I was recently told a secret. Oh man, it was a good one. Once it was told to me, it became my secret, my burden. Instantaneously, I was faced with the tortuous challenge of holding the secret in. It became mine to keep or mine to tell. Stupid, tortuous secret.
Secrets take up space inside you and once you have one, something has to be done with it. The secret is like the alien creature, Edgar the Bug, from Men In Black that stuffs itself inside a human host but never quite fits. You try to play it off like everything’s cool and normal, but the whole time the secret is trying to burst its way out. You have to conquer it before it conquers you.
Let’s be honest, 99.9999% of people tell at least one person another person’s secret. If you have a significant other, it’s a given that you get to tell them (unless specifically forbidden by the secret blabber at the time of the secret blab). It’s like our “get out of jail free” card!
There are a few secrets we know not to share with anyone, and these we guard easily. But these are rare. The bulk of secrets are just gossip and bound to come out eventually anyways. You know why they’re bound to come out? Because everyone tells at least one other person, that’s why. Duh.
As I’ve been consumed by thoughts about secrets, I now hear the same phrases everywhere: “I just HAD to tell someone,” “I couldn’t hold it in,” “I feel soooo much better after telling someone.” It’s like we instinctively have to let the cat out of the bag. That cat does NOT want to stay in that bag.
It always starts out the same: “I have to tell you something but you have to swear not to tell anyone…” We hear those words and start salivating. We lean in, cross our hearts and hope to die, ready for the sweet, sweet juice. The good times really start when you’re around people that don’t know the secret and you get to exchange sneaky eye glances with those that know. Deliciously secret eye glances.
Telling someone a secret forms a trust between you — even though it’s a break of trust with the source of the secret, but somehow we overlook that. A bond forms by sharing something you shouldn’t share.
I find it interesting that feelings get hurt if you don’t tell someone your secret. I’ve been hurt myself by being left out of a secret. “Why didn’t you tell me?” we whine, obligating the person to feel guilty and apologize for not spilling precious beans. But that’s forgetting the basic tenet of a secret — it’s supposed to be kept, you know, secret.
Acknowledging this human need, the internet has provided. Places to anonymously divulge secrets are everywhere and PostSecret is a fantastic example of this. PostSecret is an ongoing project where people mail their secrets anonymously on a postcard, then some are posted on the PostSecret website, published in books, or displayed in art exhibits. Frank Warren, who started the project, has received more than a million from around the world.
“I see this secret every time I go to my mailbox. I always see it expressed a different way,” Warren said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “It’s basically a story about trying to find that one person who you can tell all your secrets to. There’s that common thread, that search for intimacy, that search for the one person we can be our whole and true selves with.”
As I struggle with this secret I know, I’ve been thinking about what we get out of sharing secrets. Spreading a secret seems to fulfill an almost biological need, but what is that need? Is it societal connection? Is it a social rank thing to know something others don’t? Is holding something in contrary to our nature?
I think we need to divulge, we need to take the weight of the secret and pass it on. It’s like the more people that know, the more the weight is dispersed, the more shoulders carry its burden. I’ve known people to tell strangers a secret simply because the weight was too much.
Long, long ago when our crusty but big brained ancestors ventured out of the jungles and onto the savannas, many traits allowed them to evolve and thrive. One of these was the ability to form speech, the ability to communicate verbally. As human relationships became more involved and important, human societies became more complex and connected. “We moved from a primitive ‘live fast and die young’ strategy to a ‘live slow and grow old’ strategy and that has helped make humans one of the most successful organisms on the planet,” said Tanya Smith, Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology.
This is where I think our need to divulge secrets comes from. Being all up in each other’s business was good for survival. A tight group meant that when things got hard and the mammoth pickins’ were slim, we stuck together and helped each other.
So here I sat, isolated under the weight of my secret and reading about the catharsis of passing my secret along. I decided to mail my secret into PostSecret. I HAD to tell someone, right? Might as well anonymously tell the world. Don’t ask me what it is, I already told my one person (aka the world…I also told my husband but that’s allowed). Shhhh…
To end today, here are some juicy secrets I found on PostSecret worthy of further spreading:
Things They Forgot to Mention:
We all think we have secrets. In reality, the secrets have us.
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