Secrets & Lies


I'm not very good at keeping secrets. My own secrets, I mean. Other people's secrets tend to be pretty safe with me; whether that's because I practice admirable discretion or am simply too self-absorbed to pay enough attention is up for debate. But when it comes to my own personal matters, I'm like the neighborhood gossip, only (perhaps) a bit less malicious.

The first problem is of course the question of what exactly constitutes a secret. My boundaries tend to be relatively loose (although not nearly as loose as some people's, which I find oddly reassuring although I'm not sure why). I'm pretty willing to talk about most things, at least with people I consider friends. Dario, on the other hand, likes to play his cards very close to the chest. It took me ages to get him to discuss things with me, since his instinct is to keep quiet even about the most banal issues, like work annoyances. He is very good at getting others to open up, not so good at vicing the versa.

Over time, under my let-it-all-hang-out influence, he has grown a bit more forthcoming, while I've learned to be more circumspect. It still takes an effort, but years of training and admonitions not to discuss such and such a matter with so-and-so, or refer to anything that might imply this and that around the Whosits, has led me to mostly keep quiet about anything remotely personal when we're around other people unless I've received explicit advance clearance to talk about it.

(If you're thinking, "Oh, well, that explains why you ended up keeping an online journal," you're probably not far off the mark.)

The main difficulty I have with this close-buttoned approach is that it often feels like lying. Even when it's by omission it's still lying, right? And while a lot of times the secret, or "secret", in question simply doesn't come up, other times it's necessary to make a deliberate effort to skirt the issue, change the subject, or resort to the kind of pretending that really is just lying by a polite name.

This may sound funny coming from someone who is still not sure whether she should be considered a pathological liar, but faking attitudes in this way around people who are supposed to be my friends makes me very uncomfortable. I don't like to do it. For one thing, it can be exhausting; there's a elephant in the room that no one else is even aware of, but you have to be on your toes at all times to avoid slipping. For a single evening, it's doable. Playing a role long-term is draining, though, and makes interacting with other people more work than pleasure.

More seriously, though, it feels wrong. I'm not saying we should walk up to strangers and start telling them the details of our personal life (yeah, I know, online journal; embrace the paradox). Call me an incurable optimist, but I tend to think that friends are actually useful in these circumstances. Not only because it's easier to just come right out with the truth instead of having to play-act all the time, but because they can offer different perspectives or even just be there to listen.

I've been on the other side of these kinds of situations, and I know that I've always felt at least a little hurt and betrayed to discover that those I felt close to hadn't seen fit to talk about important matters with me. When you forge a bond of friendship with people, you make yourself vulnerable to them by baring a bit of your weaknesses, being willing to show yourself at less than your shiny best. Not doing so tends to imply that you either are not very invested in the relationship and thus don't want to make that kind of effort, or that you don't quite believe that they won't somehow use your vulnerability against you. The message is: I don't trust you enough to tell you my troubles, because I'm afraid your reaction will hurt me in some way.

There are advantages to not telling, of course (or else there would be no reason for it). You don't have to deal with unpleasant reactions or justify your position to people who think you're handling the situation in exactly the wrong way. There is no risk of being the object of their private scorn or pity. When it's a shared secret, it creates a kind of us-against-the-world complicity that can be bonding and even strangely comforting.

I'm talking about important secrets and lies, of course. I'm all for a bit of social fibbing: there's no point in telling your cousin that the real reason you couldn't make it to her exciting evening of slides from her trip to the Maldives was not an unforeseen work emergency, but a chronic allergy to travelogues involving fuzzy pictures of sunburned people squinting at the camera from an endless series of identical white beaches, each accompanied by a ten-minute description of the events that took place immediately before, during and after the picture was snapped. I do believe that truth is a relative concept, and that altering the surface details of a story to make it flow better doesn't affect its authenticity if the core meaning is left intact. (Very subjective, that one, I know, but a good story trumps pure accuracy every time in my book.)

When it comes to major life issues, though, it's hard for me to go through life teetering on that line between not telling and outright lying. I should be thankful that my life is not so exciting that I have many of these kinds of secrets--I would be a complete failure as a secret agent or undercover cop. It may even be this instinctive impulse to confession that enticed me to become Catholic as a pre-adolescent (well before I had any secrets at all worth keeping).

If you're hoping for a big reveal here at the finish, I'm sorry to disappoint. This is just another one of those pointless and meandering musings, the kind that lead nowhere, composed early on a sunny but cold Sunday afternoon while another part of my brain is contemplating a nap. I've fallen a little behind on the Holidailies train, but now that the past hellish week of deadlines is behind me I'll be back to daily updates again.

I may even finish the story of my trip, which is really not a secret of any kind.