moving. I said I knew, that my friend had told me, but had asked me not to tell anyone. My mother was astonished that I’d been able to keep that secret from her. It became the basis for her belief that I was the sort of person you could trust with your secrets.

The irony is that I’m probably one of the worst people to trust with a secret. It’s not because I’m malevolent, but rather that I love telling stories, and secrets usually make great stories. I also love to gossip, which is really just another way to say I love to tell stories. I would never say something as simple as, “John quit.” If I wanted to share this tidbit with you I’d say, “I was in the kitchen after Monday’s staff meeting, making a cup of coffee, when Gary came in.” By the time I got to the punch line, you’d be late for your next meeting, and you wouldn’t mind at all.

To be fair, just as there is honor among thieves, I have my own code of ethics when it comes to gossip, or keeping secrets. If the information is of a personal nature, or would hurt an innocent third-party, I have no trouble tucking it safely away. If, however, someone says, “Peter told me this, but don’t tell anyone else,” I figure I’m not obligated to keep silent. The odds are excellent that any time someone says, “Don’t tell anyone else,” they’ve already spread the news far and wide.

When it comes to secrets, I also happily share my own. Today you might say I over-share; when I was younger, I confessed. This was not something I had any religious experience with, but as a daughter I was an expert. Whether it was the fear of being found out or a compulsive need to punish myself, I had a tendency to share all of my transgressions with my mother. Fortunately, she didn’t retain the information for long, and if she did she was likely to ascribe it to a different daughter, but she was always surprised if I mentioned something I’d already told her. “You did what? When did that happen? You never told me that!” So you see, I knew if I could live past her initial reaction it would be off the front page soon enough.

As an adult, I learned to curb my need to confess. I learned that from my chief Confessor, my therapist, but please don’t tell anyone else. I prefer to keep that a secret.

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3 responses to “Keeping secrets

  1. loved this post! We have much in common. I always say that the difference between gossip and sharing is “intent” and respect. When I share, it is in the spirit of making someone else feel better…”nothing new under the sun.” When my daughters were younger, they learned quickly that I did not approve of malicious gossip. But discrete sharing among friends results in a closer knit community. Loved the ending! Keep it up.

  2. You are a super gossiper–I mean storyteller. I suspect this essay’s genesis had something to do with our discussion about confession. My question: do you ever feel guilty after you share someone else’s secret? ‘Fess up, now.

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