Not that long ago, I had a conversation with someone about foods we’re embarrassed to eat in front of others. Being an insanely picky, fussy eater, I have an exceptionally long list: buffalo wings (I eat them very oddly), chicken quesadillas (I pick out the chicken), grilled cheese (I like the bread a little burned), and salads (I like cheese and dressing and little else), among others.
Tonight’s dinner was tomato soup and grilled cheese, and as I ate, I found myself thinking about secret food preferences and then secret preferences and then just secrets.
I’m not a proponent of telling your partner everything.
Telling them things that could impact their health or safety, sure. Absolutely disclose your STI status to people you have sex with. Don’t hide infidelities or other behavior that puts them at risk. Be transparent about ingredients and potential allergens when you cook for them.
But telling them everything? Good god no.
I used to feel the opposite. At 19, I thought there was nothing more romantic than baring my soul to my girlfriend. I wanted there to be no secrets between us. I delighted in telling her things I’d never told anyone and in being brutally honest. I had all of her passwords, and she had mine.
One of the reasons I changed my mind is how much I regretted it when our relationship soured. My honesty hurt her. My shameful sexual confessions and fantasies became ammunition she used against me. Neither of us had the safe, separate space we needed to work out our problems.
I came to believe that, like the partner who knows everything you want and who can be the only person you need, the idea of a partner you have no secrets from is a romantic but problematic myth. Sometimes a white lie is necessary to save someone from hurt feelings. Some aspects of my sexual history no one needs to know. Some of the things I think about when I masturbate are no one’s business but my own.
It’s tempting to feel bad about that. Just as it’s tempting to be angry at myself when I forgo buffalo wings out of embarrassment, to think ‘If I were more confident, if I didn’t care what people thought…’ Except that it’s natural–for me, certainly, and for others as well, I think–to care what other people think, just as it’s natural to want to keep some things to yourself. It’s less to do with trust or health, and more to do with preference, or even pickiness.