man wearing black blazer

Can I Tell You a Secret?

After I wrote the post about my mother, The Choices We Make: My Mom The Spy, my friend Eric was over at my house and read it, so my seven-year-old daughter wanted to a turn to read it. She said liked the part “Instead of secret meetings at night, she was called to hold our hair when we threw up and calm our fears when the bad dreams came.

Eric asked if she give him one reason I’d make a good spy and one reason I’d be a bad spy. She immediately retorted that I would be a bad spy because I don’t do secrets. It took a little longer but then she said, I’d be a good spy because of my memory.

Wow, she’s listening. The other day that I told her that I learned through life not to keep secrets. My own, that is. I’ll keep other people’s secrets if they confide in me, but when I find myself doing something that I don’t want anyone to know about, I know I’m taking on an emotional load that’ll separate me little by little from life.

Perhaps we come with an aptitude for holding secrets and if that’s true, I know mine is pretty low. When I was a kid, I’d buy a gift for someone and then, if you mapped my trajectory, I’d go almost directly to the recipient to ask if I could tell them what I’d gotten them. No need to waterboard me, just a little tickling will get me to spill the beans in ten seconds or less.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to keep secrets, or am unfamiliar with the power and intrigue of something clandestine. I remember when I cheated on my boyfriend when I was in my 20’s, it caused me extreme angst. But the furtive calls and messages, the power of the drama, and the emotional charge that came from each time believing it would be the last, also added so much extra spice to the relationship.

I’ve also noticed the implied closeness that sharing a secret brings as a sign of trust, whether merited or not. Or the drama of betrayal when it turns out your friend values popularity more than trust. I remember telling a secret to a friend in my college sorority and the next day realizing most of the 80 girls in the house knew. It was terrible but if I’m totally honest, also incredibly powerful to be at the center of that storm.

The most damaging secrets that I’ve kept, the ones that have held the most charge, are the ones from myself. The times in my 30’s when I switched to drinking boxed wine so that it was harder to tell how much I was drinking. Or tried to hide that I ate cookies for breakfast. Just to be clear, I still sometimes eat cookies for breakfast, but now I just laugh about it instead of pretending that I didn’t.

But there came an inflection point when I noticed that the secrets I was keeping were a barrier between me and life. It was like each secret wrapped me in a layer of plastic wrap and over time, I had become encased. I could no longer feel the wind on my skin.

I started not keeping new secrets. And then one by one, I meditated, wrote, talked, and eventually came to chuckle knowingly about all the stupid things I’d kept to myself.

Coming to know this about myself now gives me a litmus test. Recently, when a long-time friend suggested a torrid affair, I had to gently remind him that I don’t do complicated. Sure, it sounded like fun, especially because I’m unattached. But he’s married. In addition to the fact it didn’t match my ethics, and believing that it would add to the unkindness in the world, it would also have to be a secret. Nope, not for me.

My daughter’s right – there’s no way I could be a spy.  

I’ve written a related piece on my personal blog: Secret versus Private. I also post on Mondays at the Heart of the Matter blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)

37 thoughts on “Can I Tell You a Secret?

  1. Hahaha. I couldn’t be a spy either. My mother couldn’t keep a secret it seemed, except that she did keep secret all the troubles and betrayals she went through. An enigma

  2. I dont know if I would make a good spy or not. I could probably do secrets only cause I am very private and tend to keep things to myself. But if I was caught, that part would suck lol.

  3. “The secrets I was keeping were a barrier between me and life.” This hit me like a ton of bricks–so profound, Wynne! Secrets are like a pallet of bricks that keeps growing on your back until it breaks you.

    I think the only secret in my life is my blog, which no one in my real life knows about, though it’s neither a heavy burden nor a exciting surprise… it’s more like a backyard tree-house and its imaginary world, where I can detach from reality a bit. Strangely, I think it’s been a healthy secret, if such a thing exists.

    So much food for through this morning–thank you, Wynne! 😊

    1. Oh, I love your “it’s neither a heavy burden nor an exciting surprise…it’s more like a backyard tree-house.” Well, I’m grateful that you have your blog and I get to live in your tree house! 🙂 Maybe there’s another word for healthy secrets? He-crets?

      1. After reading your other post, maybe it’s my *private* tree-house with a few select friends stopping by to visit. 😊

  4. I enjoyed both “secrets” posts. The part about keeping secrets from yourself is important, though I phrase it as lying to myself. To others is okay if necessary, but never to yourself.

    When it comes to keeping secrets, when people ask me if I can, I always answer, “it depends.” I won’t keep secrets that violate my ethics. It’s why none of my friends tell me about cheating – I don’t disclose information like that, but I wouldn’t be a vault if asked directly by a relevant party either.

    1. You make an excellent point about being discerning about what secrets to keep for others. Especially if they are harmful to another party. I had a friend many years ago who kept using me as her excuse when she was cheating on her husband. That didn’t work for me either.

      And I love your comment, “never to yourself.” A good rule.

  5. This is such a fascinating topic Wynne. I remember when my kids were little, Larry traveled a lot, and he wasn’t the best at managing or untangling kid drama. Often I would say, “Okay, I repaired the bike, the facet, the wall….(whatever was damaged) and let’s not mention it to your father.” The kids would says, “why do we keep so many secrets from dad?” I’d fib and say, “he has enough to worry about, let’s not add to it.” The truth was he tended to overreact to most things, but those little lies often pave the way for bigger ones, and those definitely cause distance and distrust. I like the way you put it, “The secrets I was keeping were a barrier between me and life.” Such a lot to unpack here. Hugs, C

    1. First of all – nice work repairing the bike, the facet, the wall, and whatever else was on the list! And what a profound point you make about little lies paving the way for bigger ones. That resonates so much with me. Over time, it’s just too complicated, isn’t it? Thanks for the wonderful comment, Cheryl!

  6. I love that you’re not a secret keeper…and the idea that you could barely wait until the ‘right time’ to give gifts is so sweet. Your zest and excitement…and your giving nature. I love how Miss O is so open to watching, listening, learning and chiming in. And you know how I feel about secret keeping. Too much of a burden to manage multiple stories, ideas, nuggets…and unless it’s about protecting someone we love, the rest of it is just stress inducing. WYSIWYG — is that still a term that people in IT use? LOL! 🥰

  7. You are spot on that if we keep secrets about ourselves, most likely they aren’t healthy and are keeping us distant from life. Bravo! As for keeping secrets, my husband would tell our young son not to let Mommy know — and then our son would immediately run to tell me.

      1. We were on a ski trip and the kids were in ski school while my husband and I skied with friends. My son was in second grade. He got separated from his class and was lost on the mountain. He was crying when some nice adult found him and helped him back to ski school and they located his group. That’s one event my husband told my son to keep a secret from me.

    1. Oh, that’s funny Tamara! Isn’t there a song about talking in your sleep? I’m glad to know you didn’t have anything juicy to give away – seems unfair of him to listen in! 🙂

    1. That does seem too often true, doesn’t it? I totally believe that we can increase kindness by refusing to do things that are directly or indirectly unkind. Don’t you?

      1. Yes, indeed. Both kindness and cruelty have a ripple effect. When I’m tired or feeling down, a clerk being kind is much appreciated. Enjoy the holiday weekend.

  8. This is a beautiful post Wynne. “ there came an inflection point when I noticed that the secrets I was keeping were a barrier between me and life. It was like each secret wrapped me in a layer of plastic wrap and over time, I had become encased. I could no longer feel the wind on my skin.” This resonated strongly. I felt like that in my former job when I was suffering from depression. Not being able to talk about it was part of the problem. Thank you Wynne. 🙏

    1. Oh, AP2, I just got shivers reading that. I can totally see how that would add so much to the problem when you can’t talk about it. Reminds me of your amazing Elephant in the Cockpit post. I love all that you do to make issues like depression, anxiety, and suffering relatable and more accessible to talk about! Thanks, my friend!

      1. Thank you Wynne. I have a vision of a world where people aren’t afraid to speak up about their mental health issues. Where they can do so without repercussion or stigma. Where going to see the therapist is seen in much the way as going to see the doctor.

  9. I can keep secrets, maybe because I used to work with HR and there you deal with a lot of personal data that cannot be disclosed, because if disclosed you would face serious consequences, obviously. On the other hand, sometimes you shall speak out if it is a matters of ethics. Once I found out a wrongdoing from my boss that I couldn’t keep for me as it was too serious and informed immediately the security officer. So, I think that yes, I could be a spy 😀

    1. I think you could be too! You make a great point, Cristiana, that perhaps training and experience help shape our ability to keep secrets.

  10. So many truths here, Wynne!This line struck me especially hard, “…when I find myself doing something that I don’t want anyone to know about, I know I’m taking on an emotional load that’ll separate me little by little from life. ” Wonderful insight, beautifully expressed! 💞💞💞

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