Can you keep a secret?
I can. With the best of them. It’s part of what I do for a living. And that may be part of why I really don’t like to do it in real life. Let me amend that. It’s not that I don’t like keeping confidences. Actually, keeping confidence is my default mode. You don’t really have to tell me not to pass something along. Unless you specifically tell me to pass it along, I probably won’t. No, what I don’t like is being snared into keeping secrets, in real life.
I have one relative who is fond of telling me (and others) something, usually something personal, sometimes “juicy,” often controversial, and saying, “You cannot tell ANYBODY.” And then when I am around the “anybodies” to whom she was referring, I can tell that she’s told them the same thing. So we’re all there, knowing, but being forbidden from discussing it with one another while we all pretend we don’t know what we know and aren’t thinking about what we’re thinking about. You know?
It happens with people sometimes who tell you something awful that a mutual acquaintance/friend/relative has done to them. But you mustn’t say anything. To quote Pearl, “I’m tired of this crap.” Telling me how you’ve been victimized may relieve you of some of the distress about it, but it delivers that distress right onto me. I can’t confront the person who did you wrong because you don’t want me to (or do you?) and because it’s “not my business,” (then explain to me again, why am I in this?), and I can’t pass it on to someone else to relieve some of my distress about it, because that would be gossip, and that is against my religion (unless it’s something totally worth breaking that rule for). So . . . here I am, stuck with your crap. Not that that’s an unfamiliar position for me to be in, or one that I can’t handle. It’s just that normally, when I’m in this position, I collect a check after 50 minutes.
I’m aware that both my personal and professional history contribute to my regard for secrets. How many good things have to be kept secret? Not an upcoming “surprise,” but an ongoing secret? Good things don’t become secrets. It’s the illegal, immoral, unethical things that become secrets. And most of those things couldn’t go on apart from the secret-keepers’ participation, collusion in them. And in the end, I believe nothing remains secret. Light shines eventually. Do you know of a secret that has been and will be a secret “forever?” I don’t. They’ve either been revealed, or I can see how they will be, even years down the road, even after some of the main characters are long gone.
I recently received an email from the mother of one of LG’s friends. The subject line said “Something weird about LG, I thought you’d want to know.” The email explained that LG had mentioned to the writer’s daughter, Sneezer, something that she had seen in a TV movie. The topic was of a disturbing, controversial nature. When I scanned my feeble memory bank, I almost immediately knew what LG was referring to. It was from the movie, “The Stand,” which we allowed her to watch part of, on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s a great movie. It’s also over LG’s (age 11) head, but I hope some day she’ll watch it. The part in question was, ironically, a scene which LG didn’t even see. Jif changed the channel. But I, open-minded, open-mouthed therapist Mom, told LG why she couldn’t see it. In doing so, I told her what happened in it. In exactly . . . six words. That is to say, I did not give her a graphic description, the very thing that Jif and I were trying to protect her from. But apparently the brief explanation was striking enough that she told Sneezer something like, “I saw a movie in which [six words].”
I wrote back to the mom that I knew exactly what she was talking about, and I was sorry if hearing about that was distressing to Sneezer, and I would discuss it with LG. Before I went to discuss it with LG a few days later, I reread the other mother’s email. And I had not caught this upon first reading, but she said there, “If you discuss this with LG, do NOT tell her that Sneezer told me and I told you. Sneezer is worried about getting her in trouble.”
(Here’s the part where I shatter any remaining illusions that I am a pleasant, easy-going person; I really think I used to be. I don’t know if it’s WTF, or old age, or what, but stuff bugs me now, and I say so.) Maybe it’s just me, but that pissed me off. I didn’t get any say in the matter. I was being instructed on how to handle a sensitive subject with my child. I really resented this other woman making the rules about how I could and couldn’t do that. And somehow, just the very act of my opening her email obligated me to follow the rules contained therein, or else be a . . . bad person? Bad friend? Tattletale?
I wrote back to her,
“I didn’t bring this up with LG earlier in the week, because we’ve been so busy. I went back and read your email before approaching her about the subject, and I was glad I did. I didn’t catch the first time that you didn’t want me to mention Sneezer. I will talk to her about it without mentioning Sneezer, as you asked. But I did want to let you know, for future reference, that’s not how I normally communicate with LG, i.e., bringing up something but being unwilling to fully disclose where I’m coming from. I wouldn’t want her to do that with me, so I don’t like to do that with her. I only mention this because I hope that if anything arises in the future that you think I should know about, you will still tell me, even knowing that I will tell her where my information came from.
. . . And you can reassure Sneezer that LG isn’t in trouble; I don’t think she did anything wrong. I do need to remind her that not everyone talks about all the things we talk about. Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.
Thanks again for letting me know, and I hope my way of doing things won’t prevent you from communicating any concerns in the future.”
I don’t know whether she’ll ever tell me anything after that. I do know that I don’t want to be constrained by her ideas of parenting, so if she chooses to keep something from me, because I will be honest with my child, that’s the risk I choose to take.
I think it’s the mixed message about these examples that pushes my buttons: I trust you enough to confide this in you, but I don’t trust that you can choose how to handle the information in an appropriate, constructive manner. So I’ll tell you what to do with the information.
How do you handle imposed secrecy? Is it hard for you, or is it just me?
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