Tell me a secret I don’t already know

Almost as much as I am fascinated by memory and by man’s search for meaning, I am insanely curious about secrets. I’m fascinated by why we keep secrets, and what happens when they’re exposed.

But I am also very, very afraid of them.

Not just mine. And what may happen if and when they are revealed.

But yours.

Your secrets scare me, too.

I’m deathly afraid of the unknown.

Of the uncertainty of what you might someday show or tell me.

Will it hurt me? Change my beliefs about you? About people? Will your secrets make me sick to my stomach?

Knowing how scared I am of your secrets makes me desperately want to keep mine safe from view.

* * *

What I mean by secrets:

The things we think at 3 am

The feelings we feel, but hardly ever show or share

The desires we have that we’re certain we’d be tarred and feathered for if we were found out.

All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.

This is what I think will happen when I think about sharing my own secrets. And maybe I’m right. Certainly some of them, if shared, would bring about moderate to severe consequences.

But not all of them. Some would liberate me. I just know it.

And yet, I keep silent.

* * *

I’ve had conversations with friends, acquaintances who insist they have no secrets. As if the keeping of secrets is scandalous in and of itself.

They insist even harder when I push them that their boyfriend/spouse/partner certainly keeps secrets. No way, many of my friends have said to me.

“He’s a regular guy. What secrets could he possibly have?”

I try not to smile an arrogant smile. Though sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll argue the point.

We all have secrets. 

Especially the regular guys.

Not all our secrets are Melrose Place-worthy; not all of them would necessarily damage our reputation; or disrupt our lives if revealed. But they are secrets nonetheless, and they weigh on us.

Some are low-spoken whispers in the inner ear:

“You’re stupid.”

“This will never work.”

“You’re doomed.”

“He doesn’t really love you. He never did.”

“If she really knew, she’d never speak to me again.”

Some secrets are roadblocks. Others are dams holding back figurative flood waters.

Some secrets are background noise. Garbled truths we never quite admit to, but haunt us.

Some are stories we’ve told ourselves so long we no longer recognize them as secrets. We believe they are real.

Everyone knows already, we think to ourselves. Why bother sharing them?

But they don’t know.

Or they do, but they need you to say it out loud.

“Nothing,” writes Paul Tournier, “makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

* * *

The best of what’s been written on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by drug overdose was Tom Junod’s op-ed in Esquire magazine. In trying to capture what drew us all into Hoffman’s character roles, Junod writes:

He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose, I was sick to my stomach. His secret made me sick. I won’t deny it.

The thought of him there in the bathroom. The thought of his wife; his children left behind. The shame. All the shame.

But within hours, my sick turned to compassion. To understanding. To love for someone I never knew.

Secrets are funny creatures. They soften and sweeten us in a way.

Not all of them, but maybe most of them.

Allowed into the light, liberated secrets prove not to be little monsters. But offspring of the human condition.

More commonplace than we realize.

In fact, there is a gift in the reveal of secrets. For sharing them shows others they’re not alone in their suffering.

* * *

This is what I do here, with you.

I liberate my secrets … a little.

I do it under my own name — on purpose.

I dare myself.

I work my “brave muscle.”

And most days, you are kind in return.

Proving my hypothesis. Allowing me to creep closer to freedom.

I hope I offer you some relief in return.

I hope you feel a little less alone.

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25 thoughts on “Tell me a secret I don’t already know

  1. Jen, what a chilling post. So many of us w/secrets push them so far down so we don’t think about them anymore, ever. It was so long ago. It doesn’t matter anymore. But, really, is that true? We try not to think about it. You can still be a super-nice-good person and have secrets; I know I do. I share some on my blog; but most? Not quite ready to share w/the world.

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    • I have a few secrets I’ve pushed down and didn’t think of them myself until your comment on this post. I imagine we’re all pretty skilled at pushing that stuff down. And agree that those secrets don’t make me a bad person… Just a normal often uncomfortable human being

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  2. This sounds so bare and open and vulnerable. It really made me think. It is something I need to think about more, too. I didn’t immediately have any secrets that came to mind but the more I read and the more I considered it, different little thoughts started to rise to the surface. I guess there are lots.aybe they were half forgotten because I was subconsciously trying to separate them from the current “me,” from my reality. Thanks for getting me to think this morning!

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    • I can think of two things in particular that aren’t horrible and yet I don’t want to share with most people, because I imagine people will judge me for them. These are also two things that I know if I just shouted out to the world, I’d feel a lot of relief. Not there yet… But at least I know which two things would make the best pitches to women’s magazines when I’m ready to share them. Women’s magazines always want our deepest, darkest… (Knowing full well they aren’t so dark otherwise their readership wouldn’t lap em up!)

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  3. There’s a saying, “to make friends close one eye, to keep them… close both.” Everyone has dirt under their rug. I’ve just made the faux pas of telling people about it. Society isn’t ready for that level of honesty.

    “All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.”

    Oh, heck, Jen. I do it anyway. It works out mostly like you’d expect. In fact, I ended up apologizing to a wife of a good friend last night because I was pushing her buttons by being cheeky and facetious. Whether she accepts that is her choice. If someone isn’t willing to accept you for the little things, then it’s not a friendship. I can’t think of anyone worth holding on to who I haven’t been livid with at least once.

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    • Slowly, slowly, as we say in Israel, I am experimenting with being more real. Sharing more of me with people who love me, daring them not to. Little things to me aren’t so little to others, and vice versa. But this is the clever hold secrets have on us, convincing us little things are too big to reveal

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      • From what I gather of your writing, Israel is very socially conservative. Social conservatives have to warm up gradually. Otherwise they think “mutually agreed upon” rules (in the way silence is perceived as acceptance) have been broken in some fashion. They only problem is humans have the dichotomy of being natural rule makers and rule breakers. There are many who didn’t sign up for certain social norms.

        May you find many who accept you for all your faults.

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      • I wouldn’t say all of Israel is socially conservative — certainly appears that way when the very strictly observant folks are in the news. But in fact — many of Israelis are quite the opposite — big time rule breakers in a sense that they question authority. This is how Start Up nation was born. I think it has less to do with Israel and more to do with me feeling still like a foreigner and still feeling stymied by the language differences. Thank you for the blessing!

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  4. Absolutely true. At first I wanted to side with your friends and “pride myself in not having a secret” but the truth is, I have some feelings and thoughts that constantly weigh me down, and I do my best to pretend they don’t exist, and wouldn’t want my friends to know about. Unlike you, however, I don’t feel like revealing these thoughts will liberate me, I feel like they’ll leave me “bare” or “naked” or “stripped” as people will have seen my weaknesses making me more vulnerable, don’t you think?

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    • Yes I do. Though less that, for me personally, as I am worried about how my secrets will make me “look” to others. (Think less of me, not like me, etc.)

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  5. Everyone has secrets. You’re right. And is it really necessary to know them all to truly know a person? I still hope MTM finds some things about me mysterious, that there are still some layers he hasn’t peeled back. When there’s nothing left to learn, to discover, to find out, what’s left?

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    • Spilling everything to everyone without care — I agree. But I also think that we can too easily get trapped into a mindset of “Who wants to hear about me, anyway?” Don’t you? I’ll check ou the Ted talk! (Love TED)

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  6. This piece is, as I told you briefly in FB, Genius… not only because gives us some kind of “weird” relief, but also because take us softly to our darkest self and whisper gently “it is ok, you are human.”

    Jen, you are a very talented writer and in today´s world where everything is 140 characters long it is a virtue to engage someone the way you do… thanks for this text, thanks for feeding our souls in such an amazing way…

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  7. Thought-provoking post, beautifully written. I kind of like my secrets. When I think about them, I revel in the knowledge that only I know them and they are something that belong only to me. I kind of hoard them selfishly, like eating the ice-cream all on your own from the tub.

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