Recently, I learned that my 71-year-old French immigrant father is conspiring with his four living siblings behind my 93-year-old grandmother’s back. Their aim is to expedite my aunt’s marriage to her longtime lesbian lover so she can inherit 50 percent of her partner’s pension in the event that she survives her—a right reserved to the legally wed in France.
My father and his siblings (minus the homosexual of the bunch) don’t necessarily agree with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Like their mother (but unlike me), they’re ultra religious conservatives. It’s certainly heartwarming to witness sibling loyalty trump political leanings and church doctrine. But what I find most intriguing about Dad and company’s secret mission is the fact that these very grown-up people are still tiptoeing around their mother, lest the truth prove too upsetting.
All of this got me thinking about the things our parents are better off never knowing. As an adult, it can be tempting to reveal certain details about the past to mom and dad—because we can’t help gloating about the stuff we once got away with, because we want to emphasize how mature we’ve become in the years since, or because we want forgiveness. But at the risk of traumatizing someone, is it wise to divulge a secret?
As an advocate of the Venn diagram approach to romantic relationships, which depends upon couples avoiding full disclosure, I believe in the value of discretion. I also believe in dodging certain subjects at the dinner table for the sake of getting along with those we love. In this vein, it seems reasonable to protect our parents from certain aspects of our personal histories ad infinitum.
So here are 5 things I will never tell my parents, no matter how sentimental I feel (or how drunk I get) at any forthcoming holiday get-together. I encourage you to make a list of your own, which you can lock in a vault, or publish on the Internet trusting that your Luddite parents won’t encounter it.
1. I lost my virginity in the least inspiring way possible.
Sex shouldn’t be embarrassing. Typically, my boyfriend and I take measures to boink on the sly when staying at my parents’ house, but since we’re in a loving, long-term relationship, it wouldn’t be all that devastating if we were discovered humping. That said, my parents do not need to know about the anticlimactic way in which I lost my virginity the summer after freshman year of college.
I was 19. He, 22. During hangout session number three, we watched Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey, at his parents’ house in Connecticut. Then we went upstairs and had sex in his childhood bedroom. Throughout, he screamed, “Can you feel me inside you?” Meanwhile, I stared at the ceiling wondering whether or not I was supposed to answer, and, if so, with how much gusto. Also, it hurt.
2. I gave too many blowjobs in high school.
Before I lost my virginity, I was arguably a bit too generous in the blowjob department. I performed oral sex on more than a few guys with whom I had absolutely no relationship beyond saying “Hey!” in the hallway. (For whatever reason, most of them refrained from reciprocating.) It’s not that I ever felt pressured into it, or that I thought it would make me more popular, or that I signed some secret pact with 20 other girls to blow as many dudes as possible within a month. The truth is that I wanted to get good at it, which seemed to require practice—just like field hockey, or math!
At least that’s how my mind lets me remember it. But as fun as it is to shake my wiser head at my teenaged self, I’m relatively certain my parents would rather bathe in a vat of strangers’ pee than hear about their daughter’s mission to fellate her way to some measure of sexual prowess.
3. I hosted a rager.
I was a late bloomer, both in the puberty sense and the partying sense. So I didn’t participate in any kind of illicit drinking until age 16. By the time I entered senior year, I was eager to catch up with my peers by hitting up every suburban social engagement marked by kegs, red plastic cups, and beer pong.
As soon as my parents left town for a few days, etiquette seemed to demand returning the party hosting favor. I remember the moment I began to regret this, right about when a meathead of a lacrosse player decided to free our pet parakeet. Although nothing terrible happened—at least not from a legal standpoint—I have a sneaking suspicion that if my parents found out about what unfolded, it would suddenly seem a lot less likely that the cat broke mom’s favorite family heirloom that weekend. Admitting to one misstep can unleash a tsunami of unwelcome questioning, even years later.
4. I’ve spent money like a jackass.
People have disparate views about what constitutes a reasonable expense, and my parents happen to be extremely careful when it comes to managing their finances. They would be horrified to learn that I accrued a few thousand dollars of credit card debt immediately after college (while I was working on Wall Street, no less!), so I could do things like eat at fancy restaurants and buy overpriced clothing. Mom and Dad have never lived beyond their means and I think it’s important for them to believe that they’ve successfully instilled this virtue in me—especially around the time of year they’re deciding how much money to give me for my birthday.
5. I’ve done some drugs.
When my mom witnesses drug use in a movie, she gasps in such a way that any onlooker assumes she’s experiencing the acute chest tightening associated with heart failure. Narcotics horrify her. For that reason, perhaps, she has never tried a drug. Not even marijuana! And although he’s less shocked by recreational drug use than disinterested in it, Dad has steered clear of drugs his entire life too. Curious by nature, I’m no stranger to experimentation. But since I have no intent of being responsible for Mom’s actual heart attack, I’ll be keeping mum about that.