Friday, 25 April 2014

Tight Lipped

In my life there are times when I wish I had spoken up and others when I wish I'd kept my big mouth firmly shut. The difficulty, of course, is working out WHEN to speak out and when to maintain a dignified silence. It is a fine line to tread - damned if you do - damned if you don't.  Speak out and you could be accused of meddling, of stirring up angst or creating more drama. Be silent and further down the track you when the truth has come to light your tight lipped stance is seen as making a stand - one way or the other. 'Why didn't you tell me?' is chanted in your face...

True story: Years ago I was working in a bar in New Zealand. The manager was the owner's sister - lets call her Jane, and her assistant an arrogant guy called Piers. They were flatmates as well as co-workers. Meanwhile my flatmate and best buddy (let's call her Lisa) had a whopping great crush on this idiot Piers. He was single, flirtatious and she thought a lot of fun. Just as I came down with the worst food poisoning you can have (campylobacter - nasty I can tell you - all down to my mate undercooking chicken - be warned!) my flatmates decided to throw a house party. As I quietly died in the corner, Jane scooped me up and took me to her place - looking after me as I lost a stone in 3 days. (Which would have been fab but I have never been so ill in my life). My flatmate Lisa, shagged Piers at this party and was over the moon. Now, he could be hers! Except he didn't. We couldn't understand why...

Until he confessed to me that he was in fact in a long standing relationship with lovely Jane. Poor Jane who had no idea what had gone on... He swore me to secrecy... (although he did eventually confess to Jane he had shagged Lisa, but said he had been so drunk he didn't realise what he was doing) so I had to lie to Jane's face - all through our friendship, knowing she was secretly dating her 'flatmate.' Meanwhile my best buddy was cut up over this twat - and wondered why he would shag her and then disappear. Eventually I had to tell her about Piers and Jane - just so the poor girl would stop shagging this muppet.

Months later we were due to leave NZ for sunny Oz and threw an almighty leaving bash. I (typically) drank far too much and confessed to Jane I knew all along that she was with Piers and that I was sorry I hadn't admitted this earlier. She was horrified. Frozen to the spot - she just couldn't believe I had betrayed her - letting her pretend she was single, over months and months. But what could I do? Piers had asked me to keep his confidence and I had. I expected her to understand, but she was furious - not with him sadly - but with me!  We patched up our friendship over long distance phone calls but it was never the same. Piers the twat came to London and made off with the takings from a bar he worked in - vile from start to finish. Jane and Lisa bonded over what a dick Piers was, so at least some good came of the mess.

So I learnt that keeping quiet didn't always work in your favour... Should I have spoken up earlier?

Years later one of my closest friends started dating a guy I immediately disliked. Naturally I kept this to myself. Then more and more of our mutual friends would ask, 'but CM, why is she dating HIM?' No one really liked him. They hoped she'd come to her senses. She married him. I never told her - I worried that if I had, she'd vanish from my life -particularly as this guy often tried to drive a wedge between me and her) and anyway, it wasn't about whether or not I liked him - it wasn't me having a relationship with him... But it bothered me. He wasn't good enough for her, spoke badly to her, didn't value her enough. They divorced years later and she rounded on me, 'why didn't you ever say?'

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

So what do you do in those sticky situations: when a co-worker thinks all is well with their job and you've heard otherwise - that their card might be marked. They could go for another job elsewhere but aren't going to, after all, their job is secure, right? Do you tell? Or if your male buddy fancies a girl who you know is stringing him along - feeding her fragile ego with his devotion -  but she's kind of a friend too, so you can't criticise her to him, can you? Or if a friend is compromising her marriage by contemplating a fling with the world's biggest lothario - a borderline psycho who preys on vulnerable women - but she thinks she's the only one, do you speak out? Or if your friend's teenager confesses to you that she has started having sex - do you keep her confidence or do you tell the mother (your friend?). When to keep quiet, when to speak out.... It is a minefield.

This isn't about keeping a secret - for all my mouthiness, I have kept many many secrets. I'm actually pretty good at that. If someone trusts me enough to confide in me - something incredibly personal or valid to them - then it is not my place to ever repeat that. It aint my secret to tell. But what of all those times where you get caught up in the mire? When your silence effectively makes you in cahoots with the betrayer?

It is murky territory I can tell you... Whilst I believe that remaining silent is usually the only (safe) option - if the shoe was on the other foot - I would want to know. I always think that I could cope with anything - as long as I am not lied to. I value honesty and loyalty in my friendships above all. Be honest with me - no matter how hard, how brutal you have to be - I will respect you all the better for it. The best folk I know in life are the brave honest ones - the liars are easy to weed out.

I look back on those New Zealand days and my only regret is that I ever kept any kind of a confidence for the snake that was Piers. The fact he was stringing along 2 women - both brilliant - both my buddies, should have shown me his true colours. But he was charming and it seemed, vulnerable and I felt privileged that he chose to confide in me. The worst mistake you can make is to take pride in being confided in - as most of the time - that's just part of their game.

The moral of this tale? I don't have one. I'm still fudging my way through the swamp of secrets and lies and trying to raise my head above it all. But, if in doubt - speak out - is probably the way to go.

What say you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, the eternal tightrope between not ''sticking your oar in'' and ''being loyal to a friend''. For me, the line is when someone is asking me to help them maintain a lie to another person of whom I am fond. So in the Piers-Jane-Lisa situation, I would have said to Piers that I would not lie for him and he had a certain amount of time to come clean or I would. Keeping someone's two-timing quiet as a favour to them is not on in my book. In all other respects, unless someone is committing a crime or really hurting someone else, I would just keep the confidence, and if I felt I couldn't, I would tell the confider well in advance of saying anything to anyone else, to allow them time to come clean themselves.