“Secrets are never kept. Everything eventually becomes known.”
These words, coming from an old friend, surprised me. I’d been describing the plight of a family I’m close to, in which secrets are eroding the relationship of mother, father, and adult daughter.
The couple were ending their unhappy marriage. They had told their adult children, and although disheartened, they were buoyed by the caring, respectful, even loving way their parents were making plans to keep the family well connected. While the parents were moving on to separate lives, they voiced no recrimination and placed no blame. Protective of their privacy, they simply told friends and family: “We’ve just grown apart.”
Late one evening the husband wrote an e-mail to his wife detailing his distress about her infidelities over the years, which they had kept a secret just between themselves. His message contained no rancor, just disappointment and sadness, as he remembered things about their past that he continued to value.
She sent a reply e-mail, expressing remorse for having hurt him and told of her sadness.
Some days later their out-of-town daughter arrived for a visit. Before leaving the house to pick up some groceries, her mother asked her to access a neighbor’s recipe sent by e-mail that morning. Opening her mother’s computer, the daughter found not only the recipe but the e-mail messages her parents had exchanged days before. The secret was out. But later, rejoining her mother, she said nothing about her breach of her trust.
That evening she told her father about her discovery and made known her anger and disillusionment with her mother. But fearing her mother’s reaction, and adamant that her new knowledge not be divulged, she made him promise to keep her confidence.
Already in a delicate balance, the family now seemed poised for disaster. Privacy boundaries had been crossed, and their previously presumed open communication with each other shut down. A hidden bond between two family members excludes and distances others. And in order to maintain secrecy, the truth has to be distorted.
Did the husband, simply by writing the initial e-mail, display some intent to reveal the previously undisclosed reason for the divorce? When the wife sent the daughter to get the recipe on her computer, did she mean for her to find the e-mails about the adultery? My friend thought so, and to confirm his point said, “Secrets are for the telling.”
I questioned that judgment, as we went on to talk about what had been concealed in our own families. I told him that I often wrote in a journal, especially when I’m troubled. Writing helps me sort things out. But what I write is private, I insisted, with no covert plan for disclosure.
“Oh, really?” he said. “And then do you destroy or save what you have written?”
I save it, but never consciously thinking about future discovery.
High profile male politicians most visibly prove the point when they leave a letter to a new soul mate where a wife can find it, pay for furtive sex by check or with a traceable bank transfer, or meet for an assignation with the press hard on their heels. Do they believe themselves to be invincible, or are they inviting exposure?
We keep some secrets in the sincere belief that others will be hurt more than ourselves in the telling, to the benefit of no one. But by turning a truth into a secret, is it always a truth we wish could be known? Is it only if we are known fully, and our secrets accepted and forgiven, that we feel loved for who we really are, or were?
Do we hide, all the while wishing we could pop-out like a jack-in-the-box and be greeted with approval, no longer keeping the lid on?
So if the music box is wound, the music plays and the catch is released. Well, accidents happen. Right?