Posted by: Dan Savage
Topic: Is it OK for couples to keep big secrets (credit-card debt, plastic surgery, etc) as long as they don’t involve infidelity?
I've often said... and I still believe... that a relationship is not a deposition. Not only are you not required to answer every question truthfully, no relationship could long survive the kind of "full disclosure" reveal-a-thon that so many backers of "honesty" seem to support. All healthy, lasting, long-term relationship are built on a foundation of lies—from the outset. When you first meet someone you don't present your honest & true self to them, warts and all, so that they can make an informed choice about dating you. Nope, you present the best possible version of yourself, a sort of Potemkin boyfriend/girlfriend. And then, if the person sticks around, if he or she falls for this idealized person you were pretending to be, you're really stuck—for the rest of your life you have to live up to the lies you told about yourself, you have to try to be the wonderful, perfect, wholly fictional person you were on that first date or during those first few months.
And here's the magic: if you live up to the lies long enough... you can make the lies come true. Relationships can sometimes make us better people because we have to make good on our deceitful, lying presentation of ourselves.
However... and you knew there'd be a "but"...
There are lies that involve stuff your lover doesn't need or want to know, and then there are lies involving stuff that your love has a right to know. I would definitely file "credit card debt" under "right to know," since anyone that marries you can be held legally liable for your credit card debt. A little plastic surgery long before you met? I would file that under ""doesn't need to know" as it has no impact, no consequences, on your spouse or your relationship. Used to be a man? Right to know. Had gay sex once in college? Doesn't need to know. Family mobbed up? Right to know. Etc.
The trouble, of course, is that no completely exhaustive list separating "doesn't need to know" items from "right to know" items has ever been compiled. We all have to make up our own, and we have to use our common sense when we debate disclosure v. omission. And that's where the trouble comes in. If I've learned anything writing a sex-advice column lo these many years, it's that common sense is lacking. If I ruled the world I'd have it put in the water supply, like freakin' fluoride.