This is a big question that comes up in non-monogamy, especially when it comes to talking about other partners to one another. So what is the difference between privacy and secrecy. Is there really anything that we should be hiding from our partner? What about power dynamics. Who decides what should be private and what shouldn’t be? What is mine to share? We talk about mental health, STI status, personal boundaries and other relationship dynamics where these questions come into consideration.
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
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Jase: 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. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up to them if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole, and before an immense sky.
Dedeker: Jeez, real good.
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Emily: Broaden your sexual horizons.
Dedeker: Develop a better understanding of yourself.
Emily: Or learn more about non-monogamy.
Jase: Then you've come to the right place. I'm Jase.
Emily: I'm Emily.
Dedeker: I'm Dedeker.
Jase: This is the Multiamory podcast.
On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about dirty little secrets and their opposites. Big clean privacy. Right? That's not where you thought I was going huh? You thought it was going to be big clean transparency or something but no we're actually-- This episode is focused on the difference between privacy and secrecy or secrets versus private things. What's that all about? This is something that comes up a lot in marriage advice, and in a lot of traditional monogamous dating advice, of this question of things, like is snooping okay?
We've talked about in other episodes, but even just the idea of do you have privacy at all? Are you an individual person at all? What are your rights to privacy in a relationship? This is something going way back to the idea that literally when you got married, well, the wife specifically didn't even have any legal rights to any property or privacy of her own. That literally, anything that she did or had belonged to her husband and unfortunately, even in modern conventional dating and marriage advice, we still see a lot of that idea, that philosophy about it trickling into the way that we talk about these things, which actually can be very troubling.
Emily: I find it interesting because you're saying conventional and when I think of the mad men era of things. If there still was this normative thing of well, the Don Draper guy would have his privacy and have his secrets. But then of course, like the Sally Draper, or no, not Sally, that was the daughter, Betty Draper that's the one.
Dedeker: You're looking at me as though I would know anything whatsoever.
Emily: I love that show. Anyways, Betty would still have to keep everything out in the open for her husband, but that he could have some privacy and some secrets. I appreciate that you said the woman or the wife had to have more of the secrecy out in the open or any privacy that she might have had previously out in the open. Obviously, all of this goes on its head when you're considering multiple partners. It is like a question of what factors do you have to consider in terms of privacy when there are multiple people involved. Things like how do you respect the privacy of your partners, to your other partners.
Again, I know that when we were all dating, it was like, well, not everybody wants to know everything about the other person and that's not our thing to discuss if somebody doesn't want us to disclose specific information. Also, there's always the question of hierarchy, power dynamics that come up with privacy. Then we wanted to discuss what is the difference between privacy and secrecy and is there really anything out there that is okay to hide from your partner?
Jase: I guess the question that we're getting at with this is, who gets to decide what is private and what's not and in what situations? Like Emily's example of, what do you share about one partner with another? It's that question of, what is mine to share with my other partner versus what is someone else's privacy that I'm then infringing upon by that? I think that question of what's yours to share is interesting. However, as we're probably exploring this, it's possible to err on the other side of using well, it wasn't mine to share as an excuse for behavior that I would describe as being secretive or keeping secrets, which is a negative thing.
Dedeker: Let's dive in a little bit more philosophically into the difference between privacy and secrecy. It's just interesting and curious to me that we even struggle with this at all in the context of romantic relationships. I think that in itself serves to be a flag of like, hey, we don't have everything quite figured out because these are really common questions, even among people who are in very traditional conventional monogamous relationships. I really want to think about, what does society tell us generally about privacy in relationships in general? I feel like my impression anyway, is that we feel collectively a lot more clear about, for instance, issues of privacy in the workplace of what are the things that it is okay to talk about what's not okay to talk about, of course, it's going to change.
Emily: Like divulging pay or raises-
Dedeker: Things like that.
Emily: -or things like that.
Dedeker: Of course, that's going to be a little bit different from workplace to workplace, what the culture is there. It's like there's some arenas where we feel like privacy is pretty clearly defined but then I do feel like in the arena of romantic relationships that there's a lot of questions around that. I found this really fascinating quote, and this is specifically from a Time Magazine article that was about the topic of privacy in relationships and how this is changing. It was an article written by Stephanie Fairyington. I just love that name because it's like fairy, like a winged fairy. It looks like ferrying around in the town Fairyington.
Emily: That's cute.
Dedeker: Anyway, she writes. This derives from an antediluvian belief that marriage means a kind of merging that renders the very notion of privacy anathema or moot. If the idea of a “private life” outside marriage sounds oxymoronic, it’s because we’ve so thoroughly romanticized the fusion of ourselves with our partners as a kind of testament to the depths of our intimacy. Now Jase you previewed this a little bit ahead of time, this idea that marriage starts out as this very transactional contract, essentially, where the wife essentially gets subsumed by the husband or the husband's tribe or the husband's family.
Emily: Becomes part of the family.
Dedeker: Yes, and we already have all this language around two becoming one and this being a union and so this idea that you would have some kind of individuality or a private life outside of that union is fundamentally preposterous.
Emily: Even taking a name. The husband's name is, in essence, getting rid of the individuality of a person and instead taking on like we used to say, Mrs. Bob Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith.
Dedeker: Exactly. I think that's why nowadays, as not only fewer of us are getting married, but I think now that our definitions of marriage is starting to evolve into something that's more about two individuals coming together as opposed to one monolith subsuming this wife figure into that monolith.
Emily: For sure.
Dedeker: I think that's why we start to have these questions around, like, Where are the boundaries? Where are the borders? What is okay to still maintain and have private individual as opposed to what's not? Now, actually, for me, I started thinking about this a lot a number of years ago, when I was in my more formative time, thinking about hierarchy specifically.
Dedeker: A lot of the resources and the people that I talked to who were very pro hierarchy, it was very much from the standpoint of well, you need to make choices that prioritize the relationship.
Emily: A certain person.
Dedeker: No, the relationship.
Emily: I see.
Dedeker: You as a couple are the deciding factor, you're the deciding unit. It's like you as the couple, you work together to make decisions that prioritize the relationship and on the one hand, that makes sense. On the one hand, I'm like, yes, you should be taking actions that prioritize your health as two human beings in a relationship to each other. However, on the other hand, I realized I was like, wait, that that assumes that it's possible to become essentially one flesh with another person. That assumes that we come together and we can function as a hive mind where we're always going to agree on the same thing and the same next step forward and that we're going to want the same thing.
Emily: Or simply if you can't that the relationship still will triumph the individuality of two people and perhaps the wants and needs even if two individuals for the unit.
Dedeker: That was the thing I had a hard time wrapping my brain around was like, but you just you can't. You can't become a hive mind with another person, you just can't. Inevitably even if you have the best of intentions, in a relationship with someone you're going to run up against a situation where you both want very different things and you're both going to have a very different opinion of what's good for the relationship or not. That's okay, that's a normal relationship thing. To say that the union itself means that then you can kind of function this way and you're always going to make the best choice that's the best for the relationship, I think it's a little bit troublesome.
Emily: Well, it's always like, what is the best? What does that even mean?
Jase: Yes, I think that's an interesting part of the question right there. I think sometimes people can get caught up in like, well is it about the individuals or is it about preserving the relationship? What about commitment? I think underneath all of that is what does a good relationship actually mean? It's getting down past that level of just one person saying, "You're not giving enough individual identity to the people in this relationship." The other person going, "Well, you're not committed enough to our relationship." It's important to be part of something bigger than just the parts of it.
That underneath all of that, there's this question of, "What actually is good for that relationship and for those people involved and what really is the purpose of this?" I think it's such a tricky thing because we have a lot of emotional attachment to this things, like that idea of becoming one flesh, that's very romanticized to us. We don't generally think about things like the fact that under the law, coverture was the name for this but under the law, literally the woman stopped existing as a separate entity from her husband, they became one except he was the head of the one.
Dedeker: Yes he was more one than she was.
Emily: Yes exactly.
Jase: Right so she literally was like a part of him.
Emily: He was Adam and she was his rib. Sorry, we're reading the Bible. I just had to throw that in there.
Jase: Yes, like this example here from an article I was reading, was talking about how if the husband did anything to her, injured her, raped her, something, she had no legal recourse because "suing him would be akin to suing herself". We don't tend to think about that very dark side of this to become one however, we have all this romantic attachment that's given to us about the idea of finding your soulmate or finding the one, someone who completes you, these sorts of things. It's almost like you've been told over and over again that this is romantic and this is good so you're just like yes it must be.
Emily: That's what I want I guess.
Jase: That people will hear us being real logical about things and go, "But you're taking the romance out of it." Well, the romance is there just because you were told it was.
Emily: Yes, exactly. Let's put some thoughts into this.
Dedeker: To bring it back to the idea of privacy, is that it's like if you have this very romantic notion of like, "We become one person, there's no barriers between us whatsoever, there's total free flow of information." That means that we cannot hold on to the hallmarks of ourselves being individuals. In theory that means you share absolutely everything and your partner shares absolutely everything with you and that's like the most romantic version possible. You didn't want to hear it. I still think yes there's a part of it that still feels romantic. I think that I tend to lunge more onto the side of how romantic the idea that this person sees you words and all and loves every bit of you.
Emily: That is a nice part of it but the question is, if they do know everything about you are they going to still love every single inch of who you are?
Dedeker: That's always a scare.
Emily: Well yes but I think a thing because yes some of the articles that we read, I really liked that one from, it was the Jewish. I'm not sure but it was so good and it was talking about how things might come up that would bug or hurt a person. If you're at a dinner party and all of a sudden a friend brings something up that is horrid for the wife to hear or hard to talk about and then the husband would be like, "Hey, we don't talk about that" and how he's like "We're going to need to change the subject because that's something that we don't discuss here." Even if he himself doesn't exactly know why that is still challenging for her, he kind of aids her in that private part of herself.
I really loved that point that they were trying to make. It was quite beautiful.
Jase: Yes, let's see where was the quote here?
Emily: Oh you're finding it?
Jase: I guess I don't have that particular quote but there was one part of that article where he was talking about the role of a husband and wife is to protect the other person's privacy rather than to invade and demand that it be accessible to them at all time.
Dedeker: Interesting. Of course swap out husband and wife for the configuration you want.
Jase: That's just written on a fairly traditional, well liberal but traditional Jewish theology website I think. We're obviously from more of that traditional marriage point of view. I like that idea and kind of like Emily's example of saying we don't talk about that rather than joining in the prying.
Emily: Being like yes what is it? Which I've definitely heard that narrative as well, "We know that you don't like talking about that but come on, you need to be vulnerable in this moment." You're going to talk about a poet?
Jase: Can I read you a poem?
Emily: Is it a poem?
Dedeker: Is it a poem that you wrote?
Jase: It is not a poem that I wrote.
Emily: That would be impressive.
Jase: That would be quite impressive if I wrote this poem. This is by Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke.
Dedeker: One of my favorites.
Emily: Is that how you say it?
Jase: Yes. German poet from-
Emily: German yes.
Jase: Long time ago. This is from letters to a young poet. A little bit long.
Dedeker: It was his seminal work.
Jase: Yes. The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries. On the contrary, 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 or development. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them.
If they succeed in loving the expanse between them which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
Dedeker: Jeez real good.
Emily: It's really good.
Jase: It's really nice.
Emily: It's so good yes. It’s also just again, like that article said, it's essentially caring for a person regardless of the things about them that you may question or may not necessarily be as fond of or be like, "Why do they keep that from me? Why do they keep that from people?" Instead just be accepting them as they are. I think that's wow, how many people in our life can we say do that actually for us? I guess that's the goal. If there is a goal, then that is it.
Jase: Hashtag relationship goals.
Dedeker: Well this quote reminds me of actually something that a Buddhist teacher told me once, it was within the context of a private counselling session that I was having with this person. I was in the midst of enaree but it was enaree that was on the cusp of the rude awakening when you're starting to see this person is an actual person and maybe it hurts a little bit for both of you. Anyway I was just so torn up because I'm like, "I really love this person, I really want to be close to them but it feels scary." This teacher, she told me when we do open our hearts to someone it's not the traditional sense of two hearts merging together and becoming one, it's two hearts to learn to respect the other heart's solitude.
She was also very poetic.
Emily: Wow were you like, "poof."
Dedeker: Yes, basically I was mind blown. I wrote it down and yes that stuck with me ever since then. I will say it's challenging for me because the fact that I'm someone when I enter into relationship in general I tend to be pretty reserved, I tend to play my cards pretty close to the chest, I tend to be a pretty private and not a very open person. I try to counteract that, I try to be more vulnerable and open myself up to people. However, I have also been criticized for that from some people. Some people saying that I'm too closed off or I'm not open enough or there's things that I'm not sharing.
I've always felt like I've struggled with that, the struggle between sometimes being like, "God they are right, I just need to not be so private, I need to open myself up, I need to lay it all out in the table." Other times being like-
Emily: Fuck you.
Dedeker: No it's okay. It's okay for me to have some privacy. It's okay for me to have some things that I reserve. It's okay for me to not want to talk about absolutely everything all at once. To quote a show that we're all familiar with, The Last Five Years, that line, "All that I ask for is one little corner, one private room at the back of my heart."
Emily: In the back of my heart. Oh my freaking God.
Dedeker: I want to get that line tattooed on my forehead. Symbolically, metaphorically tattooed, because I relate to it so much, this idea of like, "Yes, I want to love someone, but I also feel like I need somewhere in my heart that is just for me.
Emily: When she sends out battalions to claim and blow it apart.
Dedeker: To claim it and blow it apart, yes. Oh, gosh. That's such a good song.
Emily: I know. That was my favorite song to sing in that show when I played Jamie.
Dedeker: It's a beautiful song. Anyway, I so relate to that, but I feel like that's always been my struggle is because I think we've romanticized this notion of when you're with someone, you just lay everything out there and lay it all bear, anything less means that you're not committed or you're scared or whatever. Sometimes for me, that's true, but sometimes it's not.
Emily: I want to delve into that question of secrecy versus privacy because I think that, as you were saying, that's something that you questioned. It's like, "Well, what things am I holding close to the chest just because I don't want to be vulnerable or I don't want to put myself out there, or this is something that I don't want people to know about me," versus this is a trauma or this is a thing in my life that I need to keep close to myself because I don't want everyone to know about it.
I think what differentiates between a secret and something that's private is sometimes about intent, about a possibility of something affecting someone or hurting someone else. Private things, if they are eventually told to a person, they can give some sort of insight into who that person is and what they've been through. Things that make them tick in a way that maybe immediately you wouldn't know about them.
Jase: There is something-- We're not trying to say in all of this that the most romantic relationship is one where you never share anything and you're totally private, right?
Emily: Sure. [chuckles]
Jase: [chuckles] That sharing of private stuff is very intimate. It does give you insights into this person. Over the course of knowing someone, you will get to know more of those private things, especially if you show yourself to be a person who can be trusted with that kind of private information. Not only just trusted not to share it but also trusted not to attack them for it or shame them for it.
Dedeker: Use it against them somehow.
Jase: Yes, exactly. Exactly.
Emily: Exactly. They were talking in some of the articles that we read, private things are unobserved things, versus hidden things that maybe--
Jase: Like actively hidden.
Emily: Yes, actively hidden or actively-- I guess it's things that might actively harm or hurt another person, which often can be those things that we would construe as being secret. Also, if you're hiding something out of fear, out of fear of what it will do to another person, what it might do to you if that thing were told, then perhaps that construed as a secret versus private.
Dedeker: That's a hard metric to go by because, on the one hand, I'm like, "Well, there's some private things about myself that the idea of sharing them feels scary." I feel fearful, but I guess more because I'm afraid of how it's going to reflect on me or I'm afraid of having to just talk about emotional, vulnerable things. At the same time, I can also hold a secret where it's like because I'm afraid that this is going to have a huge impact on this person or I'm afraid that they're going to leave me, or I'm afraid that-- I don't know. I feel like there can be fear with both of them.
Emily: When you feel like one thing is more directed inward as opposed to outward.
Dedeker: Yes, possibly.
Emily: Because you just said that you were like, "I'm afraid that someone might leave me or that they will think of me differently if they knew it," versus, "I don't know if I personally want to go there," or even want to relive the experience that is private to me.
Dedeker: It's such a fine line sometimes.
Emily: It can be.
Jase: This definitely isn't something that we can define and be like, "If it meets these characteristics, it's a secret and it's bad, or if it's these, then it's private and it's okay," because it really does depend on context. We're going to try to get into more specific examples of some things in the second half of this episode, but stuff where in one context with one person in your life, this might just be private. It's like, "This is about me. This is something about me. I don't know if I want to share it or not, but it's private."
Versus in another situation, at the same time but with a different person, that might be something you're keeping from them that does directly have an effect on their life. You could make the argument that you are causing them harm or setting them up for future harm by not telling them this thing by actively keeping it secret.
Dedeker: Like setting someone else up for harm directly or indirectly by not telling them.
Jase: Right. I feel like that's one of those things that it's not just this thing is always private and so it's okay to keep it to yourself and this thing's always not, but it does depend on the situation, on how it affects their life, how you, I guess know this information, what that understanding is about how much you would communicate with them. Which is why we always try to encourage people to be as explicit as possible with each other about what types of things we do want to know and not or what things we expect to tell each other in a timely manner versus what things are okay as they come up.
Especially in terms of other partners and what you do with them. For some people, that might feel like you kept a secret because you didn't tell me that you had sex with this person last night. For another person, it would be like, "Oh, no. That's your private business. That's fine with me. If I asked you and you said no, then that was then a lie," then it feels bad. Having a clear expectation can help make that distinction clear about what's private versus what's a secret, but sometimes we can just fall into not having those conversations just because they're uncomfortable or maybe we're just too afraid to have them.
Emily: There's a great blog called Jung At Heart, as in Carl Jung. On this blog, there was a cool quote that we're going to read you right now. It is, "We keep something secret because we believe the cost of telling is so high that it's virtually not a choice at all. Privacy is voluntary, secrecy is not."
Dedeker: I think that's really interesting.
Emily: Yes, that is really interesting.
Dedeker: You could definitely debate that one.
Emily: I agree.
Dedeker: That is a really interesting observation of the part of what motivates a person to keep a secret is this perception of, "There's just no way that I could tell because the cost is so high and so I don't have any choice but to keep it a secret."
Jase: In that same article, she mentioned some quotes from Carl Jung who is talking about keeping secrets. It has this psychological damage that it does to you over time to yourself, like this psychological harm you're causing yourself by keeping a secret. It's that, the pain of divulging it versus the pain you're causing yourself by keeping it secret. Again, debatable, but it is an interesting way to think about it. That is an interesting way to gain some introspection to, "How do I really feel about this thing. How do I come down on that?"
Dedeker: I think that's an interesting invitation to analyze yourself and look inward and see if you can really get real with yourself, I suppose, and be like, "This thing doesn't feel more like a secret or does it feel more like privacy?" I think that requires a very high level of being honest with yourself.
Dedeker: To be able to be like, "Actually, this feels like I'm hanging onto a secret moreso than privacy."
Emily: That's next level shit, but definitely important to question within one's self. We're going to in the second half of this episode talk about things that you might want to keep private, things that you might not want to keep secret, and then what happens if you screw up and invade someone's privacy, what to do in those scenarios.
Dedeker: We came up with a couple lists of just suggestions. I'm going to give the disclaimer first and foremost that these are just suggestions from us. These things are going to differ depending on your situation, depending on your needs, depending on your context, depending on your level of safety. Please do not take this list as this is the official black and white Multiamory list of these are the things you keep private and these are the things that you tell to the world.
Emily: "You have to do that."
Dedeker: Please do not interpret it that way. These are just some guidelines that may change depending on your circumstances.
Emily: Some things that you might want to keep private. The first one definitely falls under that category of this is based on your specific situation, but something that you might want to keep private is the STI statuses of specific people in your life without their consent. With their consent, if you feel like that's something that everyone has agreed upon talking about to multiple partners, then that's one thing, but without consent, definitely, don't just assume that this is a thing that somebody would be comfortable with.
Jase: Can we talk about this one for a moment?
Jase: I think this one's big.
Dedeker: Well, we are going to talk about it again a little later before people send us angry e-mails saying about keeping it private.
Jase: Well, sure, we'll talk about it later then.
Dedeker: For example, as in, it could be anything of like your best friend discloses their STI status to you and you just go ahead and blab that to your partner.
Emily: Be like, "Oh, my God. Guess what?"
Dedeker: Be like, "Guess who has what?" [laughs] Whatever. Or it could be between your partners. Again, before you send us angry e-mails and tweets, we are going to be addressing disclosure of sexual health later on in this episode. Just hang tight.
Jase: There you go.
Emily: Another thing that you might want to keep private err people or partners sharing of past trauma that they had on their lives. Again, I think this one is pretty explanatory. That's probably not something that you're going to want to go blabbing to other people about. Again-
Jase: But people do 100%. With partners, there's this assumption that, "Anything that's told to, I can tell to my partner."
Emily: Everybody else gets to know.
Jase: Some people are more on the blabbing spectrum than others but that is something that people assume, and it's definitely something I assume too. It's like, "Well, they're the person it's okay to share stuff with because they're my romantic partner." Somehow, that doesn't count as telling someone else.
Emily: Somehow, that's okay. For sure. Again, other people's physical or mental health statuses issues, anything that goes along with that. That's probably not something that you would want to divulge to your partners, to your friends, to your family. Again,-
Dedeker: Again, unless they've given you consent of like, "This is okay to talk about." Or they, themselves, are very open in public about-
Emily: Yes, but don't just assume automatically. I'd say, ask the question before assuming that it's okay to go out and tell other people about things that are happening with your partner.
Jase: I've even read some stuff where people talk about-- It's also, you're right, to keep private your own physical or mental health issues. If it's not something that's going to cause harm to your partner, then that isn't something you're actually required to tell them about if you don't want to. I think that's an interesting one that a lot of times as neurotypical and physically able people, we don't think about but that is something-- If it's not affecting them, you don't necessarily have to tell them.
Emily: Absolutely. Things like correspondence or emails or text messages that were shared under assumed confidence, something really intense happens with your mother or whatever and then, all of a sudden, you go and blab about that to another partner. That's not an okay thing. Again, without consent, not something that you should just assume you can do.
Jase: Assumed confidence is such an interesting qualifier.
Emily: Assumed confidence. That is hard, that's something I think everyone should err on the side of caution. I can tell myself to do this far more as well.
Dedeker: I was going to say, "Me too." I think I need to be better about this one.
Emily: Just the fact that in a relationship, especially if it's potentially something traumatic in any way, to just err on the side of caution and say like, "Maybe I'm going to let so and so tell you about this instead of me telling you about it." Even if you know of it oh your friend or your metamour is having a big talk with their partner and you're like, "Oh, how did it go with that person?" If you were to say, "Hey, I know what happened but I'm going to let them talk to you about it instead of me divulging their private conversation."
Jase: I really like that actually. When I keep came across that phrasing-
Emily: I think you do that a lot and it's gracious.
Jase: That phrasing of-- I actually had someone say-- Gosh, where was it? We were at some sort of polyamory meetup or a discussion group or something and someone was talking to me about Dedeker and was asking some question about her, and maybe even about Emily too, I can't remember if it was about my relationship with Dedeker or if it was about us as a podcast, but they were asking our opinions on something and I didn't even think I was doing something big at the time but I was like, "Well, you'd have to ask them to get their specific opinions but this is mine, and I'm pretty sure they agree with me, but you should talk to them and find out for sure." This person told me later they were like, "That blew my mind." They were like, "That was so cool." I just hadn't even considered that before.
I did think that that idea of, I guess, "Whose is this to share?" Or, "What information can I speak on with authority versus what can't I?"
Emily: Again, we'll just continue on this list. Things like relationship problems or communication issues that don't have an effect on other people or partners, probably, keep that to yourself. Again, this is difficult because I think that friends do this a lot and then, even potentially multiple partners can do this. If there are communication issues, if there are specific issues within the relationship, you might go try to talk to your other partners about it and try to get some good advice even and it can't just be like, "Oh, I need some advice and you're my friend and I'm going to talk to you about it." That can be negative in a lot of ways and that can be a thing that causes your other partners to be like, "I don't like this person because all that you talk to me about them is their shitty communication habits." That's definitely something to, maybe, be mindful of that potential.
Dedeker: Well, I think it really means needing to be mindful of what are the things that are going on in my life in this one relationship that's affecting my other relationship with the other partner versus what's not because there's a difference between-- I don't know. Like myself and this partner, we get into arguments about level of cleanliness in the house all the time but that literally has zero impact on my other partners. I don't need to dredge that up, to vent about it or gossip about it or whatever. With the advice thing, that's also a little bit difficult. I feel like that's a context-dependent situation versus if I have some ongoing fights or ongoing systemic communication issues with a partner and it's really bumming me out and it means that I'm really distracted when I go hang out with my other partner or I'm really stressed or angry, or whatever, then that's starting to spill over into the rest of your life.
Jase: I guess then also the question of, how specific are you in what you're sharing about someone else? What's yours to share? The fact that's I'm having a communication issue, that's mine to share but what specifically might be going on for my partner, maybe isn't. It just depends.
Emily: Even if they're having a ton of shit happened at work or they just got laid off or something like that, and that's causing a communication issue or causing them to maybe be shittier than normal, I don't even know, for an example but maybe that's not necessarily yours to tell.
Dedeker: It's hard to calm down on one side or the other.
Jase: There's a lot of questions to this one.
Emily: It's a case by case basis for sure. Then, finally, the last one of the things that you might want to keep private that we have, there are probably many others, but your other partners' specific sexual preferences fetishes or interests. That's definitely one to keep private. That's not something that you should just go blabbing.
Dedeker: Also if friends as well share with you their sexual preferences or fetishes or whatever. That's also not something to necessarily talk about to whoever.
Emily: Just talking about-
Jase: I think this one's so interesting too because for some people that you know, they might be like, "Yes, of course, I talk about that with anyone. Go ahead and talk about it." Even for you, you might be the person who's like, "Whatever, no one would judge anyone for that or if they did, fuck them. I would say that to whoever and you can tell that to whoever." You might share that thing with a friend and then, your partner is super upset about that. They feel very betrayed, you've revealed something that they're not okay with sharing whereas, for you, it's no big deal. I think that's a big one.
I did want to add to this one is stuff like other people's gender identity or their gender history or their gender story. Aside from just like, "This is my friend who uses these pronouns." Giving whatever backstory about them, might not be yours to share. Again, you want to know, talking to them, ask them, "Hey, if I talk to someone, is that okay that I mention that?" "Would you prefer to keep it secret, what is it?" If that is someone who you're close enough to ask those sorts of things. Otherwise, just let them be the one who shares that themselves.
Dedeker: Definitely. Again, that was just our list of suggestions. As you can tell from the way we discussed it, a lot of these things are debatable, a lot of these things can be context specific. These are just some general guidelines. We also wanted to talk about some things that you may not want to keep a secret. Coming in at number one-
Emily: The opposite of the other thing that we were talking about.
Dedeker: -is, again, deja vu, STI status. Particularly, when it affects other people.
Emily: Is this more specific to you?
Dedeker: What do you mean?
Emily: Meaning your own personal STI status.
Dedeker: I think that definitely counts. I think that definitely counts because your own personal STI status is going to affect the people that you choose to have sex with or choose to have some kind of sexual contact with. There was a recent discussion about this in the Patreon group of how do I maintain open communication in order to preserve and health uphold everyone's sexual health but also not violate people's privacy because some people are like, "Yes, this is my status or I have HSV2, or have this or have that, but I don't want you to necessarily go around and tell everyone."
Some people came up with some interesting creative solutions. Some people said that they really try to get ahead of it by just early on in a relationship to say like, "Hey, just so you know this is my risk profile when it comes to having sex. I'm willing to sleep with people who have such and such STIs provided that we use barriers for instance as an example," so that this person just knows and just like, "Okay. I don't know-
Emily: There's a possibility that that's occurring.
Dedeker: -specifically if there's someone in your polycule that is positive for something or not, but I just know that if that's the case then that's what your choices as far as how you manage that risk and that's going to be different for different people. That works in some situations. Other people pointed out that it's like, "Well, if you only have two people in your polycule, and you're just like, "I'm sleeping with someone has HPV," and they're like, "Well, we can narrow it down." That approach doesn't necessarily work for other people.
This is definitely a thing where if you're not sure, of course, just communicate more than you think that you do. Ask the person who disclosed their STI status to you. Let them know like, "Hey, this is something that I feel like is important to convey to my other partner that I'm having sex with. What's the best way that you would like me to convey that to this person?" It may be something that also needs to be negotiated, but the solution is not, "Let's not talk about it and keep it secret," in any regard.
Jase: Right. I did want to go into that a little more of that thing of there's one thing to say like ask them about how they would prefer that you shared that with your partners or whatever, but if your situation is one where either because of your own personal values or because of an established agreement that you have with an existing partner, that this is something that you will disclose to them, this is something you talk about before you have the sex with the new partner. That's the part that I think a lot of people miss because they're like, "Oh, well-
Emily: I just did.
Jase: - I made my decision. I had sex with them and they don't want me to tell. They're just not comfortable with that, so then I'm not going to." I'm justifying it by saying, "Well, they didn't want to, but to my other partner that is a secret." That's a betrayal because that's something they expect me to share.
Dedeker: It's something that affects them.
Jase: It's something that affects them. Right. Having that actually having the responsibility too at the time and be like, "Okay. That is fine with me. This is something that I will want to disclose to my partner if we do have sex. Or if we don't have certain types of sex, whatever your agreement is, if we don't obviously I'm not going to tell them because that's none of their business." To be as upfront as possible about that is something I feel like a lot of people just forget that that option exists of just being that explicit about it. I think people like to pretend that doesn't exist because that one involved the situation where you don't have sex.
Dedeker: That's true. Well, I feel like just in general having discussions very early on about how disclosure works in your relationships is an important really intentional conversation to have with people just so that they know. Again, another thing you may not, not, not necessarily want to keep secret-- Notice how I started and said not three times to really emphasize this.
Jase: Triple negative.
Dedeker: Some things that you may not want to keep secret. One of the things are your personal boundaries. This is also tricky because sometimes with our boundaries it's an ongoing process of learning about them and sometimes we don't learn about them until they're bumped up against like, "Wow. That's a boundary I didn't know." Still best to not keep it to yourself. Do what you can to express these things. Proactively have conversations about these things with your partners or with the people close to you. Other things you may not want to keep secret, your future plans, your dreams, your hopes.
Emily: Even for the relationship.
Dedeker: Even for the relationship itself, or do you see yourself wanting to land a job in a particular field and move across the country, or do you see yourself wanting to have five kids someday or no kids. Those are things that I know that everyone always gets turned off by like, "You can’t discuss those things so early on in a relationship. People will get scared thinking that you're trying to get them to marry them or something like that." There's ways to talk about your future plans and your future intentions without it being a weird creepy like, "I've tracked out the next 20 years of our relationship even though we've only been on two days." There are ways to talk about it.
Jase: Then in year five this is when we moved to our house in Provence.
Dedeker: Other things that you may not want to keep secret talking about what kind of relationship structure you want to have. Again, this is another one that I think requires a really high level of self-honesty and self-awareness of-- For instance, I know some people who are like, "Well, I'm okay to be non-monogamist now, but eventually, I do feel I would probably-- Once I get older maybe once I want to have kids or whatever, I want to settle down and maybe do a monogamist again." That's great. Just talk about that. Or people who feel the opposite of like, "I want to be monogamist now but I would love to see us open up later on and then have it looked this particular way." That's okay. Just don't keep that. No secret.
Jase: Another one that we have talked about before on this podcast is sharing how you feel about your other partners. This specifically tends to come up when you really falling heavily for someone or you are really into them.
Emily: Or even if you just have gone like a first date.
Jase: Well, yes. I'm not even talking about their existence but just how you feel about them.
Emily: No. We've talked about this, Jase, how people would go on first dates and then come on and be like, "I don't know. It was okay. Whatever."
Jase: Downplaying it.
Emily: Yes. Downplaying it and being like, "You know what? I had a really great time."
Jase: Or I've also seen with someone that you're just going on the first few dates with of trying to downplay the seriousness of your existing relationships if there's someone who's new to polyamory because you don't want to freak them out. It's just that never ends serving you or them. Really, this is just setting both of you up for a lot more hurt down the road. Just don't. Be as honest and clear about that as possible, and respect other people to make their own decisions about that instead of making the decision of whether or not they want to be in a relationship with you. Rather than making that your decision, that's their decision in case if I want to get super, I don't know, abstract about it.
Another one would be addiction or substance abuse problems for yourself. Again, not sharing those about other people necessarily, unless you're in the situation where you're in danger or something or looking for help obviously. Yes, sharing those it's the first step. It's that's how you can work on that. That is also something that arguably can affect them very seriously as well.
Let's see what do we have next here. Your own physical illnesses or mental health issues that do have an effect on people close to you.
Emily: We have this also in the other categories.
Jase: Yes. In the first part.
Emily: Use your discretion with this one again if there are certain things like, "I'm dyslexic or something." You're like, "I don't necessarily knew to tell anyone that." That can be a private thing. It's not going to necessarily hurt or harm anyone that you're dating to know that. If you want to keep that private, then I think that's probably fine.
Jase: It can fall into that category of stuff that's private that when you do share it with them it's about building intimacy and connection rather than something you're sharing because you have to. Then, the last one we have on this list here is just about other relationships that you maintain in contact with or that you stay in contact whether platonic or romantic, but just if there's a person who's significant enough in your life that you maintain regular contact with them, even if that regular is only once every couple of months or something, that to just like leave that person out from a partner who is a more established partner, who does know a lot more about the goings on in your life.
That's one of those things that's, Dedeker's favorite, "Don't tie your shoes in a watermelon field" situation. Where even if there's nothing untoward going on you don't want to do something it's going to give the appearance of that. That just doesn't make sense. Just try to be upfront and be honest about those things.
Dedeker: Or I think also if you're also noticing that there's some kind of relationship in your life that you feel the impulse to be more secretive about it or to not talk to your partner about, just get curious about that of like, "Why is that?"
Jase: That's a good example.
Dedeker: Is there some kind of fear or some reaction from a partner or whatever. Just follow that as a little clue essentially, a little clue. You could dig a little deeper and get a little more information about yourself.
Dedeker: You all, how can we fuck this up?
Emily: So many ways.
Dedeker: God knows we all have.
Jase: We've all done it.
Dedeker: We've all fucked it up many times. We explained even some examples as we talked about this, but things like sharing information that wasn't yours to share. Again, we're so socialized to assume that it's like, "Well, if I'm in a close romantic relationship with someone it's okay to share whatever with them, all the gossip about my friends or other partners or whatever because we don't keep anything from each other and it's so romantic." Just that sometimes because of that habit-- I know, I've definitely shared stuff and not even realized till later like, "Ooh, actually-
Emily: "I shouldn't have done that."
Dedeker: - maybe I shouldn't have talked about that. Maybe that was a little bit of a violation or going a little too far." Sometimes you can fuck it up accidentally by accidentally eavesdropping, or happening to see a message on someone's phone, or on their computer, or whatever. There can be an unintentional fuckup here of just becoming part of some private correspondence by accident. Then on the opposite side, you can choose to not share something that does actually need to be shared. We can tell lies of omission as well. We talked about some of those already. We can go even more egregious such as Emily wrote here snooping and duping.
Dedeker: Which we decided snooping, fairly obvious, snooping when you're intentionally going in and digging through a partner's private things, private texts, private email, stuff like that. We decided that duping was then [chuckles]-
Emily: Duping them, they're duped.
Dedeker: - was then to go and pretend like you didn't snoop, but still get mad at your partner anyway, or pretend to find out some-
Jase: Through another way.
Dedeker: - information through another way-
Emily: Then it's actually you were snooping-
Dedeker: -but, actually you snooped and then you duped.
Emily: -and then you duped your partner.
Jase: You're doing snooping and duping.
Dedeker: I think things like demanding information from a partner, I've been guilty of this because I've definitely fallen prey to this idea of like, "If I just know everything about a situation, or if I just know everything about a partner, or if I just know everything about my partner's other partner, then I won't be surprised, I can't be caught off guard, I can control the situation." That's definitely where some hierarchy and power dynamics come into play. I know it did for me.
Emily: Back in the day.
Dedeker: Yes, back in the day, of this idea of like, "Well, if I'm the one who knows the most information, then I can be in control."
Jase: "Then I have the most power."
Dedeker: Yes, because if this person's privacy gets sacrificed to me, then I have the most power essentially.
Jase: There was something that was brought up in one of the articles we were reading for this too is that idea that basically you maintain power by not letting other people know everything about you, and then you try to take power from people by trying to get all their information.
Emily: That's very interesting.
Jase: It makes the argument of a peeping tom, it's about having power over that person because you're getting insight into them that they didn't want to give you as a way of having power over someone. I just thought that was an interesting philosophical way to look at that, but I hadn't really considered before.
Dedeker: That is interesting.
Jase: It fits with what you were just saying right there.
Emily: When you do fuck up what happens? What do you do then? It's interesting because we try to find some good information on this and when you type in, "What do you do when you invade someone's privacy?" Automatically, it talks about, "Okay, well, when your privacy is invaded on Facebook, here's how to sue for invasion of privacy and stuff like that."
Dedeker: Although when you're the victim of a privacy invasion.
Emily: Exactly. I'm like, "Okay, okay, clearly there's not a lot of information or good information out there."
Dedeker: You know what?
Dedeker: This sparked a memory for me that way back in the day when we did the episode on snooping-
Emily: In which James.
Emily: We said James again.
Emily: Dedeker said James earlier.
Dedeker: Early today for some reason, I accidentally called someone James also.
Emily: You were like, "James."
Jase: It's not me though, someone else?
Dedeker: No, it wasn't you, someone else. There's a spirit of James that's trying to infiltrate the podcast.
Emily: Yes, exactly.
Dedeker: We're onto you, James.
Emily: Who are you? Jase, what did you say? What did you say, [laughs] what did you do?
Jase: If you want to snoop, keep your partner in the loop.
Dederek: You made your cool, very cool sister.
Emily: You're a '90s teacher.
Dederek: Yes, exactly.
Emily: Anyway, way back in the day when we made that episode, I think I posted on the polyamory subreddit, asking people for their experiences of like, "When you've snooped on someone, or invaded someone's privacy, how did you rectify that with your partner? Or how did the two of you heal that, or how did you come to terms with that?" A lot of people responded with like, "Well, when I snooped on my partner I found that they were doing this, that, and I broke up with them and it's okay."
Emily: I'm like, "Oh, isn't this weird ends justify the means?"
Dederek: Exactly, it's not saying that, "Okay, well, maybe, yes, something occurred that was not good, but I also was in the wrong in a way." Again, if you go, try to find something and do find something, but it's not like, "Break up a ball," then what does that mean?
Emily: My argument, though, is that, "Okay, you went snooping on your partner, you found something," where you're like, "This is unacceptable, maybe they've been cheating on me, or lying to me, or whatever, I'm going to confront them and break up with them." I'm like, "There was some other indicator that probably got you to snoop in the first place."
Dederek: Probably, I'm assuming.
Emily: There was some other evidence or probably-
Dederek: You mean maybe-
Emily: -other opportunities for conversation or confrontation.
Dederek: -or is it just like, "I'm really insecure right now, and I'm going to do something self-sabotaging in a way."
Emily: That happens too, people do that too.
Dederek: Yes, to go and try to do a, "Got you," on my partner or something. Anyways, in those instances, in my opinion, when people do have a moment of like, "I snooped, or I fucked up, or I accidentally told something in the heat of the moment about my partner's partner, and that is fucking this whole privacy thing up," what do you do? First of all, apologize to the parties that were involved and were hurt by this, admit to the wrongdoing.
Emily: Didn't we talk about on some other episode about how the longer amount of time that goes by without fessing up to something, or coming clean about something-
Dederek: The worse it is.
Emily: -the more negative the impact is.
Jase: The worse the betrayal of trust becomes.
Emily: Yes, that's what it was, it was on the trust episode.
Dederek: Maybe try to admit and apologize immediately as soon as possible.
Jase: Yes, as soon as you realize that. Because what I found at least is that in the times when I have earlier on been like, "Hey, there's this thing that I'm starting to feel like I'm keeping from you," for example, rather than even on the snooping side, on the other side that, "I feel like I've been keeping from you and I don't think that I should, but for whatever reason, I have been, and I just want to be sure that wasn't something that I was keeping from you."
A lot of the times, especially the earlier on that is, oftentimes the reaction's like, "Oh, yes, okay, whatever, that's fine. I wasn't even concerned about that," or it's just a casual like, "Okay, cool, thanks, yes, that's good to know because I would have worried about that, so I'm glad I didn't." Whereas there's times when it's like, "Well, I'm too afraid of that and I just wait," to this point where now it feels really bad. Now there's this other whatever it is, a friend, or something that I did this one weekend that I've now kept from my partner for a year, and then to talk about it, it's like, "Wait, what?"
Emily: I'm going to say, "Wait, what?" Because I got a little lost on your syntax there like, "What was the weekend, the weekend, what?"
Dederek: If you slept with someone on a weekend, and then didn't tell your partner about it for a year-
Jase: Even more innocuous like-
Dederek: -or you found out that, I don't know, that your partner's partner slept with someone, then you told partner about it-
Dederek: -and then didn't tell the original partner that you told your partner for a year.
Jase: That wasn't confusing at all. I was even thinking of something like, "I was out doing this thing, I ended up going and getting drunk with my friends. We went out, got drunk and I didn't tell you that that's what I did that night." If it's then a couple of days later like, "Hey, actually, this is what I did," that's one thing versus now months later.
Dederek: "By the way, you remember that day that I did this thing that I said that I did, I didn't."
Jase: Assuming that you did just in the moment, you lied about it, or you misrepresented it, it's realize you did it, fess up to it and come clean sooner is going to be better than waiting till later. Even if it was nothing, it's like, "Well, why were you keeping it then?" I think it's something that we can just do. We can just lie on impulse, or not share something for not even a good reason, and then end up in trouble because of it, when we really didn't need to. We cause ourselves a lot of suffering over nothing.
Emily: It's funny because I was listening to a talk, or to a lecture that Kathy Labriola was giving, where she talked about the fact-- I don't know, her approach was interesting because she mentioned- she's like, "First of all, accept the fact that in relationships everyone lies at some point." Often, it's lies out of habit, or lies on impulse, or sometimes it's lies that are told--
Dederek: Fear in the moment.
Emily: Yes, fear in the moment before you even realize that we've told a lie. The name of the game is, can you then catch yourself? Can you either be do you have the bravery to be like, "You know what? I'm really sorry. That was a lie. That was a lie on impulse. I was afraid. This is actually the truth," which definitely takes some guts. Or can you even better catch yourself before. Can you be like, "You know what? I just had the impulse to not tell you the truth." That's scary. However, I do think that is such a good seed for a very important conversation.
Dederek: Because it can even be something like, "I know a similar thing that we've talked about in the past that has had this reaction. I was worried about a similar reaction. Can we talk about that?" For better or for worse, not that this- it makes it okay. Because of that I was like, "Fuck, I want to lie to you or not tell you something."
Emily: Right. Well, I think that's an important part of something that you can do. If there's been some breach or some fuck up, it is important to have a conversation about, "Okay, how do we not let something like this happen again? What can we put in place to prevent it from happening again?" I know something that I've tried to be good about is, when I have an experience of a partner, I haven't had a lot of experiences of partners straight up lying to me in recent history, which is great. Yay for me.
Dederek: Good for you. Yes, I know.
Emily: More of that, my experiences have been with someone telling me something later that I thought that they would, or these half-truths, things like that. I used to get really upset. I still do, it's still upsetting. I've also tried to take the tact of just straight up asking in a compassionate and not aggressive way, but straight up asking, "Is there something that I could be doing to create an environment that feels safer to talk about these things sooner? Or is there something specific that I've done that's made you not feel safe? Or is there a specific way of reactive that's made you not feel safe?"
Dederek: That's a really impressive thing to put out there, because I think so many people will want to get super defensive in the moment and be like, "Why would you lie to me?"
Emily: It is hard because trust me--
Dederek: Of course, but instead of asking those questions and being like, "Hey, I recognize here that your decision to do this in the moment was probably caused by something. What was that? Can we have a conversation about that?" I recognize that I might partially be to blame for that decision, which, again, that is our next thing here, which is just essentially saying, "On either side of it, don't blame, instead use non-violent communication," like Derek just described.
Emily: Or whatever.
Dederek: Or whatever.
Emily: In communication technique or hack.
Dederek: Sorry, yes. Non-violent is not a thing anymore. Basically, just to explain or discuss what occurred in the moment. Then also, discuss how to move forward, how to maybe not let something like that happen again. Again, is it that I need to create an environment in which you feel comfortable enough to come to me about such a thing? Even if it is scary, how can we breed a more loving environment in which you feel safe and comfortable?
Emily: Yes, this is definitely a time where it can be helpful to try to invite in some curiosity and mutual problem solving to be like, "Okay, what can we do? What creative solution can we come up with to make it, so that sharing something like this feels both safe for you and safe for me?" I think you'd be surprised if you bring that energy to it, the solutions that you can come up with. It was actually my personal experience.
Dederek: Yes, that's great.
Jase: Yes, some really great insights, even that question of, "Is there anything that I could be doing to make you feel safer to share this?" A lot of times the answer is, "Honestly, know you've been great, but I still have in my head these old beliefs about how partners would react to something like this," right?
Jase: Still having that--
Dederek: There's an acknowledgment there.
Jase: Yes, let's solve this together, instead of let's figure out who's to blame for this.
Emily: One last note, just know that to avoid keeping something secret, doesn't mean that you have to go the opposite direction and put it all on blast publicly.
Jase: Put it on blast, what does that mean?
Dederek: It's putting you on blast.
Jase: Something different than you think it means.
Emily: Fine, to blast out publicly. I'll change my words to use.
Jase: To just be like, "This is a thing that we do." You don't need to print t-shirts.
Emily: Yes, it's not. This is something that, honestly, it seems obvious, but this is something I had to learn in therapy, in learning to talk about my own trauma, PTSD, and history. My therapist told me that, "I think because of social media, we're conditioned to feel like we got to do a press conference and a press release for everything that happens in our lives. That's not the case. You can work on sharing things that feel private or that feel secret with people who are close to you, people that you trust, people that you feel safe with."
It doesn't mean that it has to suddenly-- You don't have to make t-shirts. It doesn't have to become your identity. I just wanted to put that out there as well, that it doesn't mean that choosing to share a secret or something private, doesn't mean that it has to just be all out there.
Jase: Share with everyone in the world?
Jase: That's great. We would love to hear from all of you about how is this showing up in your relationships? This is something that people are already talking about a lot in the Patreon group, and have in the past. It's just such an important topic for relationships of all sorts, really. We would love to hear from you. What are your personal stories? What are some things you've discovered about yourself through this process? Or what are some things you've realized after listening to this episode that you still struggle with, in terms of privacy versus secrecy?
The best place to share your thoughts with other listeners is on this episode's discussion thread in our private Facebook group and discord chat. You can get access to these groups, and join our private community by going to patreon.com/multiamory. In addition, you can share with us publicly on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, leave us a voicemail at 678MULTI05, or you can leave us a voice message on Facebook.
Multiamory is created and produced by Emily Matlack, Dedeker Winston and me, Jase Lindgren. Our episodes are edited by Mauricio Balvanera. Our social media wizard is Will McMillan. Our production assistant is Nicole Samra. Our theme song is Forms I know I did by Josh and Anand from the Fractal Cave EP. The full transcript is available on this episode's page on multiamory.com.