Single people have secrets. It’s hard not to meet a scrubbed-up-nicely, butter-wouldn’t-melt single man at a party and wonder what he gets up to when released from his cocktail charm and tweed.
I am not saying that all single folk have a covert swiping life on Tinder, meeting strangers at motorway service stations and — euphemism alert — hooking up between bins at the back of the filling station. I, for one, refuse to sign up to an app that values women over 30 on a level with an empty bucket of KFC blotted with grease. A lot of us are meeting friends of friends in the old–fashioned (boring, maybe, but agreeable) way, but that does not mean we don’t continue to have our secrets.
I have fewer perhaps than most, but that’s not — I hope — to say that I have fewer excitements. The thing is that my own secrets don’t remain secrets for more than about 20 minutes, although they should. I’ve always been too open a book, spread out like a Domesday facsimile on permanent display in a museum. This has almost certainly been to my detriment, but being an open book about oneself has got to be less risky than being one about other people.
I doubtless bore people rigid with my affairs — romantic, work-related, domestic and so on. The reason is that by nature I am incredibly indiscreet but I learned early on that I had to seriously rein it in. At an all girls’ boarding school where dramas play out to a magnification of about 1,000, I found myself, aged 14, up shit creek. I’d been a blabbermouth about someone, though I now no longer remember a single detail of the upset. (How definitively the struts and frets, so all-consuming and alarming at the time, just vanish long before the snuffing of the brief candle — thank God.) I vowed, then, that I could be as indiscreet as I liked but the object of my indiscretions had to remain me, myself and I. Not because I am so bloody interesting — I’m not. But purely because, that way, no one else would ever be furious with me again, except me, and I could live with that.
So it is that smuggy-boots here enjoys an unlikely, hard-won reputation for discretion — the joys of it! People tell me the most marvellous secrets and I lap them up. Extramarital affairs, desolate sex lives, unrequited and requited yearnings. Past loves encroaching on the mind, seeping into a present relationship. You name it. And, prig that I am, I keep these secrets.
But I still have Tourettes when it comes to my own. Except that, if you appear to tell everyone everything, it makes all the more rich those things that you manage not to shout from the rooftops. Married people have plenty of secrets, of course. But single folk have an easier time of a private life. We aren’t being clocked by anyone, except the odd teenager who is so self-absorbed they never notice or even care what their mother is up to.
Over the past decade, I have taught myself to revel in the secrets I do keep. It is one of the great benefits of the autonomous life. Of course, it helps if one is not splaying oneself on Tinder, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (I am not on the first three and never tweet), those great platforms of public oversharing.
My secret secrets are no more intriguing than anyone else’s but keeping them gives me a kind of runner’s high. Take for example an arrangement that is in no way immoral but of which friends may not approve. Never married men, but maybe someone younger or a very long way outside my usual social circle. Or someone who is not very bright or entertaining. Unless you ask me specifically, I can keep that kind of secret. One of my friends is having a rip-roaring time with a man who is massively younger than her. She kept it quiet for a while. When she couldn’t any longer, it became a secret she told only a few of her closest girlfriends. As far as it remains in her control, this ‘secret’ is going no further, because she is mortified that he is dull, vain, juvenile, self-obsessed and never buys her a drink, let alone dinner. The reason she couldn’t resist telling her inner circle is that she is having the best sex of her life.
That’s the kind of secret I can relate to. Press me and I will tell you pretty well anything, but there are some things, not many, admittedly, about which even I can keep schtum.