Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets Part 2 - What Are Your Dirty Little Secrets?

As life became increasingly complicated after college and I was forced to tackle career, relationship, family, and physical challenges, I found myself needing the counsel of women who had faced similar challenges more and more often. I was new to San Francisco and had only 1 friend I felt I could trust and rely on – the one I moved here with. I missed the security of a big network of friends living within a few blocks and was apprehensive about being able to duplicate those friendships - ones that now consisted of phone calls and emails and very occasional visits. I was stubborn about it for too long – hoping the new friendships would come to me easily as social matters always had. It took a lot of solo walks along the Embarcadero and tearful calls home to remember the true importance of building a strong network of female friends where you are– one comprised of the invaluable confidants that are needed to survive as a woman. You may never be able to duplicate the friendships you have in your youth, but you can certainly build ones equally as precious, and they often come once you accept that it isn’t about finding the same type of people, but the same kind of friendship.

I finally admitted that I was going to have to put myself out there if I wanted to make it happen. I started talking to more and more women, with increasing candor as time went on, and found that so many of them were looking for the same brand of friendship I was looking for – one with a level of honesty, openness and truthfulness. One that brings comfort and reassurance and maybe even makes you feel a little less alone when you’re hovering on the edge.

Once I realized how eager most women were to confide in someone about their “dirty little secrets” I started to think about what a shame it is that we haven’t found a way to be more open and honest with each other in the 50 years since our grandmothers were coming of age. I believe that there is so much value in being real with each other, and I know now how many other women feel the same. And yet our instincts keep us from doing so most of the time…

I started asking women why they keep a lot of their bigger secrets close to the vest – below are the top 3 answers I encountered. What do you think?

Shame. A lot of women are ashamed of what we think, feel and do when we’re overwhelmed or falling apart. Or we’re ashamed of the things we do behind closed doors to keep it together. Perfect example: “Send the baby back syndrome.” I’ve spoken to so many women - with and without postpartum - that have had moments, or days even where they question whether or not they were meant to be a mother. I am told it is hard as hell in the beginning and you question your instincts, abilities and fate as a parent over and over again. From what I’ve heard in the past two years, it is not uncommon to panic and think you’ve made a mistake in having a baby at all, or think you might have waited too long to do so. And it isn’t rare to dread you’ve had children for the wrong reasons altogether. Some women are apparently honest about these experiences, and some women aren’t. And to be fair, I’m sure there are a few out there that don’t experience any major bumps in the “mommy road.” But those that do, are often too ashamed to talk about their feelings with their husbands or mothers because they are convinced that simply thinking “Can I send it back?” makes them a horrible person and a bad mother. Well it doesn’t. It makes you human. And trust me, your sons and daughters would most likely choose an authentic, compassionate mother over one that encourages false pretenses and acts as if everything is ok when its not.

Judgment. More people cheat in marriages than we would all like to know or even think about. But regardless of how unfortunately common infidelity has become, most women still have a terribly hard time discussing it when their own relationships have fallen victim. I have a friend whose mother said she knew that her husband cheated on and off for the duration of their 25 year marriage, but she never spoke up because she was convinced her children would find a way to blame her; and she said they had always favored their charming father to their abrupt, strict mother anyway. Another (unmarried) woman explained that she had always been warned of her (younger) boyfriend’s philandering ways for so long that she couldn’t bear to talk about it when he finally fulfilled everyone’s expectations. She didn’t want to expose herself to “I told you so” after “I told you so” when she was already devastated enough.

Ammunition. Because true transparency is so rare, and often even frowned upon, our first instinct is to bury the feelings we question are valid, rational or socially acceptable. When the unthinkable happens in our marriages, our homes, and our careers - we tell some abridged version of the truth because it is often easier to tell and gives people less ammunition in the future. Mistakes and failures are hard enough to endure, so burying the truth behind them is safer than giving people the opportunity to tear us down or criticize us. You tell the whole story, you expose yourself to attacks.

So….what are your dirty little secrets? And if you don’t dare tell,  why do you hold your cards so close to the vest?

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