Growing up, privacy was not a gift I was given much of. ‘Your face is an open book,’ my mom used to say to me. ‘I can read everything that passes through your mind by your expressions.’ As a teenage girl, this was a little bit terrifying to hear, and I lived with a fear of being exposed, worrying everyone could and would call me out on my sinful motives and my ridiculous desires. I knew the hounds would sniff out my fears and instinctively tear into my jugular, or as my mom would often say, they would, ‘read me like a book.’
Of all the significant ways my therapist has relieved my suffering, one of the most healing has been the way he cloaks me in privacy. He asks me to elaborate, to explain my thinking. He makes it clear, in myriad ways, that he doesn’t have instant access to my psyche, that he has to be invited in before he can know me, see me. These gestures have felt like someone putting clothes on me. I was allowed to have an inside and an outside, a boundary that keeps what is mine out of sight until I choose to share it, with whom I choose to share. That ultimately, it is I who get to say what something means to me, no one else gets access to my internal world unless I grant it to them. The drawings I have made of this feeling speak of the dignity that privacy affords.
And I want to give this to my kid and I strive to offer this in my other close relationships. To me, it is a sacred act. Privacy is such a kind gesture, an act of generosity and faith. Privacy is the ascent up the sacred mountain to shroud the other in a cloud of un-knowing. Privacy says, you are your own person. You have your needs and desires that have nothing to do with me. Its giving someone a room of their own to have their own thoughts in. This belies a certain amount of respect, love and trust in the other person.
I think my mom was scared that privacy would lead to my absence. That if she let me think my own thoughts that had nothing to do with her, that she didn’t have access to, I would leave her. And so I think for me, giving those I love privacy, is an act of surrender, another way to relinquish my tendency to claim to be the messianic centre. It is a daily practice of acknowledging that although I might be important to those I love and we might intersect in a glorious moment of mutuality or we might come together for a bit, ultimately, I am not the centre of their universe. When, a few months in to our relationship my now-husband- then-boyfriend agreed we wouldn’t text or call or email one another during my visit to see my sisters in Canada, I knew he was a keeper. His gift of privacy- of leaving me to enter my coven of sisters without him, signalled to me that he valued my privacy, that he didn’t need to own me or demand access to every part of my existence in order to feel connected.
Copyright 2018 Diana Smith
I’m deeply indebted to Esther Perel for her writing and talking on privacy versus secrecy in relationships