Does everyone have terrible secrets? Or am I paranoid?
July 5, 2009 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Does everyone have terrible secrets? Or am I paranoid?

I need a reality check. I am recently single...and a bit afraid to trust again. I had one long-term boyfriend cheat on me. The next one was a really upright-seeming guy - very kind, compassionate and seemingly forthright. It didn't work out, sadly, but we're still friends. I recently let him stay at my place while I was away. I don't have a problem with porn, but he had always told me that he found it ridiculous and denied that he looked at it (even though I wouldn't have cared and always told him I looked at it). I came home to find that he'd neglected to erase his search history and that he'd been looking at porn. It was a bit jarring and his denials just seemed so unnecessary.

I realize that my own judgement about men might be questionable, but recently, my best friend and my dear sister discovered too-racy facebook emails left open by their boyfriends, sent to other girls. I've got another friend - a wonderful guy and devoted father - who I know does coke on weekends. His wife would be devastated to know this.

What the eff? These people are all highly functional and nice. I don't get it. Is stuff like this the norm, or a run of bad luck? I don't feel like I have secrets like that. I know everyone has some inexplicable turn-ons they may not want to overtly offer up, myself included, but these behaviours are betrayals in my mind.

Is it the internet age that's just lifted the veil on people's behaviour? I'm scared! Do you guys have secrets like this that would really hurt your SOs? Does it matter, ultimately, if they never found out? I would like to believe that people can be honest with eachother...
posted by DueNorth to Human Relations (54 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much everyone has horrible secrets. We are a little more likely to be exposed now because technology makes it harder to cover our tracks. And perhaps part of us wants to be exposed, because we crave expiation and forgiveness.

I have hidden things. Other times I have divulged horrible secrets to my SO and he's been surprisingly cool about it. It's because he really loves me, and if anything he sympathizes with the pain and solitude I experienced in keeping my secrets. Sure, I bet it scares or hurts him a little, but being scared and hurt is an inescapable part of being in love with someone. No one will ever be so perfect or so honest or so compatible that they won't occasionally terrify or repulse you. Sorry, but that's life on a planet populated with well-intended monsters.
posted by hermitosis at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Does everyone have secrets? Yes. Does everyone have terrible secrets? Probably, though "terrible" is subjective.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:49 PM on July 5, 2009

Everyone thinks they have terrible secrets. The terrible-ness is relative to your perspective.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:50 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Sex hormones do some weird things to the brain. The things I have regretted most in my life where done under the influence of extreme horniness.

It is more an explanation than an excuse, and of course self discipline is important, but do remember that male hormone levels are huge in comparison to the meager hormone load of the typical female bloodstream.
posted by idiopath at 5:51 PM on July 5, 2009

It depends on what secrets those are. Some secrets are a tad disgusting, such as 'Spock secretly picks his nose', but that's not as bad as 'Gorkon likes to molest targs'.
posted by kldickson at 5:51 PM on July 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Welcome to the journey. You are unusual in that you have a relatively well-developed observing consciousness. Cultivate it. Find and befriend others who are also on the journey. They will be few and far between. You will kiss many frogs on the way, but the few good friends you'll make along the way will more than make up for it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

...but these behaviours are betrayals in my mind.

At least two out of three of them are also none of your business.

Yes, I suspect all guys have secrets they keep from their SOs. And so do all women.

But in the big picture: So what?
posted by rokusan at 5:52 PM on July 5, 2009

Honestly? None of these secrets are that terrible. All of your examples are behaviors that are more or less just awkward to talk about. If you're asking if everyone does or has done things they don't want to discuss with friends, acquaintances, and even SOs, then yes. Because, especially in your more recent ex's case, it'd be more awkward to bring it up than to keep it secret.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly, this is typical of the misandry that is popular now. "OH NOES ALL MEN HAVE TERRIBLE SECRETS." As much as I condemn chronic drug use, I dont see it as a "TERRIBLE SECRET." I know people like this and I wouldnt characterize them as horrible people.

I really suggest you turn down the paranoia and see that the world consists of a lot of flawed people just trying to get through the day. Just because feminist society has conditioned you to hate and fear men doesnt mean we're all bad.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:55 PM on July 5, 2009

I came home to find that he'd neglected to erase his search history and that he'd been looking at porn

If looking at porn is a "TERRIBLE SECRET" then I suggest you start dating outside of meanstream society, as porn viewing isnt considered bad outside of bible study groups and jonas brothers concerts.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:59 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

It wasn't that he was looking at porn, it was that he lied about it. This seems to be less about TERRIBLE SECRETS and more about lying and untruths.

Not everyone is a liar, OP. I'm sorry you've had a run of crap luck.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:02 PM on July 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yes, everyone, men and women, have terrible secrets. Terrible to themselves at least. Your definition of terrible is the only thing that can change.

The stuff you mention sounds like normal human behavior to me. I have a few very good friends and I know their secrets, but I still love 'em anyway. Now if I only knew their secrets, I'd run far away. But these are people who have many other great qualities I enjoy and they exhibit these qualities without fail, for years. Why think about the secrets?
posted by Ookseer at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Everyone does coke on the weekends.

In the words of Aurthur Miller:
"Look, we're all the same; a man is a fourteen-room house --in the bedroom he's asleep with his intelligent wife, in the living-room he's rolling around with some bareass girl, in the library he's paying his taxes, in the yard he's raising tomatoes, and in the cellar he's making a bomb to blow it all up."
posted by McGuillicuddy at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2009 [63 favorites]

I love everyone's insights. No, I don't have a problem with porn. More really with people feeling like they can't admit they look at it/rail against it. The cheating hurt though. That's a betrayal, no question in my mind.
posted by DueNorth at 6:16 PM on July 5, 2009

EVERYONE has secrets....whether or not they are "terrible" is a matter of perspective. For example, I don't find any of the secrets you listed as "terrible". I have family members that would consider it a "terrible secret" if someone chose not to share they were an atheist. It's sort of a matter of definition, don't you think?

Maybe your terrible secret is that you're judgmental. I don't mean that as snarky as it sounds, but I do think you need to lighten up. You seem to have blended the lines; it sounds to me like you think any secret is terrible, that everything should be shared. Consider redefining your definitions, and you may suddenly find that not as many people as you thought have "terrible" secrets, rather basic expectations of privacy.
posted by bunnycup at 6:21 PM on July 5, 2009

Hell yes. We all have things which we hide from other people. As I enter my twilight years I realise that many of the things I hid from people I hid needlessly - I didn't like me because of those things and so I assumed they wouldn't like me because of them either. It's not the secret which caused the harm, it was the deception. And there's a kind of arrogance in that which hurts people - that they're not adult enough to love you and want to be with you if you're less than perfect.

If I could give my younger self only one piece of advice, it would be that there's a difference between privacy and secrecy and that you should feel able to tell the important people in your life anything without feeling that you must tell them everything. And that thing of which you are feeling so ashamed? To the people who are worth it, it will be something which happened in your life rather than what defines you. If you have to lie about who you are in order to maintain a relationship, then you're in the wrong relationship for both of you.
posted by Lolie at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2009 [10 favorites]

You asked for a "reality check" so here's my take - all of your examples are indeed "secrets," but only one, IMO, is "terrible" - cheating.

Porn, Facebook flirting, and coke on the weekends? Meh.
posted by tristeza at 6:22 PM on July 5, 2009

People are complicated. These things are not terrible in the way that a child molester is terrible. I think of the thing you mention as more jerky things.

Two of the nicest men I have ever known (one with a master's in divinity) both said that any man who says he does not look at porn is lying.
posted by fifilaru at 6:24 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's the coverups that bug me. I don't mean to be judgmental. I think I lumped everything under "terrible secret" because of the hurt I felt over the cheating. I know people are complicated - I am too. I'd die if someone saw my own particular porn search history. It's just that I wouldn't deny I looked at porn in the first place. And the coke - yeah, not morally "terrible" (excluding the people who might have died in South American drug wars) but I just feel like my friend should honor his wife's feelings. I mean, is it that big a sacrifice to not do coke compared to the fallout of how she'd feel if she found out? I guess people make spur of the moment choices. I know I'm not perfect either.
posted by DueNorth at 6:34 PM on July 5, 2009

Have considered that while you are Ok with your friend/ex-boyfriend looking at porn, he is not OK with what he is doing? He may have been raised to believe that pornography is wrong and while he enjoys it, he also feels guilty about it. Add that, the possibility that he views porn as very private and/or male thing that he couldn't imagine discussing with a woman he loves, or that he suspects it might be violation of your monogamy, all of that adds up to not wanting to admit it despite your assurances that you don't mind. What I am saying is that the lying may be much more about his internal process than about trying to deceive you.
posted by metahawk at 6:55 PM on July 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

I agree that it's not the secrets but the lies. I too have wondered if everyone (myself definitely included) lies and betrays. I have known a few people who couldn't blithely lie to others (although they could lie to themselves) and who couldn't resist being honest. However, that didn't seem to make life any better for them because this system is not set up for honesty. They found themselves outcast and misunderstood, taken advantage of, and with people assuming they must be covering up something really bad since they seemed too open and honest.

Lying and covering up is rewarded by not getting in trouble, keeping your facade of dignity, and avoiding judgment. Many people don't know who they can trust and some learn earlier than others that you get on easier if you cover up first and reveal truths sparingly rather than tell the truth and hope you can trust. People who are used to doing this learn to put on quite a show surrounding the secret (like going out of the way to claim a hatred of porn) because people are even more likely to believe it.

I also think a fair number of people are very uncomfortable with honesty and would rather hear lies and be presented with bland personalities than know all the depths of humanity. This could just be my excuse for lying and hiding my truth self, but I have not often experienced understanding when I was open about my "terrible" things. I have at least come to the point when I don't think I have any "terrible" secrets (I wonder how many really do) and because of that I tell fewer lies, although I could do much better.
posted by Danila at 6:55 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

You might not have a problem admitting you look at porn, but the situation is different for some other people. I am sure there are lots of people out there who have difficulty balancing the messages they have been fed throughout life (porn is Satanic, it is dirty etc) with the desire to see nekkid people doing sexy things. Who's to say that your friend is not one of these people?
posted by fearthehat at 6:59 PM on July 5, 2009

And here's one of John le Carre's best line, from his book, The Russia House.
"The line between actually very serious and actually very funny is actually very thin."
When you think someone's being serious, you should probably be laughing inside. That why our very best comedians are drunks, drugged out of their minds, or both, because inside is a serious that's very much not a joke.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:00 PM on July 5, 2009

I mean, is it that big a sacrifice to not do coke compared to the fallout of how she'd feel if she found out?

The reverse also applies. Does being in a relationship with someone mean that you're never allowed to do anything of which they disapprove? How much are we supposed to reinvent ourselves for others? At what point does honouring the wishes of others mean that we're living our lives entirely for others and not for ourselves? Should we live a lie in order to please others? One perspective is that the guy doing coke is letting is wife down. Another perspective is that if he's concerned about the "fallout", then she doesn't love him for who he really is but for who she wants him to be - and nobody has the right to tell another adult who they "should" be.
posted by Lolie at 7:00 PM on July 5, 2009 [8 favorites]

In AA one of the chief slogans that people like to use is that "You are only as sick as your secrets." But the flip side of that is that, once you release your secrets, once you stop living with everything bundled up inside you, hidden away from the rest of the world, you stop being sick and you stop behaving like a sick person.

That's why the twelve step program emphasizes the act of making a list of all of our defects of character and then admitting them to ourselves, another person and (God - whatever that may mean to you).

I had an ex cheat on me. And the weirdest part of it all was that I had been pushing for an open relationship for a long time. Had he called and said, "Hey, there are hot boys here, and I'd like to get naked with them," I'd have said, "Take pictures!" So the betrayal was that much stranger - though not paranoia inducing. Instead, I just know now that I have to be very up front with potential partners that I'm not particularly interested in a monogamous relationship.

So yes, we all have secrets. But it is how we deal with them that matters.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:01 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

No, I don't have a problem with porn.

What do you expect the guy to say? "Oh yeah, had a sale so I get a 10 year membership for next to nothing." Seriously, considering you consider casual drug use "A TERRIBLE SECRET" you dont seem to be the open minded type.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:02 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

What is it with MeFi and women accidentally finding (traces of or the actual stash) of a their SO's (or usually non-SO's) porn?

Chris Rock did a very entertaining monologue about this topic many years ago, so it's not just a MeFi thing. If you can find it, it's not "hidden" porn.
posted by Lolie at 7:04 PM on July 5, 2009

God, this thread is thoroughly depressing. It's about someone who recently went through a rough patch where she had her trust breached and is now looking at the world through different eyes. She's wondering about what she's seeing.

This is not the place for you to fucking beat your chest and loudly declare how much more liberated than the OP you are because for some reason you thought this thread was about her (nonexistent) discomfort with porn. Are you fucking serious that you somehow turned this OP into a shrewish nagging bitch in your minds whose main concern is HURF DURF MUST INHIBIT PENISERY AROUND ME? damn dirty ape, are you fucking trolling?

To the OP:

I'll dissent here. While I do think it's true that many people keep secrets, there are some who really have the ability to keep their lives an open book, or at least conduct their lives in such a way so that none of their secrets is going to kryptonite them. Their realities accord with their appearances. You seem to have a set of acquaintances who are unable to be straightforward about activities in their lives. Which is totally normal and human, because it's not like that coked-up dude is going to be able to just tell his wife and your friends' boyfriends are going to be able to tell them they've been cybering other girls. With them, the issue is: why can't these people get their lives in order such that they *don't* have to lie about it? And I think you know that while that's interesting to muse upon privately, it's none of your business.

But as to your ex-bf re: the porn? I think the question here is one of: "Why do people in my life feel a need to lie and stridently deny things that I find innocuous and that I wouldn't have brought up anyway?"

Why indeed. It's not something you have to hold against another person, but it is something to ask yourself when said person isn't leveling with you. And the answer will have more to do with that person's inhibitions than your perceived paranoia.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2009 [28 favorites]

I don't think everyone has big secrets they lie about to those around them. I have a few but I don't think they're particularly big ones. And my boyfriend can't keep a secret to save his life, if he's trying to hide something or lie it just shows, so I'm pretty confident in saying he isn't keeping any big secrets from me or others. It's harder to generalize about anyone else because I could be being duped by them too, but I don't know of many big secrets that are being hidden or have come out... I think it's safe to say that not everyone's hiding important things.

But even if it's not probable (and it's probably honestly not that helpful to try to nail down exactly how likely it is), you still need to figure out how to come to terms with the fact that it's certainly possible that any given person could be hiding a big secret from you.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:38 PM on July 5, 2009

Maybe I'm a big loser prude by MeFi standards, but most of the things you listed are pretty bad. Everyone who thinks they aren't should think about what they would feel if your SO: was sending racy messages to another person online, or was using an expensive and damaging drug on the weekends behind your back while you were parents to kids. No matter how supposedly open minded one thinks they are, most people would be pissed.

Anyway, I don't think most people are doing these types of things. I think that not only does the internet expose people who do these things, it also encourages them to do them. A lot of misdeeds that go on online are done by those who may not have ever done them if the internet didn't exist. As in, some dude might have the balls to send sexy messages to another girl while in a relationship, but he may not ever cheat in person or talk sexy in person to another girl. The idea of anonymity encourages people do things they would never want to be known to do in real life.

With the porn thing, I think this situation isn't uncommon. I've known dudes who claimed not to like porn that I later found out watched it. It's probably just embarrassing. I wouldn't see that as a betrayal, but the other things are shitty.
posted by ishotjr at 8:43 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

One important thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between secrecy and privacy. People are allowed to do certain things, like look at porn and whatever else, and it's not a lie or secret if they keep it from you. Everyone has a right to privacy with regard to certain things. Some of these things you mention are betrayals of trust, but not of yours really. You aren't the one owed honesty, but maybe you get that and you are smarting for the intimate partners. But anyway, just wanted you to consider the distinction between secrecy and privacy.
posted by JenMarie at 8:44 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I read it Esquire years ago. Some wise guy said it.

"Every man leads three lives. His public life, his private life, and his secret life."

That said, .Twins.Named. makes an excellent point above about conducting our lives in such a way that our secret lives do not kryptonite everything else. This is why so-called 'scandals' such as those involving Pee-Wee Herman and Michael Jackson never really bugged me that much. They were both obviously weird to begin with and were doing little on the surface to hide it.

It's the normals that have always worried me and I should know, I've been one of them.
posted by philip-random at 8:48 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came home to find that he'd neglected to erase his search history....

If I borrow a friend's computer, I don't usually expect that person to check my search history - nor would I check their's if the situation was reversed. Is this an unreasonable expectation?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:56 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think your examples are more about lies & betrayals than "terrible secrets".

So, if your question is whether everybody lies & betrays, then no. There are plenty of different kinds of people on earth, some honest & trustworthy, some not so much.

But I was really piping in just to regurgitate something I heard once, which I'm not sure if I've even digested fully, which goes along the lines that "People create for themselves the conditions under which they will be lied to".

To give a concrete example that I made up, if a partner asked me "Hey, do you think that girl over there is hot?" and then flew off the handle if I said "Yes", then I'm sure not gonna be answering that way again next time she asks. And once she'd displayed that kind of jealous streak, I'd likely try to pre-empt it further by being a bit more guarded about anything else that might set it off.

Lugubrious & Salubrious, just above, were talking about people who lead their lives like open books, but I'm talking more about the other side of the equation - that if one is the kind of person who is curious & accepting & not overly judgemental, then that's the kind of behaviour that enables & encourages people to be open with you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:57 PM on July 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

The discussion has strayed quite a bit where we've gone from judging the OP to judging the OP's associates, to judging each other, which doesn't help anyone.

Up above I said that it all seems like "normal human behavior". I could clarify that this isn't good human behavior, but it is normal stuff that humans do. Porn, drugs, cheating, secrets. These are things that are as old as humanity and will be with us as long as we are human. That's not to say all of these things are defensible, but they're not indicators that everyone is a terrible monster, just that we're vulnerable and fallible and sometimes we make bad decisions. We all do.

When I was 15 I certainly hid my interest in porn because if my Mom found out I was in trouble. When I was 17 and tried drugs I totally kept that a secret for similar reasons. Now I'm older and don't hide my interest in porn or hide my past drug use. People change and the situations change.

(Also, the "Leaving a raunchy letter to another woman around for the GF to find" gag is a known douchebag technique for non-confrontational guys to get their girlfriends to break up with them because they're too wimpy to do it themselves. Girls should take the hint.)
posted by Ookseer at 9:10 PM on July 5, 2009

that if one is the kind of person who is curious & accepting & not overly judgemental, then that's the kind of behaviour that enables & encourages people to be open with you.

This was pretty much what I was coming here to say. I don't have any terrible secrets that I know of, but I'm sure I have some friends who might act like something they found out about me was a "terrible secret" because that's just the way they are. Similarly I'm sure there are people who feel that they have a terrible secret that may not be something that I feel is that terrible.

For a concrete example: I ODed on drugs once a long time ago. It was scary and embarassing. This is the sort of thing that might go into a serious shame closet for some people. Or for other people, they might expect me to keep it in the shame closet and/or act weird and judgey when they found out. So, from some people's perspective, this is a terrible secret [or you can draw this out into the past when I was doing drugs and some people knew and some people didn't] and from mine, it's not. So, there are many ways to look at this issue. One of the big things is figuring out why you might know/not know something about someone when other people don't know/know it. So, to your example, even if I knew you were okay with porn, I might not tell you I was looking at it on your computer and I might also say that generally I thought it was ridiculous. You seem to be stuck in an awkward place where you feel that you know people's secrets that they are interested in keeping from other people, and that can be a bad place to be.

Since I don't harbor real sekrit-sekrit stuff on a general basis [obviously there are things people don't know about me that I'm not in a rush to tell them] I also presume that other people don't do this terribly often either. When I find out I'm wrong, I do get a little surprised about it, but I shrug and move on. It's simpler, in my life, to just not be secretive and figure there's going to be the same amount of drama in my life whether I'm maintaining some fictional truth or whether I just own up to whatever my "bad" behavior is.
posted by jessamyn at 9:16 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Losing your faith in the trustworthiness or goodness of people really sucks. It kind of shakes you if you didn't see it coming. I feel you, Due North. Also not hearing you having an issue with the porn, just the denying it. (Thinking this has been well addressed above: not everyone is comfy admitting they look at porn.)

Like Lugubrious wisely noted, your trust was breached in a pretty devastating way (being cheated on.) You had a few more examples piled on for good measure about how people are not always what they seem.

It's actually a great lesson for you to learn, as shitty as it is to learn it.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:29 PM on July 5, 2009

I hate weddings, but the absolute best wedding vows I ever heard included this line:

"I trust you to keep secrets from me."

Which sort of says it all. This desire for absolute transparency is childish. Instead, trust your closest friends/lovers/spouses to know when not to tell you something.

That is real trust.
posted by rokusan at 10:15 PM on July 5, 2009 [12 favorites]

trust your closest friends/lovers/spouses to know when not to tell you something.

Or the flipside: "This is (or has become) something I really need to tell them, because it's in their (and our) best interests to do so..."

It's all about trusting the person's discretion to know when something should be revealed, not only when things should remain hidden.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:37 PM on July 5, 2009

Honestly, I don't really think I have secrets. I have things that I am uncomfortable talking about with certain people and in certain contexts. But I don't think that there is anything that I wouldn't tell someone in whom I had a reasonable amount of trust.

I don't think it's because I'm an amazingly open person. I've lived a fairly cautious life though, so maybe I just don't have any dark sins in the closet to cover up. Just embarrassing ones.
posted by brenton at 12:10 AM on July 6, 2009

Just to clarify to Conrad Cornelius, I stumbled across the search history in the google bar in Safari, looking for an old search of my own.
posted by DueNorth at 1:17 AM on July 6, 2009

Also, people may have some really wacky secrets that aren't relevant to your interaction with them or their interaction with other people, but are things that they generally don't want to talk about.
posted by kldickson at 6:11 AM on July 6, 2009

The new firefox feature that fills in items from the history when you type in the location bar is going to cause a lot of relationship problems...
Girl: I need a new recipe for sugar-free brownies
*types in S....then U.....*
Girl: What is this "Suck __ _______"?
posted by melissam at 7:41 AM on July 6, 2009

"Every man leads three lives. His public life, his private life, and his secret life."

How does any man know how every man lives? These kinds of claims are just attempts to normalize one's own behavior. All you can say is how many lives you lead.

"I trust you to keep secrets from me."

I find this heartbreaking. Perhaps it's realistic, but it is depressing. I can deal with the fact that secrets exist, and I may stumble across them, but the promise to keep them goes against the entire purpose of a relationship to me.

To the OP's question, a lot of people in the world make mistakes. I don't think that means everyone should be expected to on a regular basis or that it is normal for everyone to be hiding things from their loved ones. But it certainly does happen. I think you just ran across a string of examples all in a row that made it seem like it's a constant, when it is more like a common error than an assumed component.

it's important to be understanding and forgiving, but I don't think that means you should expect people to mess up, and I do think keeping secrets, lying, and cheating are ways of messing up (in different degrees, and not all your examples concern you directly, but still).
posted by mdn at 9:32 AM on July 6, 2009

I've noticed this phenomenon on AskMe lately where the first half of responses itch at me and I almost go directly down to the comment box to dissent just so the poster knows not everyone agrees with all the naysaying, but I decide to persevere with reading the rest of the comments and lo, the second half is full of (what to me reads like) sanity. This thread is a good example.

I think, as mentioned above, the issue is not with some universal moral value judgment of what is and isn't acceptable (rendering all the cooler-than-thou "coke? big deal!" etc comments moot), but with dishonesty (people seem to have failed reading comprehension with the porn thing). And yeah, that sucks.

But I'm here to say that yes, probably a ton of people, maybe even likely a majority, lie about their secret lives. That said it really isn't universal. You can meet people who are truly honest, possessing the the kind of forthrightness that only comes from being genuinely comfortable with all aspects of yourself. They're just rare, highly self-actualized creatures. But they do exist. It's easy to get jaded, but it's just like a host of unappealing traits--backstabbing gossiping, materialistic "keeping up with the Jones" competitiveness, pettiness, self-absorption, melodrama, whatever--most people have because most people are issue-ridden on some level. There are people without that trait, they're just rare and worth their weight in gold...

Anyone who tells you it is IMPOSSIBLE for someone to be 100% comfortable and honest about their secret selves in the right intimate environment are saying more about themselves than the world at large. It really isn't a given, just like cheating isn't the inevitable given some people lately make it out to be. There are still good folks who have done the right soul-searching. Is there any guarantee you'll find them easily? No. But maybe, as someone suggested above, looking duplicity squarely in the eye and tackling it with reason will attract you to the right people. Who knows.

And maybe I'm projecting, but in my very limited experience it seems the men who want to come across as the most sexually pure and in control of their urges in a hyper-rational way are the most issue-ridden, like complete-180-taboo-ridden, because they're lying to themselves and have built it all up in a cycle of binge and purse clean/unclean dichotomy that fucks up their ability to just accept themselves. (shrug) As in, watch out. It's no different than guys who go on in dating ads or immediately when you first get to know them about how they want a "nice girl" who isn't such a slut like all the women everywhere omg. Big red flag.
posted by ifjuly at 12:11 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure I don't have any terrible secrets.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:25 PM on July 6, 2009

I'm pretty sure I don't have any terrible secrets.

Me too, but I'm darned sure everybody else does.

You can meet people who are truly honest, possessing the the kind of forthrightness that only comes from being genuinely comfortable with all aspects of yourself. They're just rare, highly self-actualized creatures. But they do exist.

Really? Are you sure? Not naming any names but my reading of history tells me only one man ever achieved this level of "actualization" you describe, and even he lost his temper a few times (not to mention, many argue he never even existed).

That said, I've had a generally good experience of humanity in my almost fifty years on this planet (impressed more than appalled). But, for sanity's sake, one thing I decided early in the game on was to steer clear of demanding perfection, neither in myself, nor others. I just don't think it's possible. Life is too random, too analogue, too complex.

Which brings us to forgiveness ... and what's-his-name again. Now there's a loaded topic.
posted by philip-random at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

philip-random, yes. It's pretty much as jessamyn put it: it's not that you don't have demons at all, it's that you're relatively comfortable with them. And as jessamyn said, it's not like she goes around squawking to any sort of company about stuff, it's that if the right context comes up and she's appropriately intimate or whatever with someone, she doesn't see it as a big deal.

One dimension to being able to feel this way is not seeing parts of yourself as shameful, and making choices in life you can live with (someone upthread wisely mentioned how the issue isn't so much a guy's doing coke or whatever, but that he's constructed a life mutually exclusive of it). This obviously is quite a feat and involves directing effort towards self-improvement and particular, individually tailored quality of life in a sort of nebulous and unorthodox way (hence the self-actualization talk) but it can be achieved. (shrug) I don't know what else to say about that.
posted by ifjuly at 1:20 PM on July 6, 2009

But, for sanity's sake, one thing I decided early in the game on was to steer clear of demanding perfection, neither in myself, nor others.

One of my personal secrets is that I believe I have a natural flare for grammar. Clearly, I'm deluded.
posted by philip-random at 2:49 PM on July 6, 2009

DueNorth, people suck. And I think it's just a part of life to get close to someone, trust them, be betrayed, wonder why the hell they lied/hid something, wonder how you'll ever trust again, and then repeat the whole cycle. And if you're lucky, you finally find someone who either doesn't betray you, or betrays you slightly but it's not a dealbreaker and you can still want them in your life whether it be a friend, boyfriend, or husband, or, find someone who will cover up a lie because they want to be with you and this lie won't be detrimental to you. Sure, that option sucks but if you never find out you'll never know. Not that I'm saying that hiding the use of drugs from your wife is good - I personally believe in really really knowing people and not hiding what you are doing. I just don't see how you can marry someone you would lie to about that, or lie to someone you'd marry, but then again I am not the type of person to do coke - I would only do stuff I wouldn't be ashamed to tell people about. Anyway, I'm rambling. The point is that people just suck. And it takes trial and error, usually a lot of it, to finally find someone who won't betray you. But I think it's hope that makes us keep trying.

I also had an ex who also claimed to not watch porn and to be disgusted by the idea of it. I don't know WHY he lied because he knew I didn't care, but he did tell me years later that yea, he had porn when we were going out (obviously). And yea, this is obviously not a "terrible" thing, but it still sucks - why would someone lie about something so simple?? Of course people would then lie about things that are harder to tell the truth about!

And, just so you don't feel like you're a prude compared to everyone else - yea, sending sexual messages to other girls on facebook (or anywhere) when the guy has a girlfriend is really really shitty. It just is. You feel like sending a dirty message? Send it to who you're dating. You feel like sending it to someone else? Don't be in a relationship with that person then.

But don't lose hope, there are decent people out there!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 3:59 PM on July 6, 2009

I'm pretty sure I don't have any terrible secrets.

Poor thing. You should get out more.

And that's good advice for the OP, too. Get out there and live life in big, potentially embarrassing disasters. Make your own secrets, and you'll see how important and valuable they are.

Ultimately, that's all we have.
posted by rokusan at 3:54 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

"I'm pretty sure I don't have any terrible secrets."

Poor thing. You should get out more.

Your recipe sucks. I already lead a double life. Secrets abound, but they are not terrible secrets. They are not things to devastate those around me, or to keep me up at night. Those kind of secrets come from being an asshole, not from living big or having a wild side.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:17 PM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Really? Are you sure? Not naming any names but my reading of history tells me only one man ever achieved this level of "actualization" you describe, and even he lost his temper a few times (not to mention, many argue he never even existed).

This is a ridiculous & hyperbolic statement.

Apart from the fact that there is no historical doubt whatsoever about the existence of the Buddha, claiming that only one person in history achieved a level of actualisation consistent with being comfortable enough with themselves that they could be honest & forthright with others is setting far too pessimistic a view in front of the OP.

Billions & billions of people have walked the earth, and most leave little or no historical record that could be enough to allow us to judge if they were comfortable with themselves or not. To assume that only one person was ever able to do so is one of the silliest claims I have ever read.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:18 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. I could favorite many of the insights here.

The real impetus for this question wasn't really empirical curiosity about human behavior, but as some of you guessed, sadness, disappointment, confusion - grief really - about past hurts and the hurts of my friend and sister. It's hard to reconcile how common human frailty is when you are hoping so hard that you won't get hurt again and that you won't hurt someone else.

Thanks everyone, for the encouragement and advice.
posted by DueNorth at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2009

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