In my 30 years of living, privacy has never been an overt concern for me. In fact, I’ve often driven myself in the opposite direction in my attempts at making connections and building relationships (hello, relational insecurity). But in the last six months after ending my long-term relationship and moving in with my family, I’ve realized that privacy isn’t reserved for hermits and antisocials. It’s a legitimate desire.
Impact of Culture and Society on Privacy
First, it’s important to acknowledge the impact of western culture and society on the notion of privacy. Everything from social media to celebrities to reality TV shows point to the flagrant airing of private and intimate details for consumption by and entertainment of the masses.
Being out – outgoing, vocal, seen, heard, etc – is idolized and made to be the norm here in America. Any kind of private life is often questioned and held to be a symptom of neurosis. Or, better yet, privacy often conjures stories about wild secrets kept from the light. In other words, what bad things are you hiding that you don’t want to share everything with everyone?
Yes, there are many people that don’t care. They speak their mind, share their hearts, and slather their intimate details like butter – onto everything. I argue that’s the exception, not the rule. I contend that there are far more people who prefer a private life. And, as I’m learning, I’m included in that group.
I wonder how many of these people claim a life of privacy with strength and strong boundaries? How many skirt its edges without fully diving in due to familial and societal pressures to share every detail of one’s life with those around them? How many, women in particular, intuit an underlying (probably unconscious) expectation to explain one’s self constantly to family and friends? How many are telling lies because saying, “Mind your own business,” is too straight forward? And how many is privacy already a cultural standard?
I don’t have the answer to these questions. But I am curious. My experiences over the last six months have prompted a new relationship to privacy in my own life. One I am welcoming in with open arms and an eagerness to learn from.
Romantic Life Boundaries
Privacy never used to be a thing I thought about. I regularly shared openly about the status of my romantic relationship. I didn’t share all the intimate details (I learned not to do that the hard way) but I regularly indulged in conversations about where exactly we were headed.
In fact, I felt a sense of obligation to talk about it. As though my family deserved to know. As if they had some financial stake in whether my relationship ended completely or transitioned to marriage.
About once a quarter I’d have talks with friends or family. I’d give them the updates about our plans if you could even call them that. More than anything, I placated concerned relatives for another three months before I started getting barraged again with, “When are you getting married? When are you having kids?”
When our relationship finally ended I felt this sense of deep relief. Not that the relationship was over. That was devastating. The relief came from no longer having prying eyes on me and my partner. For once, I felt free to be myself. Well, at least for a little while.
It wasn’t too long after our official breakup that direct and indirect commentaries about dating started. As soon as the questions cropped up, I immediately felt a constriction in my body. The same constriction I felt each time I fell prey to the imposing external obligation and expectation to explain my romantic life to those around me.
I began to realize how unfair this was. It’s nobody’s business what I do in my romantic life. What if I wanted to be a spinster? What if kids and marriage weren’t for me? What if I wanted to go poly? What if it were all no big deal so let’s move on to another topic?
No matter what I chose to do with my romantic life it’s ridiculous to expect myself to run every romantic relational maneuver by each and every one of my loved ones as though their input and opinion would affect the outcome. On some level, I do value their opinions and feedback, on deep, important shit, but, generally speaking, this is my life; let me live it.
So, what is all this constant questioning about my romantic life? Remnants of societal standards for women’s relational lives to be dictated by family. Exactly. I acknowledge that it’s a completely unconscious program playing out. One that I’m not participating in any longer.
But after I ended my relationship and people started asking me about dating, I immediately knew that my romantic life was off-limits. While good-intentioned I’m sure, I felt as though not a single person could see how deeply I love this man, whom I’d spent eight years with. Therefore, none of them realized how offensive it was to ask if I had started dating. It felt disrespectful towards the partnership.
That’s when I decided that any more questions or probes were off-limits. Boundary set. But my relational life wasn’t the only trigger for my deep dive into privacy.
Seven People One House
Four and a half months after the official end of our relationship I moved out of the apartment we called home. I moved in with six family members. I went from living independently for the last six and a half years to living on top of other people in the midst of a pandemic where outings are severely limited.
I knew that boundary setting would be important. But I didn’t imagine myself having multiple conversations about how to leave me alone. For anyone who’s lived alone and then moved back in with family, you know it’s jarring, to say the least. Almost every time I walked into the kitchen or living room there’s someone there. And almost every time, without fail, they want to strike up a conversation and inquire into how my day went or what I did or what I’m doing, or what I plan to do. On and on and on.
I found myself screaming internally, “Just leave me alone!” Can’t I just come to get a drink of coconut water without being interrogated? Yes, I love you guys and leave me alone. I don’t need to say hi to you every time I walk into the kitchen. We already said hi five times today.
So now compounded on my summer of learning about privacy around my romantic life was this new need to not share even the mundane things in my life all the time. In fact, maybe I don’t want to talk about it at all, or maybe I only want to talk about it when I bring it up.
It’s clear that I now see six people every single day, whereas before I only saw them once a month. When we’d get together we’d catch up on all the important stuff and highlights. I’m in no way used to them knowing my every maneuver nor sharing the minutiae of my daily activities.
When I lived on my own, I had conversations, met with friends, traveled with others, and took solo adventures, most of which I’d not share because they’re my mundane personal activities. If something was quite striking that I felt like sharing, then I would. But it was my choice. Now, living day-to-day with six other people, I’ve had a constant barrage of inquiring minds about every move I make. Something had to be said.
Two frank conversations later I got the message across. There’s no need to ask me – every time you see me – what are you doing? What are you up to? What did you do today? And then what? And then what? And then what? I don’t mind sharing my daily activities from time-to-time, but I don’t want to give all the details on a daily basis, no matter how mundane.
Never a Saint, Always Learning
What I find most interesting about this whole experience is how far I’ve come from who I used to be. As I reflect on the relationship I just exited, I see that I was that person. I frequently probed, wanting to know every detail of his day. Who he talked to, where he went, what he was up to. Like I’d die if he didn’t fill me in on absolutely everything.
Ok, maybe not quite that extreme but certainly at a level that I would be annoyed by if I were on the receiving end. I realize now how inappropriate that is. There are some things in life that just aren’t my business. And when it comes to sustaining relationships, some level of mystery must be tolerated to ensure its health, in my opinion.
Beyond my most intimate relationship, I had been a probing, personal life question master for some time. Deep-diving into premature intimacy and vulnerable shares was a tool I used to create connections and build relationships with people. While I don’t recall any obviously offensive behaviors, I know it’s been a practice of mine to overshare a little bit as a way to build a bridge of intimacy and inspire other people to be vulnerable as well or to get them on board with a topic of conversation that was important to me.
I can’t say this isn’t at all helpful because I do believe it is at times. But it’s not always the most becoming behavior nor the most appreciated when overused or done so in a manipulative or unconscious way. Tact is key.
Laying aside the impact on others, oversharing private information is grievous mistreatment of my own vulnerable parts. Especially when I know, no matter how many different attempts I’ve made, that it won’t be received in a way that’s honoring my truth, even if in sharing my truth I’m being honest.
Honesty and sharing one’s tender truth and inner realms is a noble path. But not everyone can receive that truth in a way that’s respectful and honorable. And we generally know who those people are.
Consciously choosing to not share information doesn’t make me dishonest. It makes me wise and discerning. Those who are available and in alignment or who I feel called to share with may receive the more vulnerable pieces of information as intended. Not everyone qualifies.
There is such a thing as sharing too much, with too many people, and too soon. There’s an art to keeping things to one’s self. Harboring personal secrets close to my heart until they’re ready to be shared ensures their power stays well-nurtured and that my tender heart remains respected, valued, and honored.
A Conscious Choice
Choosing to have a private life isn’t a negative character attribute or a flaw. It’s not neurotic or insane. It’s not antisocial or sociopathic. It’s not dishonest or misaligned.
It’s a conscious decision to protect one’s tender parts. It’s about reserving the right to share for when I feel called to do so and with whom I feel called to do so. It’s about discerning who qualifies to receive these tender pieces. A skill often untaught to the masses.
Whether it’s my romantic life or my mundane daily activities, these are for me. I’m not hiding anything. I’m also not cowering away from vulnerable sharing, which I am ripe and available for. I’m simply choosing not to share certain elements at certain times. It’s a choice that I have and acknowledge – finally. It’s a conscious choice to lead a private life.