I am the keeper of secrets

In our foursome everyone confides in me. I fear I'm betraying them all.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 28, 2008 10:23AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

So, there's this guy. And his wife. And my husband. And then there's me, struggling with a whole lot of secrets to be kept from each of these people. Struggling, until I realized, I'm going to toss this one Cary's way. He'll show me the light.

I'm married to a lovely man. We're celebrating our 13th anniversary next week. We've had the usual external struggles in our marriage: adult children/stepchildren problems, mother-in-law issues, illnesses, ex-spouses and the like. Our marriage has been consistently strong. I love him dearly.

I've worked with this Other Guy for six years now. I've always been attracted to him. We speak a lot, including off hours, and we work in the same room, often just the two of us. He's a dear, dear friend whom I love. I sometimes harbor feelings of being madly in love with Other Guy, but it comes and goes. I deal with it quietly, all by myself. This, in fact, is the first time I've ever acknowledged it to anyone.

Husband and I have become family friends with Other Guy and Wife, socializing regularly, spending holidays together, even traveling out of town together. Yes, a bit of a conflict considering my attraction, but so far so good. We have never, ever spoken of the attraction, and we have never been anything but appropriate with each other.

Then ... a couple of years ago, Wife says to me that their marriage is rocky, because Other Guy is dreadfully unhappy. He has attempted to leave a few times. I listen, console and don't mention to Other Guy that I know, at her request. Two days ago, she comes to my house crying. Other Guy doesn't love her, isn't happy and will be leaving soon.

Other Guy does not appear to be outwardly unhappy, nor do they fight -- he's apparently just not in love with her and feels it's sucking his soul from him.

And how do I know this? Other Guy breaks down at work yesterday -- cries, says he's a lousy guy and father and husband, and how could he do this? He cares about Wife, worries about her, but is dying inside. He has put off leaving for 15 years because of his commitment to her and family.

So, my dilemma: Other Guy considers me the best friend he has ever had. Says so yesterday. I assure him of his place in my life -- good friend, too. He tells me everything. I listen, console and comfort. But what I don't do ... I don't tell him that I know. I know everything, because Wife told me the day before. If he knows, or finds out, about my lie of omission, it will be a friendship-ending betrayal. He confides in no one, except me rarely, and trusts no one, except me. This will shatter that trust.

This is my web of secrets: Other Guy says please don't tell Husband. Too late, already told Husband. Ask Husband not to tell Other Guy he knows. Other Guy says don't tell Wife. Wife says don't tell Other Guy. Husband doesn't know my affection for Other Guy (and hopefully never will). Husband knows of my conflict.

Cary, what do I do? Confess that I've been omitting the truth to both of them? Ask them each not to tell each other and hope they don't? I'm worried most about Other Guy finding out. He's very important to me and I don't want to hurt him and lose him from my life. Is this too weird because of my attraction to him? What am I holding on to? I won't cheat on Husband, but I enjoy my Other Guy fantasy life.

Show me the way, Cary

Dear Show Me the Way,

What you do is keep your counsel.

In this group of four people each one has a role. You are the person people tell things to. You may sense this as a burden. But that's your role. You're like the banker.

You're the banker because they trust you.

You're doing the right thing. You're not betraying anyone. Not telling is not betrayal. It's just keeping your word. That's fine. You're just keeping close counsel.

It's not easy, though, is it? You have conflicting emotions. You want to do the right thing for every person. But you also have desires of your own. It's a lot to handle. You have to balance.

This role did not come to you by accident. We invite certain roles; we are suited to them; we get something out of them. This role brings you a measure of power; it provides intimacy, although of a circumscribed nature. People tell you their secrets and you enjoy the closeness. But it comes with responsibilities. It's a little like being in a group of superheroes: You are the Keeper of Secrets.

The role of confessor demands distance and impartiality. It precludes other, more intimate roles. Meanwhile, you have secrets of your own. Who's going to listen to your secrets? Who's going to give you the support and comfort that you need?

You cannot share your secret with the group. Your secret is too explosive. You have to go somewhere else with it. Like here.

So while this all plays out, just be cautious and keep close counsel. Find someone outside your group in whom you can confide, such as a professional counselor, clergy member or Internet columnist.

And now, because you said "Show me the way," I've got to get that darned song out of my head.

The Best of Cary Tennis

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