(For those of you who know me and are wondering if this story is about you, the answer is no. I've been carrying this around since college; "Promise Not To Tell" was a frequent conversation starter in those days. It bothered me then, and it bothers me now.)
What would you do?
You're talking to someone about a mutual friend and your interlocutor looks at you, cocks her head, says "OK, you can't tell Mutual Friend about this but.........." and then proceeds to give you information you wish you didn't have.
It doesn't matter what you've been told. Maybe it's evidence of an affair, or a problem at work. The content is less important than the meta-message: you know something which impacts someone you care about and you are bound not to reveal it.
Why are you bound? Because that's exactly what it feels like - caught, tied up, trying to loosen one end of the bindings just pulling them tighter somewhere else.
I'm going to skip ahead to the end, here, because it's obvious that what I should have done was interrupt the speaker before the but was spoken, stopping the story right then and there. But I only figured that out a long time later. In the moment, the intensity of the statement was such that I was drawn to the telling instead of to what was about to be told. We were in the middle of one story and suddenly the conversation had taken a sharp left turn and we were in don't tell land and I was sad.
So, back to being the possessor of information which cannot be revealed. I take full responsibility for not thinking of the obvious way out at the time, but here I am, knowing it and able to do nothing with it. Do nothing but stew over it, mull over it, wonder about it... for something I can't talk about it's occupying an awfully big swath of my brain space.
If someone were in danger, I'd have no compunctions about sharing the facts. If someone were to be hurt or damaged, there's no way a speedy promise over a glass of wine could keep me from saving the day. But what if the words which were spoken were background facts or issues. What if the person doing the talking was in a position to exercise power over Mutual Friend? No one is harmed if I keep this secret, and no good will come if I break my promise.
Maybe it's a chick thing. TBG can't quite understand why I feel so awkward. This may have something to do with the different qualities men and women bring to and expect from friendships. I'm not sure. My problem stems from the imbalance of power that suddenly exists between Mutual Friend and me. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and assets and liabilities and they are all part of the package when you're talking about a close friend. In the end, there's an equilibrium established which is pleasing to both of you. The longest and strongest friendships keep this balance over time and distance and circumstance.
I can trust the other because I know that she can trust me.
There it is, I guess. I feel untrustworthy.
So, I ask again, what would you do?