Lean in a little closer. I need to whisper something to you, but promise not to tell anyone . . . keeping secrets can endanger relationships, is draining emotionally, and can be bad for your health. To be clear, I am talking about keeping someone else’s secrets, though there is little doubt that we each have our own treasure trove of things we are hiding from people. That’s a topic for another day.
When it comes to being entrusted with top-secret information, my instinct is to wonder about the teller’s motivation. Is he simply sharing gossip? Shifting the burden of something on her conscience? Seeking absolution with me serving as a confessor? No matter the answer, secret sharing often invites trouble and should not be taken lightly.
I will admit that it is fun to be in the know about a happy and exciting event that is about to happen. Like when your friend tells you his plan to propose to his girlfriend over the upcoming weekend. Or if a work colleague has been selected for a yet-to-be-announced award you nominated her to receive. These types of confidences are the ideal. The hush-hush information is joyful and positive. The best part—you only have to avoid spilling the beans for a limited time.
Yet not all secrets are equal. Positive secrets, such as marriage proposals and pregnancy or other good news, don’t impose the same burden as secrets that involve something unpleasant. Secrets that relate to infidelity or theft or some unusual preference are much more onerous. Revealing these types of skeletons can be haunting to the hearer.
When a secret is burdensome, it is no longer just about keeping your friend’s confidence. The trick turns into living with the information. Even when you are not together, you may be rethinking and revisiting the conversation and worrying about letting information slip out. Then, for example, just try not to remember that the wife confessed to having an affair every time you are with the couple or see the husband. It is not easy. Living with this kind of secret can make you feel inauthentic and disingenuous. At a minimum, it is stressful and draining.
Not all secrets bring such drama. But keeping something private can be very challenging and is often in conflict with human nature. Being in the know about something branded confidential makes us feel important, elevates our standing, and boosts our perception of our social collateral. And yet, possessing insider knowledge is an out-and-out test of our trustworthiness. Puffed up by our au courant status, we can be tempted to divulge a secret, if only to show advantage. But turning confidential information into gossip also reveals you may not be reliable.
Even if you mean no harm and your motives are pure, it is not up to you to decide whether or not a secret should be told or kept. Many a relationship has suffered permanent damage when a secret has been revealed. Life is simpler and happier the more we avoid being the keeper of others’ secrets.
I’m here if you need me. Until then, y’all behave.