January 17th, 2017

Tuesday's Activities Include: Dutch lesson, walk with M., house cleaning, one sitter

We had one sitter, for a somewhat shorter time this afternoon. I got to have my Dutch lesson! That was nice. We walked the dogs. We chatted and caught up with each other's family dramas, which is always really enjoyable. We watched NOS Journaal. A. fed me a lovely salmon lunch with capers and lemon and cumin and I think bell peppers. Super tasty! Lekker!

I had my walk with M. I had caught her up on the most recent news the previous day. P., the dog, had an upset tummy so did not join us. I watched some TV and did some vacuuming and ran the new Roomba downstairs.

I had a chance to talk to the other sitter (I caught one yesterday) about the most recent news, so I now feel like everyone who really needed to be updated has been. I feel a little more settled; when I get caught up on the house cleaning, and get a chance to have my W/Th/F chats with Seattle friends, I think I'll have gained enough perspective that I might choose to share a little more about recent developments.

It is amazing to me, sometimes, how much the world changes when I'm not really paying attention to some aspect of it. I've found myself explaining over and over again to people around my age that the way schools handle bullies and bullying today is drastically different from our childhood, never mind our parents' childhoods. Turns out that isn't the only change. We live in a better world in so many ways, but the changes have been so small they can be invisible to us. And because so many of the people I know and love have basically progressive orientations, we are more focused on the changes that still need to be made, we sometimes fail to appreciate how many changes have happened already. For example, I was pointing out to my sister how stalking and harassment and prank calls were handled so very differently in our childhood vs. now, and what we really need to do is to move some of those changes into the online world. We were talking about the national discussion going on about twitter and similar places online where People Behave Badly and Expect No Repercussions. But it turns out, that having a powerful person behave badly in our society DOES NOT always turn into permission for everyone else to behave badly. Sometimes, it leads to a state change, as we all suddenly recognize that that is Not OK, and we create structures of social enforcement to get people to be more civil.

Kids and Secrets

Recently, I watched my daughter’s friend tell my daughter that she absolutely could not answer a question I was asking her, because, “It’s a secret.” Neither child would tell me. I didn’t want to make a fuss so I let the playdate end after getting a category and no more out of them (“It’s a thing.”). The reason I’d walked in in the first place was because I’d heard my daughter nagging at her friend about, “When are you going to tell your parents?” I mean, I was going to stop my kid nagging about whatever it was — on some level, I didn’t really want to know. And I figured I could find out once the playdate was over.

Afterwards, I couldn’t get my daughter to tell me. I tried everything. There was a lot of crying. And I went from being a little worried about my daughter not telling me what it was that she was nagging at her friend to tell her parents about to being a LOT worried that anyone had this much power to stop my kid from telling me anything … anything at all. She’s 8. She has autism. This is terrifying.

I told the parents of the other child that my daughter was distressed about a secret and asked them to help out with the dilemma. They asked the other child about the secret. Apparently, the friend basically said, “There is no secret.” I was non-plussed. I had spent several minutes trying to drag it out of both of them, then even more time with my daughter. There was a secret all right. But I told my daughter, your friend says there is no secret, which means it isn’t a secret any more, which means you can tell me. Out it spilled, as stupidly trivial as anything could be. The friend wanted something. My daughter wanted her friend to tell her parents so they would buy it. The family finances are tight. And the friend said a lot of nasty things about her father’s unwillingness to spend money. That was it. The whole secret was basically a kid calling her dad names for not buying her toys. Boring as fuck. Also, the dad’s a good guy, doing everything he can for his family. Kind of mean to be calling him names.

I’m allergic to secrets. Part of why I am allergic to secrets is because I (and I wasn’t the only one) was sexually molested by a family member and obviously there were a lot of secrets involved. I got to wondering what the current consensus on kids and secrets is.

Here is the national Crime Prevention Council page on kids and secrets.


This one really stood out to me: “Make sure they know that no one has the right to ask them to keep a secret from their parents.”

Wanting to know the content of the secret doesn’t make me a bad mother.

The primary exception to the No Secrets rule is clear and common, and exactly the one I came up with when talking to my daughter after the dust settled.

“It's okay for children to keep surprise parties and presents secret because these secrets will make someone happy and won't be a secret forever.”

Surprises parties and presents okay, time limited secrets okay. Everything else, nope. I even went down a list of everyone that my daughter and I both know, and asked her in turn, if any of those people had ever asked her to keep a secret. Ever. Answer: none of them. We don’t do secrets — we don’t even do surprises. And if kids want candy or cookies, they get them. We don’t have limits that are broken and then the violation kept as a “secret” — I think that just causes all kinds of trouble.

Some websites have much more complicated explanations of secrets that are okay vs. ones that are not okay.


I can’t make head or tale of most of that. I have a bunch of policies about confidential information. If the story in question is entertaining, I’ll shave off all identifying information, change some details, and use it as cocktail party fodder. I’ve actually done this in front of the source of the story and had them think it was someone else — they came by and said, OMG, that’s so much like what happened to me! I can’t believe you know two people that happened to! And I’m like, weird, huh? Secret kept. Stories which are too boring to tell at a party are not hard to keep confidential — I barely remember them. A long time ago, I had friends who were really awful people, and so sometimes I’d find out that someone was sleeping with someone else who they were not supposed to be with. And yes, I am the person who will go tell the partner of the person who wasn’t supposed to be doing that. I eventually figured out not to hang out with people who did that kind of shit and thus had to keep that kind of secret.

There are some people who use secrets as a bridge to more complicated sets of rules that are pretty valuable:


Years ago, a friend of mine was dating someone who used to be a friend of mine, but who I had gotten really suspicious of. She was being treated for depression. She was being pressured to do things she really didn’t want to do. I decided that enough was enough, and I contacted a bunch of people who had had some kind of relationship that went bad with the person she was dating. We staged a rolling intervention. Basically, I got everyone to tell her all their stories about What Went Wrong With Him. And that was the end of that. Relationship ended. Cats were rescued. New relationship started. Happily Ever After (look, life is complicated, and nothing is perfect, but they still seem quite happy in their now family of 4). And she will reliably rant about the dangers of a Culture of Silence since that event. More power to her.

She’s right. I’m not opposed to being tactful and diplomatic when we complain about other people doing annoying things. Tact and etiquette are great things. Keeping secrets, however, is NOT a great thing. Just fucking gossip publicly. It’s so much less scary.

The End of Friendship

I keep friendships going. I quit being a JW when I was 25, and in the course of that process, disassociated myself and lost contact with basically everyone I'd been allowed to be friends with my entire life. They weren't good friends. Well, some were, and a lot of them have since left and we have reconnected through the beauty of facebook. But it was a tough couple decades in the meantime.

Possibly because of that experience, I really, really, really try hard to find a way to readjust friendships, rather than definitively end them. However, I also am a huge believer in compatibility and enforcing boundaries. So if someone tells me they want me to leave them alone ... I do. And since I've already had a go-round on the whole order for protection thing (I initiated one against my first husband -- man, that was a tough year), I take the whole Leave Me Alone thing really seriously. You read what can happen to you if you violate, and you don't ever want to be anywhere near one of those pieces of paper.

Because I tend to let other people set the pace and tone of friendship, if someone feels like they want to do a fade, they can. I have friends I've known since middle school that I've gone years not talking to at all, and then recovered to being close enough to travel together again, and talk on the phone regularly. Finding myself at this age on the receiving end of a blunt Leave Me Alone left me asking questions I hadn't given any thought to for a long time. Ah, internet. Google never lets me down.

There's a ton of advice out there. Write a last letter to the ex-friend (and don't send it). Write a last letter in the voice of the ex-friend to you (really don't send that one!). Journal. Meditate. Keep Busy. DON'T be super busy. Get rid of stuff from the friend. No, bag it and keep it. Etc. Do a fade. Don't do a fade. Let a fade happen. No, don't let a fade happen. Get together for a post-mortem. Ask third parties who know you both. Don't make people take sides. Obviously, not all of this advice passes a sniff test -- and it isn't all compatible with the other advice. Honestly, a lot of this stuff is aimed at a particular kind of generally female friendship that I am kind of resistant to. But this time around, rather than roll my eyes and go, who the hell would even want that kind of friendship, I started thinking about how things had gone in this particular relationship, and realized, maybe that's actually where the real problem was. I really _don't_ do certain kinds of cathartic, bare one's soul, constantly communicating, besties kind of thing. Anyone who wants that with me is going to be constantly chasing, constantly frustrated, always feeling as if I am not coming through for them.

Anyway. I really loved the comments thread on this Jezebel post from 2015. The post itself left me fairly meh (altho it does give context for all the commenters who say the article really did it for them). But it has helped me more than anything else I've ever read to understand why some people find me cold, distant and utterly unsatisfying (my long term friends always argue that I'm not, and obviously I agree with my friends! Which is why I believe in the importance of compatibility). I may be a calm oasis for someone whose chaos has gotten out of control. I may be a relaxing place to hang out and let someone else make all the decisions. But wow. All the feelings I apparently either don't really feel -- or do not care to share. Ever.

Enjoy! You can go find your own friendship ending advice. There's plenty to go around.


Oh, if you are thinking, OMG there are some high maintenance people complaining about their friends, I am inclined to agree. Also, that some people take their birthdays more seriously than I do mine. If you find you cannot slog through the whole comments stream, at least check this link out, because it is a hoot: