I’ve been burned by secrets. Mostly when I’ve smugly believed I was on the inside track of one, but it turned out I was foolishly believing in someone whose only intention was to deceive me in some way. And I don’t always blame myself for it, since the false words uttered had come from a person with whom I was in a serious relationship. But the aftermath of realizing you’ve been lied to by the person who also told you every day that they loved you can be a paradox of ugliness. There’s a paranoia you carry into your next relationships so that it never happens to you again. Don’t be so trusting, your brain shouts as you slide headlong into a new crush and immediately want to forge a clean slate and believe everything that they say to you.
Before social media took such a prominent hold on how we depict our lives, whether it’s a locked account only available to friends and family or a public one, I felt like my past experiences with an unfaithful partner had taught me to be cautious if they hesitated in announcing my existence. Friends who I heard about but never met, mothers who didn’t seem to be aware how much time their sons actually spent at my apartment. But then the explosion of online life took everything to a new level. It seemed immediately obvious if someone wasn’t going to acknowledge you on Instagram or Facebook, or the myriad of other platforms where cute couple content reigns supreme, then it was clear that they were hiding something.
I had operated so long under the assumption of if you have to hide what you’re doing, then to some extent you know it’s wrong. The only logical conclusion could be that these guys were not being completely honest about how many other girls they were seeing and they needed to appear as if they weren’t tied down on their social media accounts. Or if they were questioned about a picture with a female, they wouldn’t be required to directly lie. Keeping our time together offline could be perceived as a lie only by omission, inherently less grievous an offense.
Until the day came when I didn’t want to reveal my relationship on or offline and I realized there was a whole other side to the situation that I wasn’t considering.
I wasn’t dating someone people wouldn’t approve of, I wasn’t bouncing around telling half truths to lots of different guys, all I was doing was still figuring out how I felt. That’s what I told myself.
Deep down I knew because he was handsome, charming and kind, introducing him would immediately open the floodgates, courting the favorable public opinion of my friends and family that he was “perfect” and “amazing.” And once you invite the third party masses into your relationship, they end up feeling owed explanations for every move you end up making with your significant other going forward.
Without plastering our photos together or confiding in my friends about him yet, I was taking the pressure off and just allowing myself to feel what I was going to feel.
Instead of trying to decipher new boy behavior through the counsel of my friends, I was communicating more with him directly and I found that we were connecting earlier on than any other relationship I’d ever had. Had I discovered adulthood? It didn’t feel like I was keeping a secret. I didn’t feel guilty, I felt like I was trying something new and it seemed to be working. But the absence of guilt is what made me think I SHOULD feel guilty.
Maybe because the quintessential question when you are catching up with friends and family has always been, “are you seeing anyone?” Always spurred by the belief that they’re checking in on your overall happiness, but sometimes feeling like they’re asking for permission to judge your answer or the person behind it if you reply in the affirmative. And the question seems to come faster and furiouser if they can’t confirm anything online. Which is likely where my perceived guilt is fostered.
My innate sense that perhaps I’m being accused of not sharing personal details because I fear judgment.
Lying in bed one morning with this new man in my life, I considered whether it had been erroneous to mistrust the guys from my past. Then I remembered how one had once purposely cropped me out of an Instagram photo and decided that my personal secrecy had more to do with maturity than deceit. I think I had always previously sought the approval of those around me when it came to who I was dating. As if to prove that my past mistakes in romance could be forgotten, completely wiped out by the grand presentation of my current one. Like I needed all of those outside opinions to assure me that indeed this time I was on the right track. But wasn’t that just a projection of doubting myself? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with my own approval? Wasn’t it because I liked this guy so much, I was afraid that letting outsider comments in could ruin everything?
I thought about this as my new guy handed me coffee, while we quietly wrote on our laptops next to each other, feet touching and as we occasionally glanced over at each other and smiled. It was our little world, inured from insecurities and uncertainty and it occurred to me that I had never believed in the power I personally held over my relationships. That without even consciously deciding to do so, keeping it a secret was a product of my fear of things going awry, but also a way of restoring control and balance and living in the moment with him away from a chorus of biases in my social circle.
The secret I was unwittingly keeping from myself was that it’s easier to defer to other people to make your decisions for you. Feed them specific information-positive or negative- so they can give their two cents and sway you so you don’t have to own your emotions. What’s harder is to stay quiet long enough to take the time to figure out and embrace your feelings. Confidently. Because that means vulnerability. And it’s scary because that could mean heartbreak. But it could also just mean real honesty and learning again to trust yourself.