Friday, May 30, 2014

What's the Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy?

My friend John asked me to be the best man at his wedding to the beautiful Rachel.  In my wedding speech, I talked about the top three things I learned from John.  The last part of my speech went like this:
I learned openness from John.  He told me, "Before I do anything, I always ask myself, "Will I be able to tell Rachel?"  He wisely trusted Rachel's moral compass more than his own.  That policy deepened their trust for one another and brought them closer.
I continued:
I was very impressed by John's statement and wanted to incorporate his policy into my own life.  My husband, travels often and one may be inclined to exercise more freedom in a spouse's absence.  If my temptations are not leading me in the direction of goodness, I always ask myself, "Will I be able to tell . . . Rachel?"
I recalled this story when my friend, Raymond, in Vancouver wrote me this question, "Do you feel like some element of secrecy is essential in most personal relationships?

I wrote back saying this:
Given human variety nothing is essential.
Given human complexity, it is unlikely a shared experience is shared in exactly the same way that it occurs so there is always a privacy to experience – but privacy is not the same as secrecy.
There is a mystery to each person that cannot be successfully explained through language, art, or actions.  Our interpretation of one another is always coloured by our own expectations, beliefs, and experience.  We might not want to share an experience because we know that it will not be seen through our eyes.  We are more likely to share everything when we have an empathic connection to the other person and know we will not be immediately judged.

1.  Secrecy arises when you violate a previously agreed upon deal.  Secrecy arises when no deal has been made, but you suspect there is an understanding of some sort that you do not subscribe to wholeheartedly.

2.  Secrecy can also be a stated preference of one of the partners, as in, "I'm more interested in what we do together than what you do when we're apart; so do whatever you like, just don't tell me."

The first kind of secrecy tends to be unhealthy and lead to more and more secrecy and deception.  Note the lyrics to the Steve Goodman song "Lookin' for Trouble":

The first time you shade the truth
You want to run and hide
Your tongue gets tied
Your throat gets dry
And you start thinkin' that maybe no one knows you lied
And now you're shady all the time

The second kind of secrecy can be frustrating if you want complete openness.  Your partner, though, trusts you and respects your need for self-expression.  You have to respect your partner's strategies for protecting his or her heart.

My conclusion is this:

1. It seems healthy to strive for greater and greater degrees of authenticity in our own lives.
2. Make agreements that you can live with. When you can no longer live within your agreement, speak up and deal with the consequences. Alternatively, remain silent and deal with the consequences. Relationships are hard.  We all probably need to find our own blend of openness, privacy, and secrecy as we discover and rediscover ourselves and determine the best way to live our lives.

Raymond and his partner are considering opening their relationship to include others from time to time.  He wrote, "Am I wrong in wondering if this is a course that most people in long-term relationships find themselves forced to contemplate?"

It’s hard to know what most people do.  I suspect that the more rigid the rules of the relationship, the more secretive people become.

When you “open” a relationship in the direction of endless possibility, you become aware of the dimensions of your heart.

  • It’s not for everyone.
However, if you love someone, you are supportive of their needs.
You realize that your fears are yours, and you might need to face them.