The confidante

A friend I'll call "Rick" came to dinner the other night, bringing macarons stuffed not with ganache but with creme glacée, like a secret nestled in a sweet envelope of meringue.

He also brought another secret, sharing great good fortune that will be announced within a month. "You can't tell anyone", he said, after breaking the news.

"You've told the right family", I said, because Le Duc is terrific at keeping confidences, and I'm no slouch myself, if uneasy.

Lifelong secret-keeping, as in "The real father of my daughter is Boris, but you can never tell anyone, especially her", weighs heavily on a friendship. I'm still bearing a several secrets of this class (and yes, I have changed details), but will be grateful for the day when the teller decides to lift the cloak.

Because I don't bear secrets lightly, I hesitate before asking someone to keep mine. The urge to enlist another in confidences seems irresistible among women, and once uttered, the closed door of discretion locks with a thud.  (The propensity to divulge secrets seems more characteristic of women than men, once I disallow business-related examples.) 

"Ellen" confided in Le Duc about her marriage; she asked him to tell no one, "not even (me)". He felt queasy when I blithely assumed things about the couple that were far from accurate. Later, Ellen apologized to him for decreeing that he had to keep the truth from me. But I asked myself, Can she not ask him to keep a confidence? He could say yes or no.

Sometimes, though, the person inserts the cross-your-heart clause after she has laid the secret on you. This is sub-par secreting and all bets ought to be off, but who would say, "Nah, you told me and now I'm telling, get over yourself?" Co-opted into discretion, the confidante steps up to the trust.

And sometimes I've discovered that a secret granted as an exclusive ("I'd never tell anyone else...") was common knowledge, with the teller waiting to see who cracked first. Secrets as drama, tests, friendship bracelets.

And even secrets as art: the site PostSecret allows the teller to anonymously post his or her secret, creating virtual confidantes.

In Rick's case, the secret isn't larded with scandal or regret. It's bursting-with-happiness news that demands neither the diplomatic white lie nor devious distraction, just several day's silence. 

Still, it's almost harder not to blab about his good fortune; joy multiplies when divulged. 

Can you keep a secret? Do you ask it of others?


jen storer said…
I'm forgetful (i think it's because I'm a writer and my head is full of other fancies). Whatever the reason, I tend to forget most of the secrets I've been privy to! I have been puttering through your blog, reading bits here and there. It really is delightful. I turn 52 next week and find 'growing up' weird, to say the least. Your words are inspiring. Thank you for sharing.x
Déjà Pseu said…
I don't like being asked to keep most secrets, and if the web of deceit is complex enough, I may lose track of who knows what (heaven knows I have enough on my plate already) and inadvertently spill the beans. I refuse to promise to keep anything from my husband, unless it's one of those we-got-him-a-gift-don't-tell types of secrets.
see you there! said…
Like Pseu, I really don't want to hear and be asked to keep secrets. I also refuse the idea of keeping a secret from my husband. I'd rather get whatever information when it is public.

I do not like to keep secrets from my husband but have done so in the past. Nowadays I ask the secret teller to understand I will share this with my spouse so tell me only if that is OK.
Susan said…
Like others, I always say up front that I don't keep secrets from my husband. However, there have been things that I have not been asked to keep confidential that I have not shared with him. Sometimes, he just doesn't WANT to know something--especially if it concerns a friend making choices that are unwise. This doesn't happen very often, but I can think of at least one instance.
Gretchen said…
A secret that will bring joy or pleasure once public is easy to keep. One that will hurt, shame, or embarrass another is not a secret I want to be party to, and have said so. However, sometimes it seems that someone asks for confidence not so much to keep the secret, but to seek advice on how to handle a situation with more grace or sensitivity than they can muster on their own. People who continually ask others to keep secrets are engaging in power play and I don't like it.
Anonymous said…
I am dealing with a burdensome secret right now. A good friend is fighting a life-or-death illness and has asked those of us who know (very few & scattered) not to tell anyone. The issue I'm having is that it's breaking my heart and I can't commiserate with anyone. Naturally, I don't want to commiserate with the sick person, and I don't know the few other people who are included in the secret (I don't even know who they are.)
Anonymous said…
I don't want to know anymore if i know more than one of the parties involved. I once kept a secret, my friend was having an affair and in the end ( husband finding out, burning all of her clothes in the back garden) I became the bad guy.
Duchesse said…
jen storer: Thank you and welcome. "Selective forgetting" is a good way to deal with some secrets.

Pseu: Inadvertantly revealing a secret is a mess; I did it once but it was nothing serious, a surprise party- but still, embarrassing.

Darla: I think most persons are uncomfortable when asked to keep things from spouses.

hostess: That works, but only if it is negotiated before they tell you the secret. In Le Duc's case, it was after,

Susan: That is a circumstance where you are using discretion, rather than keeping a secret. I appreciate discretion. You have to know the other person well though, to make that distinction.

Gretchen: Thank you for pointing out that there are various motives for sharing a confidence, and advice is one. Another one that occurred to me is, confession or the act of witnessing. Sometimes someone wants to get it off her chest, but does not want the rest of the world to know.

Anon@11:42: This a sad secret; while there is no shame or transgression, it must be kept in confidence. I too have been privy to such secrets concerning illness. I wanted to support that person, who clearly needed to tell at least a few friends or family, but it was hard. (I am thinking too of Nora Ephron, who kept her illness from all but a few.)

Though it's unclear why you cannot commiserate with him or her (since you both know), I infer it is because it might tip off others that something is amiss.

Bourbon & Pearls: Secrets about extramarital affairs are crawly ones to keep when you know both married persons (and downright weird when you know the paramour, too). Generally these things blow up with sides taken and friendships wrecked- at least in my rather conventional circle.

Anonymous said…
I think the following is true: If you don't want anyone to know, don't tell ANYONE.

Well, I had a good friend who died of AIDS in 1993 - 20 years ago, how time flies, I remember all that like yesterday. He was keeping his illness from his staunchly Catholic working-class family; friend was the only "educated" person in the family circle. At least I wasn't the only friend who knew, but it was so horrible, and not only because a friend a few years younger than myself was dying.

Of course the family was devastated, but said they would have liked to have known, and be able to accept that their talented, accomplished son was gay.
Kathy said…
Not happy to be told "secrets" and never promise anyone that I'll keep it from my husband. Also, have had the Tabitha situation happen to me, and don't want to know those sorts of secrets either. I've been holding a secret from a very close friend for over 30 years and sometimes it weighs on me - wish I didn't know.
Duchesse said…
Carol: good advice along the "Two can keep a secret if one is dead" lines, but obviously not done very often.

lagatta: When secrets are kept from someone who would have liked to have known, I hope they ask themselves what fear or concern affected the silence. Sexual orientation is still a secret in many families and communities.

Kathy: I wonder how many of us have actually been able to stop the teller and say "No! Don't tell me! Not another word!" Either my curiosity outweighs my unease or they have just dropped it on me out of the blue.

Anonymous said…
I'm similar to others in that I don't generally keep secrets from husband. I don't come across too many secrets but I generally don't mind keeping them. I would have major issues with an affair - I think I'd be issuing ultimatums or breaking off the friendship. An affair is just so unecessarily devastating.

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