A 40-year secret that never was

A close friend admitted revealing what was thought to be a closely kept secret to another friend 40 years ago. The revelation has created a strain on the relationship, with neither knowing what comes next.



May 29, 2024 - 2:31 PM

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Dear Carolyn: Forty years ago, a very close friend and I agreed to keep something we did in our 20s a secret for life. We did not want to hurt anyone else.

I never said a word to anyone. My friend, however, flippantly said to me one day recently, So-and-so “will give you a wink at my funeral to acknowledge your complicity.” I was stunned.

Apparently, my friend shared our secret with their friend (someone I know only by name) 40 years ago. They never kept the secret. But I am just finding out.

I am stinging mad, hurt and feeling disrespected. All the years of being told I was the single most important person in their life have come tumbling down. It has taken me almost a year to regain my composure enough to discuss this matter.

My friend feels as if this was a betrayal committed 40 years ago and I should just let it go. But to me, it is a deception committed today, as I just now found out. They want me to put this behind us as old news, and I feel newly betrayed.

I have decided to forgive them and move on, but our relationship is severely impaired. I will never be able to respect and trust this person again, because they disclosed their deception to me flippantly and with no remorse. They suggest I judge them in the context of our lifelong relationship.

Does revealing a secret 40 years ago get a pass now? Am I overreacting? Should I judge my friend on the past 40 years and discount this lie?

— Stinging Mad

Stinging Mad: I can’t tell you what you can and can’t get over, or what you “should” feel or do.

I can tell you, from my safe remove, that you’re both right and both wrong to some degree.

“All the years … have come tumbling down” screams overreaction. But skipping the remorse stage and lobbying to be let off the hook is some serious downplaying.

Your friend is right about this as a single mistake four decades ago.

You are right about this as fresh and immediate for you. No doubt you’ve mentally paged though all 40 years for other lies you may have been told. Hard stuff.

Your friend is right that 40 years of fellowship count, too.

You are right that your friend’s way of revealing the truth was seriously off-key. (But are you always pitch-perfect?)

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