Fashion & Beauty

Molly Fisk on Keeping Secrets

3194950746_957fa0a962_zImage from Flickr via Cristian V.

Keeping secrets gives me a stomachache. In my youth I liked the way a secret made me feel: as though I were James Bond, or Illya Kuryakin. Knowing something other people didn’t was a sign of importance and power. But somewhere along the way, secrets started to seem both mean-spirited and way too much work. Now, when people ask, “Can you keep a secret?” I say, “No. I can’t. Whatever it is, don’t tell me!” This startles them, but it works.

I don’t want to know if you’re having an affair, or someone else is having an affair, or somebody has cancer or AIDS. That so-and-so is living on a trust fund or whosits is on the verge of bankruptcy is just none of my business. In the first place, knowing secrets like this means that I see the interested parties differently, and that’s annoying. I turn self-conscious around them, can’t be fully myself, and keep thinking about the secret instead of reality. It interferes with my ability to be open.

In the second place, knowing secrets ties up brain cells that would be much more profitably engaged in writing poems, thinking about my next talk, or planning a birthday party for my niece. I need all the brain cells I can muster these days; using some up for reasons that don’t have anything to do with my life is just silly. Plus, remembering not to tell the secret takes a lot of energy, and I don’t have any to spare.

In the third place, it’s been my experience that whenever there’s a secret, someone eventually gets hurt. Probably not the secret’s instigator, and probably not the confidante. Some third party—the husband who’s being cheated on or the child of the person with cancer—is going to find out the secret eventually and feel duped and betrayed by not having known all along. Just writing this reminds me of the summer of 1974, when I discovered that a man I was in love with was having a romance with my sister. My whole family knew, but none of them told me. That took a long time to get over, and as you see, 38 years later, I haven’t forgotten.

Secrets ruin relationships and tear families apart. They bust up friendships and mar the workplace. They rend holes in the social fabric of the community. I think we should revolt against them. If you’re carrying any secrets at the moment, get rid of them: Just blurt them out to the next person you meet. I want grocery aisles and church pews and minor-league baseball bleachers to fill with the sound of spilled secrets. Tell them all, and then take a deep breath. No guilt allowed. You’re not betraying the person who told you, you’re helping us all return to our own concerns and the present moment, which is where we belong.

There are other ways to feel like Illya Kuryakin. Put on a black turtleneck and practice your Russian accent.


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  • Molly Fisk January 24, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks for all your responses! Great perspectives. Annie V., I would definitely not put government secrets into this category, or any life-and-death situation. Roz: just takes a little practice, you can do it! Alba: I have many friends whose privacy I guard. A deep close friendship sometimes requires that kind of discretion and I agree with you that it’s important. That’s not really what I was getting at. Sometimes when writing humor it helps to exaggerate. And who knows what mysterious mixings have happened in my psyche since that affair? B.: yes, thanks! Ellen Sue: glad you appreciate the honesty, and yes, it’s mostly about not adding unnecessary complications to our lives, and the extreme likelihood of human error. I appreciate hearing from all of you!

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson January 24, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    I think Molly Fisk is talking about personal secrets, not government secrets. In my ethical will I will leave to my children, telling the truth is at the top of theist, because keeping lies is complicated. Ditto with secrets. I once revealed a secret accidentally & almost lost a friend, so Like Molly, don’t tell me to keep a secret, because sometimes it just slips out in conversation. Thanx for your honesty!

  • B. Elliott January 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Regarding the first post: This is about personal issues, not about government security! The writer was explaining how secret keeping and gossip is negative and a waste of time. Please re-read this post!

  • Alba January 24, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I don’t agree with this Article. I believe in the value of trust and confidence between friends, of feeling free to share something private with someone I trust and asking for their opinions and guidance in the knowledge that the matter will go no further and I reciprocate. It is not a burden to me to hold a friends confidences privately at their request. Rather it is all part of a developed, caring adult relationship.

    I feel sorry for the author that she was hurt by her sister’s relationship with the man she loved. They ought to have manned up and told her. However, I wonder if the humiliation and hurt she felt when she discovered it wasn’t displaced onto the added humiliation and hurt that others knew about it before her and if she isn’t mixing the two facts together as one when it was the fact of the ‘affair’ that was the primary source of hurt.

  • Roz Warren January 24, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I’ve got the wearing-a-black-turtleneck part down. Just have to work on my Russian accent.

  • annie vanderven January 24, 2015 at 8:01 am

    You cant be serious.
    I guess you agree with Snowden who gave away our country secrets…

    I was born during WW2 , people who could not keep their mouth shut were responsible for many deaths.