Should I destroy my old journals?
April 15, 2011 7:03 AM   Subscribe

What should I do with two of my hidden journals which might hurt the feelings of my fiancée if discovered?

I've got two old journals stashed away in my apartment which span two or so years, which includes the beginning of my relationship with my now fiancée. I expressed my doubts about the relationship in the journals, but now our relationship has grown and I'm quite happy with it. However, if she ever finds and read them, I'm sure she would get upset and it would put a huge strain on our relationship.

They are completely hidden now, and under no ordinary circumstances would they be found, but I'm thinking more and more about what I should do with them. I was about 17-19 when I wrote them, and I'm thinking that when I'm older I might want to look back at them (I'm 22.)

Thoughts? Has anyone destroyed journals and later regretted it? Has anyone kept journals and found that they really didn't mean much after time has passed?

Should I selectively cut out pages? If I did cut out the parts which comment negatively on our relationship, I think I would still keep it hidden, since they are my personal thoughts, it's just that a relationship catastrophe would be avoided if the negative pages aren't there. Anyone against just revisions?

posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (49 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My advice? Just throw them out. I've never looked at any of my old journals and felt anything other than embarrassment, nor learned anything other than what a jackass I can be.

Your results may vary.
posted by pomegranate at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2011 [15 favorites]

Whenever I have something like this, I store it at my dad's house, because he is the least curious person alive. Do you have a friend or family member you could ask to store a box of some "old personal belongings" at their house?
posted by hermitosis at 7:10 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

2 things you can do to minimize her finding them:
Keep them off site (safety deposit box, friend's house)
Digitize them and encrypt them using something like TrueCrypt and destory the original. To make sure they are not lost use something like Dropbox to back them up.

Second one is probably most secure esp. if you use a second level of encryption.
posted by pyro979 at 7:11 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Keep them. Keep them hidden. Your fiancée has no right to read them - but if she does, and blows up about it, it shouldn't be too difficult to explain that your relationship has grown. Every long-term relationship has doubtful periods and rough patches.

On a personal level, I enjoy reading my old journals from years ago, just to see how much I've grown and changed as a person. It really helps me appreciate the things I have, and the person I've become.
posted by Ted Maul at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

"Nostalgia is inevitably a yearning for a past that never existed."
— John Green

Let the journals go. I promise you, any faint desire to re-read those journals (and you're close enough in time to them now that you think you'll want to revisit them--but I'd hazard a guess of at least ten years before that happens) will not be worth the potential stress and pain of the "what if".

Also, ditto what pomegranate said.
posted by litnerd at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

"Hey sweetie, I have these two journals I've been writing in for a while. Please don't read them because its where I sort out all of my messy thoughts and emotions. Understand that just a little bit of privacy keeps me sane. I'm so in love with you and can't believe how rad it will be to get married."
posted by JimmyJames at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my own experience, it was the act of writing that helped clarify my feelings, not the journals themselves. They didn't mean much a few years later, because I wasn't the same person anymore. But these things have meaning to you, and you should treat them with the respect they deserve even if you're disposing of them.

What I did to get rid of mine was a small private ceremony of my own devising; I set aside a few hours on a weekend to reread them and reflect on them, alone, and then I burned them a few pages at a time. It felt, if not good, certainly like a good thing to do; like honoring the memory of the person I was before scattering the ashes and moving on.
posted by mhoye at 7:13 AM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've kept letters and journals off-and-on through the years. I'm usually embarrassed when I find them and read them. Especially those related to troubled relationships. Gah.

Only keep the things tied to good memories. Those can be pleasantly surprising when you unbox them years from now.

If you decide to keep the journals, I'd follow pyro979's advice on digitizing and encrypting them.
posted by Anephim at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2011

Delete all incriminating evidence, whether it be your porn browsing history, pics that can get you into trouble, or those pages of your diary that will really serve you far more harm than good in the long run. Cut out pages you want to keep, put them in a box buried somewhere in your stuff, and otherwise dispose of them. I can't see why you'd need to keep memories of doubts anyway, remember the good times instead.
posted by lizbunny at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2011

Burn them.
You say revealing them would harm the relationship so get rid of them completely.
posted by episodic at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2011

This is not the person you need to be keeping secrets from. If they're obviously hurtful, imagine how she'd feel if she stumbled on them one Saturday afternoon 4 years from now. Chuck 'em if you can't handle that.

I think you will regret destroying them, and you will also regret not destroying them, unless you become comfortable enough in your relationship to make their contents known and understood by your fiance. I think you've only got two real options -- divest yourself of stuff you don't want her to see, or prepare yourself for her seeing the stuff. Having been married 13 years, I think the stress of trying to hide objects and thoughts from my wife the entire time would not have been worth it. She's welcome to dig through all my old crap, and she's glad to have the trust.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:16 AM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would say toss them out too. What's more important? "My fiance left me, but at least I can read this old journal!" Not worth it, IMO. I'm pretty sure my wife did the same thing, and I'm glad I never came across them before she did.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:22 AM on April 15, 2011

It's all part of your past. I advocated a guy who had a racist past not deny his and accept it and I advise you to do the same.

So don't destroy them. You'll regret it if you do. It'll be great to go back to those journals when you're older to remember the good times and the bad times of the end of your teenage years.

If you fear they'll be discovered even though you say they're totally hidden, staple an addendum to the journal which says, "These thoughts were going through my brain a few years back, but I am far different now and love my girlfriend completely and without any doubt. I'm so glad to be with her."

Then sign and date it.
posted by inturnaround at 7:28 AM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't get rid of the journals! I've always regretted losing the one detailed journal that I kept in my late teens, even though I know that a lot of what was in there was silly.

Is your girlfriend really the type of person who would read someone else's journal? That's a bit different from just accidentally seeing an email or even looking at a text history; it requires some time and intent. I'd suggest just putting the journals in a box, tying some twine around the box and stashing it in a closet--more to put your mind at rest than anything else. I'd say it would be extremely unusual behavior for someone to untie and rifle through a box that was pretty obviously both fairly ordinary and private.

It seems worrying to me that you have a long-term relationship where admitting any early doubts would mess up your present happiness. That sounds like a possible long-term problem regardless of the journals.
posted by Frowner at 7:43 AM on April 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

I add that for most people I know, intentionally and systematically reading someone else's old journals (unless permission had been given) would be a dealbreaker.
posted by Frowner at 7:47 AM on April 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

What would you regret more: not having a piece of the past or potentially having relationship problems over something in your past?
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2011

Safe deposit box?
posted by bz at 7:57 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wish I had journals back from when I was that age. Like any historical record, I feel they would be really cool to look back on, particularly after a lot of time has passed. I vote for just hiding them really well, and then in 10 or 20 years from now, you'll be happy you did.
posted by eas98 at 8:00 AM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps he just wasn't the curious type, but I had about 15 old journals on a shelf in a bookcase in plain view for the six years we lived together, and my ex never even went near them. It would never even have occurred to me that he would read them without my permission, and I would have been furious if he had read them. Reading someone's journal is major snooping as far as I'm concerned - do you really think your fiancee would do that?
posted by Neely O'Hara at 8:03 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are like me, in another ten years those journals will be the only means you have of finding out what it was actually like for you to be a teenager. I have old journals and letters the contents of which might hurt some of the people I wrote about. But at this point, it was so long ago that my teenage angst is unlikely to cut very deep, and I like being able to, once every few years, go back puzzle over that crazy person I used to be. My journals are poorly written, embarrassing, and kind of dull, but they bring back memories of that vastly different stage of life.

If your journals contained records of shitty things you did to her that she doesn't know about (lying, cheating, whatever), then I'd say toss those sections, but if it's just thoughts, how upset will she really be? Is it "I think X is stupid and not very attractive and am only dating her because she gives good head" or "I'm not sure if I want to be with X forever"? In the case of the latter, this is the sort of thing that will just seem funny someday (possibly even today), since you obviously changed your mind. I have no idea how sensitive your fiance is or how harsh the things you wrote were, but I do think there is value in keeping some records of your own history and development as a person. Is it possible that you are overestimating how damaging the things you wrote were just because they were a big deal to you several years ago?

Honestly, if I found something like that belonging to my boyfriend, I would be more weirded out that he kept his journals hidden than by the discovery that he once had doubts about our relationship (if I were then to read them). Everyone has doubts about their relationships sometimes. But hiding the evidence suggests both a lack of trust in me as a person who a)doesn't read other people's journals without permission and b)can deal with my partner's doubts and flaws, and also that those old doubts still have enough power over him to make him feel guilty and like he needs to hide things from me. These factors would make me much more likely to read the journals without permission than if they had just been sitting on a shelf in plain view. Turning something into a secret makes it much more tempting to uncover, and gives greater power to the content.
posted by unsub at 8:04 AM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

My husband has kept journals since he was 14 or 15 (he's 31 now), he wrote in them when we were 18-19 in the early phase of our relationship, and they all sit on a shelf in a corner of our apartment. I've never read them. I'm sure I'm mentioned, and maybe not always flatteringly. (I don't always think flatteringly of him!) Of course I have some mild curiosity, but our relationship's worth more than to me than finding out what a teenager thought of his girlfriend of 3 months, and even between the ages of 18 and 21 I knew he had grown and changed a lot and that there were things he'd changed his mind about. No big deal.

If, however, I came upon an unlabeled book one day while, oh, looking for a rarely-used tool in the back of a cabinet, I'd probably open that book to a random page and start reading because I didn't know what it was. I'd be really, really pissed off to find that those immature thoughts he'd had were such a big deal that he'd gone to great pains to keep them, and hide them. It requires more long-term emotional investment to lie to your partner.

Either throw them away, or put them with your other journals, without comment. If she's observant enough to notice an extra notebook in the pile (I wouldn't be), just say you came across them at your parent's house or something. It's the hiding that's the bad news, not the contents of the journal.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:08 AM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Or what unsub said.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:09 AM on April 15, 2011

I was never one much for journaling, but I do love free writing, which I wouldn't want anyone else to read (hell I don't even read them for the most part...more of a therapy than anything).
I'll second others and just destroy them, my ritual is just to burn them.
If you are intent on keeping them, scan them and place in an encrypted container on your computer (backed up of course).
posted by handbanana at 8:32 AM on April 15, 2011

I would keep them - I love looking at my old journals. I would also tell your financee about them - "hey, I have some old journals in a box. If you come across them, please don't read them, they're private."

I might even tell her that I had doubts at the beginning of the relationship but am 100% happy now - that just doesn't seem like a problem to me. Everyone has doubts!
posted by insectosaurus at 8:35 AM on April 15, 2011

Wow, surprised at people who are telling you to burn or destroy your journals because they might hurt your fiancee's feelings IF she found them and IF she read them.

I wish I had kept more of my own early writing and artwork, if only to remind myself how far I have come.

I'm for the safety deposit box in your name option. They're cheap, and you will have the journals in their original form, in your own handwriting and with your own editing, and you can look back on them some day and laugh or learn from them. And then, if you don't want them, of course you can always get rid of them.

But I think getting rid of them because of what someone MIGHT think if that person stumbled across them is a mistake.
posted by misha at 8:40 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

get rid of them... unless they are more important than the relationship.
posted by tomswift at 8:41 AM on April 15, 2011

Don;t get rid of them. Put them somewhere secure and far away.

(Aside: you're 'quite happy' with the relationship and yet you're getting married? Is this why you're concerned about the journals?)
posted by mippy at 8:49 AM on April 15, 2011

We both have journals around, on shelves, in plain sight ... who reads someone else's journal? If I accidentally stumbled upon one and opened it without realizing it, I would close it. And never mention it, or maybe mention it, but in an "ack, accidentally read half a sentence before I realized, sorry!" way.

Do you actually have reason to believe your fiancee would dig around enough to find them, and then read them if she did? Being understanding about your partner's privacy is pretty key to living together, and not putting a strain on the relationship, too.

I would just leave them hidden, or even stick them on a shelf somewhere and say "hey, these are some old journals from ages ago, they're private, thanks for understanding." Cutting out sections would be weird, I think. Then if she DID find and read them, whatever she imagined you'd cut out would surely be way worse than what was there to start with.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:53 AM on April 15, 2011

I don't think its fair to make it about the journals being more important than the relationship. You don't read other peoples journals it's snooping.

I think the best thing to do is tell her they exist put them in a box under the bed or whatever and trust that she's mature enough to leave them alone. Everyone deserves some privacy even in a marriage and I think most people would think twice before reading someones journal. I know I would because hey thats how people vent and work through their feelings not something they intend to share.

If not I'd probably ask if I could leave them at a parents house because its pretty normal to have some old stuff their anyway. Making it to big of a deal, encrypting them, safety deposit boxes etc make them seem like a way bigger deal than they probably are.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't throw them away until you don't feel emotionally attached to them anymore. I have old journals that I still occasionally page through, and while they are super embarrassing they remind me of important moments in my life.

My boyfriend is the least-snoopy person ever, so I keep mine in an old chest along with all my old papers and ephemera. They're buried at the bottom so a casual snoop wouldn't think to look much deeper than the worthless stuff at the top. If your fiance doesn't have the snoopy gene I think you can keep them hidden without much worry. Otherwise I would pack them up and take them back to your parents' house at the earliest convenience. That minimizes the chance she'll see it, but even if she does you can say they were so unimportant to you that you didn't even keep them with you all these years.
posted by lilac girl at 9:18 AM on April 15, 2011

Recommending you don't get rid of them. As you get older and the conditions of life change, they create an utterly irreplaceable record of you, your times, your life, your family. You may not wish you had them again until you're 70 - but if you keep them, you may be very glad you did.

Your fiance should be able to understand your relationship has changed since you were 17. I mean....come on. You were 17.

If you already talk comfortably about how the early days of your relationship were different, it won't be a surprise.
posted by Miko at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2011

I sealed one of my journals with duct tape. That way I know if it's been opened. ;)
posted by luckynerd at 10:01 AM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do not ever, EVER destroy journals, photographs or personal records. I can't believe people are even suggesting such. Listen to an older person, young friend. The day will come when you cannot remember these years. And you should be able to look back.

Echoing safety deposit box though.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:02 AM on April 15, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm with RJ Reynolds, Miko, Greg Nog, unsub and others with this one. Keep them. I suspect that those advocating throwing them out are on the youthful end of life's journey. If they were worth writing once, the journals will be worth reading again some day, for various reasons that you can't know right now.
posted by acheekymonkey at 10:09 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I kept journals from around age 8 to age 19. I went through 3 rounds of destroying them (similar to what someone above said -- reading and then burning). I recall that when I was doing that I was weighing the advantages of having them around to re-read when I was older with the advantages of burning them for privacy reasons. The latter won out. I do sometimes regret having done that, because now I think it would be cool to read about what I was thinking in 4th grade, and how I convinced myself to quit smoking, and the beginning of my relationships, etc.

I think that, if you have the financial means to do so, you should get a safety deposit box and put the journals in there. I also think that you should not mention to your fiancee out of the blue "hey, I have super secret journals; don't read them!" unless the two of you are having a related conversation, otherwise that's just sort of weird in the "why are you bringing this up now?" way.
posted by aaanastasia at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2011

Wow. I just had my first child 7 days ago... thanks for reminding me I need to throw out all my journals from my teens and twenties! He never needs to find those snooping around the house once he hits a curious phase in adolescents;)

(and yes. even though I've held on to them with intent, in 20 years, I've never gone back and read them!)
posted by jbenben at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2011

I do not know whether you are correct to view the journals as highly incriminating, but if so-- "The only safe place to keep damaging letters is in the fireplace, between burning logs." Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior
posted by willbaude at 10:27 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many a wise person has said, "Don't put anything in writing you wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper."

One of the low points of my life is when I was confronted with an old journal I had accidentally left at my parent's house. I came home from work 10 years after it was written to an intervention - my worried parents in my living room concerned about my teenage "wish I were dead" rantings in the journal they found at the bottom of a dresser in my old room. Horrifying even now 10 additional years later. Thanks for reminding me. Grrr.
posted by cecic at 10:36 AM on April 15, 2011

I have a box of keepsakes that includes old letters from boyfriends. I keep them because they are sweet & they are a nice reminder of years past. This box is taped up very well with packing tape, and on a top closet shelf. One would have to go through a lot of trouble to un-tape them just to see what's inside.
posted by DizzyLeaf at 10:43 AM on April 15, 2011

If you want to keep them, I would suggest you put a "To whom it may concern" page at the front of the journals.

Just paste a new page in the front, or on the cover, or wherever.

Explain that these are your private journals, and you ask anyone who may find them not to read them. Then explain why; because you don't always write positive things about everyone, including those that you love the most, but the journal is a place for you to get out those negative emotions that you were feeling. Explain that you don't want anyone's feelings to be hurt if they read something unflattering that you wrote in the heat of the moment as catharsis to get over or past some event.

Then hide them.

But if they are found, at least you have some preemptive explanation.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:46 AM on April 15, 2011

This is why it's so important to have a conversation about privacy before you move in together. Snooping is a dealbreaker for me and it wouldn't be fair not to tell my partner beforehand. I'd actually be upset if they just assumed I'd read their journals without asking and wreck the relationship over it!
posted by Space Kitty at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2011

Secrets in a relationship are relationship killers. Personally, I would be far more upset that you had hidden something from me than that you had doubts at one point.

Also, I got rid of all my stuff like that decades ago. I'm 50 now, and I've never regretted it. And I'm the type who saves everything.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:05 AM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

if you are like my wife, you will

1. keep the journals

2. tell your partner "hey I have these journals that are super-personal and that I'd rather you not ever read. cool?"

3. your partner says, "cool." or if she/he doesn't, you quote Rilke (NB I am not actually recommending you snidely quote poetry in midst of argument):

"a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist ..."

(I said "cool"; the Rilke quote was just something I kinda like.)
posted by chalkbored at 2:08 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

If she is so immature that she doesn't understand that relationships grow and people change, and that she would freak if she read the journals, I don't think it's the journals you need to dump.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:50 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have journals from when I was in primary school. The older ones are at my parents house and the newer ones are with me. I couldn't imagine throwing any of them away.
I dated a jealous, suspicious girl for a bit and hid my journals on the top of a closet.
PROTIP: Never use the personal journal you carry around as a dream journal, especially if your dreams are about other people.

I'm 26. Still reread old journals and blogs for ideas and personality reminders.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:22 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have free-writing type journals, full of ridiculousness and moping and angst, that I've kept religiously since 1992. I re-read them, and though they're often embarrassing and full of things I wouldn't want other people to read, I have not destroyed them. The thought of burning them fills me with horror, as does the thought that others do so.

Those journals are a window to who you were of a moment. Why would you want to destroy that person?

I have also had several partners and boyfriends and girlfriends over the years. Only one read my journal without my permission, and she then freaked out because she misinterpreted what I wrote. (I have always told my partners they could read my journal if I were present to give context and commentary.) Her betrayal of trust and subsequent freak out was her own bust, and we broke up soon thereafter.
posted by RedEmma at 7:49 PM on April 15, 2011

The old journals I've lost or gotten rid of, I've regretted. The ones I've kept, I appreciate having.

If she is going to sneak around and read your stuff, and then get upset at reading about you having doubts at the beginning of your relationship, then yes you'll have problems-- but they'll be problems that were always there under the surface, of her inability to respect your privacy/boundaries and her insecurity. Those problems will still be there whether the journals are or not, and they'll probably come out some other way.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:38 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I realized there's another important reason not to destroy them. If you destroy them because of fear over your wife possibly finding them, then on that future day when you do want them, you're likely to resent her for their destruction.
posted by Miko at 7:15 AM on April 16, 2011

I went through a phase of throwing away my old journals. These were journals I'd kept in college and got rid of while I was in my late twenties. I didn't think a thing about it at the time. Then, a couple of years ago, I found some even older journals I'd kept while in high school. And I was really glad I hadn't managed to destroy them, as well. And, no, it's not like it was earth shaking stuff I'd written (and some of it was downright cringe-worthy) but there were things I had forgotten about recorded in those books. Just little things, but things that I would never have remembered otherwise. So, seconding getting a safe deposit box or stashing your journals at a trusted person's house until later (much later -- I would un-shred my college journals in a heartbeat, now, if I could = hindsight).
posted by marimeko at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2011

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