Thursday, November 16, 2006

(Don't) Tell Me a Secret

I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. It would be an exaggeration to say that I’m incapable of keeping a secret – I’ve done it on one or two occasions, but always with that about-to-burst sensation, a kind of internal pressure that leads to a palpable sense of relief when the secret finally becomes available for public consumption.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that I don’t really approve of secret-keeping. Certainly there are occasions when guarding a secret is appropriate: priests, for instance, ought to respect the confidentiality of the confession booth (one good reason, alongside the fact that I’m not Catholic and not a man, that I’ve never considered the priesthood). But often secret-keeping is just blatantly wrong: secrets can serve to cover up crimes and protect the guilty; they can be used to define the boundaries of a group and exclude those who aren’t privy to the inside information. Even aside from such blatant abuses, however, secret-keeping seems to me to cause more problems than it solves.

Take, for instance, the lies: my ability to guard a secret is never weaker than when I’m forced to tell a lie. I’m an absurdly poor liar – I’d likely break a polygraph machine with my pounding heart and overactive sweat glands: the machinery would be rendered redundant in any case by my all-too-obvious avoidance of eye contact. "Pregnant?" I reply innocently, gazing upwards and to the left, "Oh, no, she wouldn’t tell me if she were pregnant." Lying to impertinent questioners is one thing, but then there are the concomitant lies to the original secret-sharer: a friend of mine used to preface virtually every communication with stern warnings about the top-secret status of what she was about to reveal. Eventually, it seemed as if the safest course would be a blanket denial that this friend and I had ever met. Failing that, I simply assured her that all her communications would be held in utmost confidence, and then thought no more about it.

The most problematic secrets, for me, are those that come between husband and wife: I have long made it known, to hubby and other interested parties, that I support the rule of "No secrets between husband and wife." (Hubby has never actually agreed to that policy, I should note, and though I married him anyway, I do feel the need to reassert from time to time my preference for full disclosure.) Secrets, I have always felt, destroy intimacy, and at worst they can create the space for further transgression – if I don’t mention that friendly email I just sent to an ex-boyfriend, that makes it all the easier for the email to turn into a lunch date, and a lunch date into phone sex, and the next thing you know you’re haggling over who gets the wagon-wheel coffee table.

That said, six years of marriage have shown me that there can be exceptions to the policy of full disclosure. For one thing, a spouse can waive his right to information – I’ve given up telling hubby things like, "Just then I was imagining that we were servants at Gosford Park hiding from the housekeeper in a back closet" or "That time we were Indians in the longhouse." (He always seems a bit freaked out by those post-coital revelations.) And for his part, he has never admitted to me that any woman is attractive besides me and Cate Blanchett. There are some things in a marriage that just don’t need to be said.

When it comes to third-party secrets, though, I stick to my guns. It should be rare indeed to ask someone to keep secrets from a spouse. For one thing, a secret that’s really worth keeping will often create a burden for the tell-ee. Jane Austen describes that vividly in Sense and Sensibility when Lucy Steele confides her secret engagement to Elinor Dashwood. Austen makes it clear that such confidences are not only selfish but also a means of exerting control over another person, who is barred by the exigencies of secrecy from seeking the emotional relief that the tell-er sought in revealing the secret in the first place. My friends have always known that, unless otherwise specified, the things they tell me go to (a) my mom, and (b) my husband. I can dispense with (a) when necessary but only rarely with (b). A couple of years ago one friend of mine went through a deeply private and traumatic experience, and I was amazed by her consideration for my feelings in bearing that secret: she gave me carte blanche to talk to anyone I needed to about my own emotional response to her situation, and though I limited the circle of information to my mom and husband (and made sure she knew I had done so), I deeply appreciated her sensitivity.

I’m aware that this view is by no means universally shared: many people feel it’s essential both to marriage and to friendship that one routinely protect the privacy of one’s friends by keeping any and all personal information secret even from a husband or wife. What’s your take? Tell all? or Loose lips sink (friend)ships?


Mayberry said...

I'm generally with you--that I shouldn't be asked to keep a secret from my husband. But if it's about a third party--a friend of mine, especially one he also has a relationship with--and she asks me to keep her confidence, I'd do so.

Excellent WHMS reference, by the way.

Lawyer Mama said...

I usually don't mind if someone asks me to keep something a secret, but I won't keep anything from my husband. I think it goes unsaid that all communications to me are going to go to my hubby!

julia said...

The only time I keep things from my husband is when I've forgotten about them. It's not done to keep a secret, it's done because I can't remember jack. But yes, I agree, I don't like keeping things from him. In general, I don't like keeping secrets. I'm not very good at it either and I think it breeds mistrust.

penelopeto said...

are you trying to tell us something? do you want us to guess?

I tell the huz everything about other people's secrets and occasionally keep a few of my own from him. these are of the 'cost-of-shoes' variety, or 'yes, i made that call' variety. otherwise, he's privvy.

but no one else will know if you have asked me not to tell, or if i just think that what we talked about is noone else's business.

is gossip the same? i'm a bit of a gossip.

Julie Pippert said...

I guess it depends upon what a secret is exactly.

I got angry---justifiably IMO---one time when a friend bellowed far and wide (see, it's there in the subjective telling LOL) about a problem my daughter had and my distress in trying to solve it. She told fellow friends, my daughter's teacher, and others. If I'd wanted it out there I would have blogged about it. LOL

I never said, this is in confidence. was.

At the end of the day, sometimes a story simply isn't mine to tell, and isn't someone else's business, other than pruriently (is that a word?).

Such as...a friend confiding she is unexpectedly pregnant, and needs a confidant, but isn't ready to share with others yet...or my mother considering going to visit my sister, but doesn't want to say yet to get hopes up, but needs someone to bat around the idea with...that sort of thing.

Things that need to be out, will eventually get there.

If keeping it back causes harm, or if it is of direct interest to someone else, I'll be honest, "You/I need to share this...because such and so..."

But then, I think of myself generally as a fairly decent confidant. Certainly people seem to like to tell me things, and in general, I keep it to myself. Hold my own counsel. I believe in confidence.

But perhaps this isn't what you mean.

Please do clarify for me.

I do in theory see your point and agree with it to some degree, but like I said...depends on what constitutes a secret, and why it needs to be out there from my lips.

Now...DH is the other half of me so I do pretty much share most things with him.

Kristen said...

John is privy to everything I know, and I assume that on some level my friends and family understand and accept/expect that. If it's something that really has to be a true "secret," then I make sure to make that clear when I share it with John. But I generally think that spouses have rights and priveleges (if you will...) in this area that trump the rights and priveleges of the secret teller. Of course, as with everything, I'm sure at some point in my life, I'll come across an exception to this.

Beck said...

I love your blog! Every post is so thought-provoking and beautifully written.
I tell my husband everything. And of course, he's my complete opposite and likes to keep secrets.

bubandpie said...

Some interesting distinctions here. Which information is more important to keep private? General, trivial stuff that's mentioned with an overblown "Don't tell anybody!" OR truly private information that is passed on without an explicit veil of secrecy?

Secrecy is related to gossip of course: what responsibility do we have with information that has not been told to us in confidence, but is private nonetheless? Gossip can be evil, and it's a kind of evil I find hard to resist sometimes (though I hope I avoid the most blatantly malicious forms of gossip).

I admire those who are a vault (hubby is one and JP, you sound like another). I'm not really one, though, and some of my favourite people are the ones who can't keep their mouths shut about their own secrets, and have difficulty doing so with other people's.

That said, I have no trouble keeping something under wraps when the information is likely to hurt or embarrass someone. (Under wraps in the sense that I tell no one but my husband and my mom, of course!)

sunshine scribe said...

I agree with the full disclosure rule in marriage.

I am, however, a very good secret keeper for friends. I have a few whoppers that I guard with my life. However, I do have that ready-to-burst sensation so to unburden I usually share them with a taxi driver or something.

Oh and you are not the world's worst liar ... I am. I cannot lie to save my life

Becky said...

I'm not a good secret keeper either. About the only kind of secret I will keep is if someone tells me something in advance of telling everyone else. It's their place to tell their special news. But I will NOT keep secrets from other people's spouses/significant others. I usually threaten them that if THEY don't tell, I will! But I give them a chance to 'fess up first.

I don't like it when people keep secrets from me, either. I usually go off the deep end when that happens.

Mary-LUE said...

I know that bursting feeling you are talking about B&P. I've definitely gotten better about it as I've aged (like a fine cheese! ;))

I'm such a verbal processor that it is difficult for me not to tell someone something I've talked about with someone else.

I tell Paul almost everything--and I'm sure his ears would love a rest once in awhile. Sometimes, if he knows the person well, I might not make a point of telling him something because I don't want him to have to bear the burden of keeping it. I think my friends presume that I tell Paul everything.

If I have an emotional response to something confidential someone tells me, I usually "process" it with someone who isn't connected to them in anyway, preferably one of my out-of-state friends. My pressure valve gets released and the information is safe.

But when push comes to shove, there are some secrets that I have been told that I have never repeated to a soul. Secrets I have no business knowing. Secrets that weren't confidences by the person in question but were others peoples sins and tragedies that I shouldn't have been told.

Really, it has just happened twice in my life but I have never been able to bring it up even with Paul.

In fact, one such secret sharer and I no longer are friends. Part of the reason is because I worry if she could tell me such a thing what might she tell others about me? I can't trust her.

Those two incidents pretty much cured me of the need to share secrets that aren't mine.

For me, I try to be like the friend you described. The people who I trust with confidences are stellar individuals. I am friends with some of the most amazing people ever. Really. So, I trust their judgment. If they tell someone something, I trust them.

On the odd chance that I don't want it repeated to anybody I always make a point of requesting that in advance. (Spouses are never included in my don't tell request.)

bubandpie said...

Somehow I forgot to include one of the triggers for this post: I recently joined one of my church's "small groups," where enormous emphasis is placed on confidentiality. I can see the point of this - churches can be hotbeds for gossip - but I had been assuming that spouses were the unspoken exception (hubby doesn't attend because (a) he's home with the kids, and (b) he hates small groups). Recently, though, it's become clear that there are meant to be NO exceptions to the rule of "What's said at small group stays at small group."

Personally, I have no intention of varying my established routine of analyzing the evening with hubby for twenty minutes or so each time I get home. It helps him get to know people and it's good for our marriage. That's not to say that I'll blurt out ALL private info, but I do find it odd, to say the least, that the church would advocate as a matter of ROUTINE that those who attend small group individually should keep everything that happens there a secret from their spouse.

Aliki2006 said...

I too subscribe to the "full disclosure line of thinking" when it comes to my husband. I just can't imagine *not* talking with him about anything and everything--it would seem very odd. That being said, I haven't had many situations at all when the issue has even come up, so the "full disclosure" propensity hasn't even really been tested.

mamalang said...

I am horrible at keeping secrets...and I've become a horrible gossip. I'm trying to recover, and doing better, but I know my faults still. I very rarely keep things from my hubby, and I hate when I have to. Recently, with his mother's illness, she told me first and asked me not to say anything to him or his sister until she knew for certain what was going to happen. I kept that secret, but pushed until she told him. I hated keeping that from him, but I didn't want her to cut family out of the loop completely.

And I can not believe that a church would advocate keeping secrets from your spouse either, but I guess they are viewing it as not your information to share. I'm not sure about that one.

bubandpie said...

Here are two more real-life examples of Abuse of Confidentiality:

Exhibit A: Couple breaks up, but doesn't want people to gossip, so they inform everybody sequentially and individually, swearing each one to secrecy, under the theory that this way everyone will find out but no one will talk to anyone else about it.

The only thing wrong with this plan, really, is that it is (a) manipulative, (b) ridiculous, and (c) doomed to failure.

Exhibit B: Couple (the same couple, actually) undergo a difficult and personal situation. They don't want all the details to be made public, so they select a slowly widening group of people to confide in.

This plan is not as obviously problematic as the first one: the problem with it is that it's virtually impossible to keep those outside the circle of information from finding out that such a circle of information exists, creating a wholly unnecessary hierarchical division within the social group, and creating hurt feelings.

Kyla said...

Pretty much, if I know it Josh knows it...big, little, or in between. But I MUST repeat to him over and over, "This is a not bring it up during dinner." because he's a blurter. And then he says "But you didn't TELL me not to talk about it!"

Becky said...

I generally prescribe to the "unless otherwise stated, what she knows he knows". Outside of a counselling situation, I would expect that everything I tell a married girlfriend she will want to tell her husband.

I need that debrief time with Keith, too - I will share info I've been given with him unless explicitly told not to, so I treat info I share with others accordingly.

That said, there are some discretionary things that I might not include when I'm talking to Keith.

There is a critical understanding here, though - info shared with a spouse is expected to be at the end of the line. Thus, if I am told something, and I share it with Keith, he won't share it further. Likewise, if he shares with ME something that someone has told him, I won't share it with a girlfriend. If I need to tell someone about it, I'll talk to him again.

Mother Bumper said...

I'm pretty much in agreement. In our marriage we recognize that we both lived full lives before dating and eventually marrying. That said, we don't keep secrets from each other but we respect the private things we brought into our union. Secrets destroy relationships bottom-line.

Also, B&P your When Harry met Sally reference about haggling over who gets the wagon-wheel coffee table made me giggle. Thanks.

Oh, The Joys said...

I'm with you. I am the biggest blabber mouth on the planet. It's a wonder anyone tells me anything.

ewe are here said...

I'm actually a fairly good secret keeper. I'm also a lawyer, and I understand the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality very well. It's just one of those things.

However, in my personal life and secrets acquired therein, like you, I consider my spouse exempt from the 'not telling anyone' requests of third-parties. I pretty much tell him everything, and I make sure people know that up front if I don't think they already know. If I'm not supposed to tell anyone else until they're ready, I will respect that.

My husband's the same; he can keep a secret, but they stop with me, not him. He's so open with me, in fact, that I know all his email and computer-related passwords. He actually asks me to check his personal email for him when he can't. He also knows that I have a blog, but he doesn't read it; it's just important that he knows I have one I think. I do keep him informed about what I've been talking about and show him what it looks like occasionally.

I usually assume that most husbands/wives are the same as us. For example, when I found out I was pregnant with MF a couple of days before my dad's memorial services, I had a private talk with my cousin's wife about it because I had some questions and because she's an ob/gyn. I didn't want anyone else to know at the time, too much was going on, and I asked her not to tell anyone yet that I was pg. BUT, I also told her flat out that she could tell my cousin, her husband, because (a) um, he was her husband and I respected that dynamic, and (b) as luck would have it, also a family doctor. Who better to know? And she did, and they were both wonderful about not telling anyone else until I was ready to be 'outed'.

Very thought provoking post, by the way. I really enjoy your blog. (Although blogger is driving me bonkers tonight!)

cinnamon gurl said...

I'm definitely of the tell all to the huz variety.

But sometimes people tell me things that I figure are just not my news to share (like pregnancy)... if asked directly, I always go with the old "I have no idea" but I am a lousy liar. If questioned further I usually end up humming and hawing. And depending on Sugar Daddy's relationship with those people I may or may not share with him. If he knows someone who knows that person, I won't bother sharing it because he could slip.

As soon as something upsets me, I figure it's fair game to share, because it's become my problem; however, I choose who I share it with carefully, and try to ensure some confidentiality.

I have broken confidences, that I didn't understand the seriousness of. And there are two things that I remember people asking me specifically not to share with the huz. So I didn't, because he knows the folks involved. The truth is, he's not that interested in other people's business anyways; not the way I am. Plus, he just forgets everything I tell him, so secrets are pretty safe with him.

nomotherearth said...

I do assume that everyone who tells me a secret understands that the Husband will be told. Luckily, as a couple, we are very good secret keepers. Anything I tell him stops with him, and vice versa.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh B&P what a great discussion...thanks! And that it stemmed from a small group at church is good: Common ground for discussion fodder. :)

I also have a small group at church and we have the same rule. I abide by it absolutely, unless it is general-public-information.

Our rule exists because we might reveal highly personal information or experiences in the course of discussion.

If I, for example, opt to share a personal story to illustrate a point under discussion, I have done so by considering who is in the room and deciding to tell those people, and only those people. Some things...yes, I would be uncomfortable to learn they had been shared with a spouse.

You know...actually? I hadn't assumed in general it is done. And seeing so many say they pretty much share everything is a surprise to me.

I'd love to hear more from the other POVs. This is so helpful.

Why does it feel more of a betrayal to keep it from your spouse than to share someone else's story?

Let's see...specific...

Mary's dad was an alcoholic --- learned in small group and would not share with DH

Mary's dad is out of the hospital and doing better --- would share b/c it is public

Jeff and his wife are expecting their third girl --- would share b/c it common knowledge

Jeff is really having a hard time adjusting that he will not have a son --- would not share

I don't feel that is "keeping a secret" from my husband. I feel it is fulfilling a promise of confidence, which I know DH respects. I'm a regular singing canary compared to him, LOL.

I am the great analyzer and thinker (can't get away from that INTJ diagnosis LOL) so I do a lot of out loud processing but it is completely self-centered. LOL :)

Okay outside the group:

Kathy and Stephen, mutual friends of mine and DH's are having marital troubles, Kathy confides in me. She is worried Stephen is having trouble at work and not telling her, but taking out stress on her and the kids, and they've had more fights in the last five days than in the last five years. After a dinner with them, DH says, "They didn't seem too happy," and I say, "Yeah, Kathy's worried about Stephen, work or something, stress, you know."

Okay...are we talking about the same thing?

Momish said...

If someone close to me entrusts me, then I am a secret keeper, even from the hubby. I agree, it is way harder to mask it from him since we spend almost all our social time together. So, I often will ask if it's ok. If it's not, I don't tell. These are rare times though, and usually with justification, so I can easily agree. My own secrets, however, fly out of my mouth at a speed that would make superman jealous! I am an open book about myself, often to my own demise!

Great post. Secrets and gossip go hand in hand, with just a thin line between them. Not that I don't gossip, mind you. I am only human!

Mouse said...

I tend toward full disclosure with my wife, for the same sorts of reasons many people have already given. Outside of that, I often balance my impression of the situation with my analysis of its likely impact, were it to spread, and then factor in the relationship of the person I wish to tell to others involved. The best example I can think of happened in high school. I found out that my dance school would be closing, but the director asked me not to tell anyone until after the upcoming performance--she specifically included my boyfriend, who was also in the performance--so that morale wouldn't suffer. I didn't tell ANYONE for weeks. Finally, I confided in my mother a week or so before the performance, because while she knew many of the people involved, she didn't have regular contact with them. The one other student who had been told (some time after me) ended up blabbing, so people found out anyway, but it wasn't me.

bubandpie said...

JP - Great examples of small-group confidences. In my small group, there was one night when two members shared stories about their mothers: the two stories were very similar, but I only shared one with hubby, simply based on the personalities of the two people involved: one woman is very open and gregarious, and I didn't feel like she would mind, whereas the other woman is much more private and seemed slightly reluctant to talk about the subject at all. The first woman's story I told (because it was interesting and cast her personality in a new light), while the second one I kept to myself.

The "confidentiality agreement" doesn't really allow for that kind of judgment call, but I go ahead and make those calls anyway. As I mentioned already, hubby is a vault: there's no chance that any info will spread beyond him, which certainly makes matters easier for me.

To give another example, shortly after the official small group meeting ended the other night, a very fascinating discussion broke out on 6-day creation, the flood, etc. I gave hubby the blow-by-blow account, partly because I was surprised to discover how conservative some of the members of my small-group are in their views of that subject. Now, technically the meeting was over, so I'm not sure if that conversation escapes the confidentiality clause or not. In any case, these were not personal secrets revealed in confidence but simply opinions on a controversial subject. But a muzzle order is a muzzle order, right? I don't take well to muzzles, I guess.

crazymumma said...

I think that cohabitation/marriage makes it impossible to keep most secrets. Oh, and I hate secrets, although I am incredible at keeping them....

Servants in the crack me up.

Veronica Mitchell said...

We are a no-secrets couple, with one exception. If I get a crush on someone else, I am not allowed to tell my husband the name of the crush, because then he wants to kill the guy. So with that proviso, we tell all.

PeanutButtersMum said...

I guess I look at it like this: Marriage is a union, right? Two become one and all that stuff? So if you know something and share it with your spouse and let your spouse know that this info is private, it's not really like spilling a secret, right? My friends/family all know (I think?!) that if they tell me something and it's supposed to be kept secret, I will tell hubby. It's just a known fact. I think. ;)

Shannon said...

How funny. We are much the same on this; I'm a horrible liar and I tell most everything to my husband and my mother, and often my sisters (in that order, though it wasn't always so). Where it gets ticklish is when your husband doesn't want certain things disclosed to your mother and/or sisters (this was early in the relationship and by the time he told me, it was too late - and of course, this scenario has been repeated more than once in our 11 year relationship, ah well). My husband has often taken issue with my willingness to disclose all (or at least most); he is of the "it's none of your business" school and it's caused me all kinds of agony. I think I've broken him in by now though.

Jill said...

I'm very good at keeping secrets, but I agree that spouses should not keep secrets from eachother. It breaks down trust. I always assume that anything I tell a friend could be told to her husband and vice versa. Now here is my dilemma. While I am a good secret keeper, hubby is not. This presents a problem when I tell him a friend's secret and he blabs it when he should not. Then I feel complicit in his indiscretion.

metro mama said...

Hmmm, servants in the closet. I'll have to try that one.

I can't keep my own secrets, but I'm excellent at keeping the secrets of others, even from Sean.

I think sometimes it's appropriate (and healthy) to keep a little to yourself in marriage (especially when it comes to things that took place before you met your spouse). One of the Romantics said something to this effect...I'll try and remember who.

CrankMama said...

I distinguish between full disclosure and privacy. I am a private sort of person in marriage and as such don't feel obliged to share every little thing. That said, I don't hide anything of a troubling to integrity type of nature...

My girlfriends and I share secrets.. but they are secrets between us and usually not involving other parties....

kittenpie said...

I figure I tell Misterpie most stuff, thoguh if it's really touchy, I ask if it's okay.

Between spouses, I think honesty is in general the best o=policy, though I have heard an interesting take on this in the wake of an affair, that wnet something like this: people tell to relieve their own guilt, and if they want to stay in the marriage, they might be serving their spouse better by not telling and just dedicating themselves to healing the marriage. The burden of their own guilt is their probkem, not their spouses. Interesting, no? I can see a certain logic there.

I say give away the wagon wheel coffee table, though.

Mad Hatter said...

First off, I have to mention how delightfully elaborate your coital fantasies are.

I am a good secret keeper in general but I don't like having to keep confidences. A friend once told me that she was leaving her partner of 5 years b/c he was having an affair with another friend of ours. I kept the secret for the few days she needed me to before the news inevitably leaked out--as is bound to happen when someone packs up on their partner and moves onto a colleague's living room floor. The whole affair played out in a very small and tight-knit social group and it all but destroyed the group. I was happy that I could be there for the friend when things were unmanageable but afterwards I vowed I would never put myself in that kind of situation again. It became all-consuming.

I seldom keep things from my husband much to his chagrin. His confidentiality line and mine are quite different. He has gotten cranky with me for sharing secrets he feels he has no right to.

bubandpie said...

Kittenpie - I'm glad you brought that up. From what I've seen, the "It's selfish to tell" line seems to be official policy at Annie's Mailbox, and it always irritates me. Certainly there are some women who adopt the stance of "I'd rather not know" (Kate Hudson is one, as I recall). But unless such a policy has been articulated, the partner has a right to know. And having experienced both the knowing and the not knowing about an extra-marital affair, I can easily say that as painful as it was finding out, the not-knowing was much, much harder. There's so much about a relationship that doesn't make sense when there is concealed infidelity - it's like boxing with cobwebs.

Gwen said...

So many interesting comments, which my swiss cheese brain can't possibly remember.

I loved the wagon wheel coffee table ref. too, since WHMS was a favorite college movie (don't know why since it had exactly nothing to do with my life).

I am a terrible terrible terrible secret keeper. The worst. But the only secrets I know are my husbands because either a) everyone knows I'm a terrible secret keeper and won't tell me or b) my social circle all has painfully boring--or drama free-- lives. I have been chastised on too many occasions for sharing my hub's business--always with my sister, no one else. I don't know why I can't keep my mouth shut. It must be that need to process the info he's giving me. Or the need to be talking incessantly. Either way, it's not attractive. Also, I gossip. I don't mean to, but I think it's one of the ugly ways I indirectly process anger. Gaw! I sound like a cow!

When my mom got married for the second time, she told me I wasn't allowed to tell anyone she was engaged b/c her husband to be was very well known in their evangelical christian missionary world and she didn't want word to leak out before they'd officially announced. This secret seemed ludicrous. I don't know anyone in that world, and my mom's insistence on keeping it quiet seemed so arrogant because while her circle is incredibly meaningful to her, it's also, honestly, really really small. So I told all my friends immediately (also because I was reeling at her engagement so soon after my dad died). Like I said, a cow.

I sort of assume husbands and wives tell each other everything. That hardly counts as secret or not secret keeping to me, but then again, I'm not privy to any secrets. And we know why. It's probably a good thing I don't attend church or small church groups ... or hmmm, maybe I should start.

And unlike Veronica, we have to tell each other about crushes. Otherwise, it seems more like cheating, if that makes sense.

Oh, and I know everyone is piqued by the servants at Gosford Park fantasy, but I'm wondering what the long house Indians are up to.

Eric said...

Indians in the long house? Servants at Gosford Park? This is pretty advanced stuff - way beyond the standard doctor-patient and bad-policeman scenarios. These are also the kinds of revelations that never make their way into my blog. Possibly because my mother is an avid reader. Yet another exception to your policy of full disclosure.

bubandpie said...

Eric, Gwen, MH - Yesterday's deafening silence on the subject of the Gosford Park servants/longhouse Indians had my cheeks tingling - good to know at least some of you were not so overcome with TMI that you're able to rib me about it.

Does it make matters better or worse if I point out that these scenarios are all about setting and character? There is no plot, and, I hasten to add, absolutely no dialogue.

Terri B. said...

As I read your post, and then many of the comments here, the question that kept coming to mind was, "How are you all defining 'secret'"? That can make a huge difference in what you do or don't tell. Are we talking about deception or keeping confidence. One is considered negative (wrong) and the other is considered positive (right).

I don't keep secrets from my husband, but I also don't tell him everything. So the question then becomes how do I distinguish between "keeping secrets from my husband" (deception) and just not sharing something (a confidence)?

As I was reading "The Sunday Philosophy Club" by Alexander McCall Smith last evening, a passage struck me as significant to the topic of secrets and provided some words to describe one of the ways I determine whether or not something should be told to another -- whether I'm being deceptive by keeping a secret or whether I'm keeping a confidence.

"... this duty arose only where there was an obligation, based on a reasonable expectation, to make a full disclosure. There was not duty to reveal everything in response to a casual question by one who had no right to the information." p.216

Granted, this quote is in reference to lying, but the words here can also be used in reference to secrets. Most specifically "obigat[ed]" by "reasonable expectation" and "right to the information." Of course making the decision about reasonable expectations and rights to information can be tricky, but it is a place to begin.

For instance, if my BFF tells me all about her ovarian woes, I DO NOT share this with hubby. There is no reasonable expectation that he should know this and he has no right to the information. In fact, he would prefer not to know. If I tell him something, he assumes that there is some action or advice required on his part, and really, what can he offer in this situation? All I have done is burden him with information that he doesn't need or want.

Now, there are much trickier situations than the example I've given above. And those would be thought through very carefully. I would probably start from the same place in my thinking but might end up with a very different conclusion requiring some disclosure to someone.

B&P and all, you've provided some real food for thought and it has helped me to clarify some of my own thinking to myself!

bubandpie said...

Terri B. - Good analysis (the Sunday Philosophy Club series is great for random ethical dilemmas!). In the case of the BFF with ovary problems, I would agree that no one could claim that the husband has a right to know, or to feel aggrieved at not being told on the grounds that full disclosure had been violated.

But you may have reasons to want to discuss your friend's ovaries with your husband. Perhaps you are upset and worried about her health and you wish to (a) explain your mood so he doesn't think it's something he said or did, and/or (b) air your worries in conversation in order to make them more manageable.

Or perhaps your friend's situation might trigger some concerns about your own ovarian health - you might notice some parallel symptoms, for instance, that would prompt you to explain the situation to your husband.

Do you feel that in the above situations that you are obligated to preserve your friend's privacy and keep quiet?

My view on full disclosure is that I would like to be made aware of the things that are affecting my husband - if a (non-professional) confidential disclosure is bothering him or changing the way he thinks about something, if he's aware of the need to keep it secret from me (as opposed to simply forgetting all about it or finding that it never comes up) - then I want to know what's going on.

I suppose a prime example would be a friend who discloses that his wife has been having an affair. That knowledge might very well affect the tell-ee's marriage: might make him unusually jealous or suspicious. It's important that he be free to communicate his reactions to his spouse so they can be dissipated as harmlessly as possible.

scarbiedoll said...

I was just thinking about this on my way to work this morn. I suck at secrets (obviously). I think I have sunk friendships thinking something was not a big deal, when it totally was to the secret harbourer.

But I still stick to tell all. How else do you break down the walls of judgment? Having something to hide is admitting that there is something in the secret you don't want to be judged on. I'm not down with that.

Pieces said...

Oh my. You have perfectly described my feelings on the issue. I am impressed with the understanding of your friend who gave you freedom to discuss her issues with whomever you needed to in order to deal with your own emotions.

Someone may have already mentioned this--I haven't read the comments yet--but it gets interesting as kids get older. We are in the middle of training Girlkiddo about girlfriend secrets--that it is important to keep some secrets but not all. Very tricky stuff. We used to say that if it is a safety issue, they need to tell us. I've recently changed it and told her she needs to tell me if the secret shared makes her feel uncomfortable, based on something that happened this week. I may need to blog about this one.

mad muthas said...

very much to your credit that you're a poor liar. it's the good ones you have to watch ...

Jill said...

So I am torn with this secret thing. Professionally, I am a Human Resource Generalist and I HAVE to keep things confidential. I do, I swear I do....

but then when it comes to friends and family.... well, I am secret challenged. I try... I really try.... but then I have moments of brain freeze and I blurt out that which I am suppose to keep quiet... uggh.

Lady M said...

Bubandpie - excellent post and excellent comments.

>>My view on full disclosure is that I would like to be made aware of the things that are affecting my husband

I really agree with that. Keeping secrets is very damaging to a relationship, if you're really committed to being a team. It is actively choosing your loyalties as you gather and process information and feelings.

Alpha Dogma said...

I've never before understood or used this leet speak staple, but I literally laughed out loud at "That time we were Indians in the longhouse."
In fact I laughed so loud I woke up the man sleeping next to me. And can you keep a secret? That man - not MY husband. Yeah, just thought in the spirit of full disclosure I'd mention this. But let's just keep it between us bloggers - okay?

Alpha Dogma
(smart ass extraordinaire)

edj said...

You have a wagon-wheel coffee table?

I always assume anything I tell someone can be shared with that person's spouse, and ditto for anything told me. Sometimes I will even check--is it ok if I tell Donn? I can keep a secret, because I feel that it's part of respecting others, and also because I tend to be sort of private. But part of it is simply that each person should be able to tell her own news when she wants. But then my own mother is an incurable gossip, and I'm sure I'm reacting to that.

PS ;) I know, from When H met S

bubandpie said...

Alpha Dogma - Please tell me that the 'man' in question is your son - because otherwise I'll be so disillusioned to discover that even an adulterous liaison is doomed to end with the man rolling over and falling asleep while the woman catches up on her blog-reading!

Kvetch said...

What's difficult for me -- because I do agree with you -- is that for the most part I have no one to tell my "secrets" to. I don't have a spouse...and I would never tell a friend something and ask her not to tell her husband. Therefore, if the husband isn't someone I'd tell a secret...I have to keep everything to myself. And really, I don't know the husbands as well as my friends. It is very difficult to keep everything to myself.

Red Rollerskate said...

I agree. I never keep secrets from hubby, and would never agree to do so. I assume when I tell a friend a secret, that her hubby will know about it.
I am also a horrible secret keeper, and it comes from my inability to lie also.