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Can You Keep a Secret?

May 8, 2009 | by Judy Gruen

My recent success at keeping a secret exposed everyone else's utter failure.

I thought I had struck social gossip gold when my friend Paula let slip a delicious bit of intelligence straight into my eager ears. Paula and I were participating in a real-time, interactive social dialogue (meaning, we were on the phone) trying to schedule a lunch date. This was no easy task, as we are modern women who live the type of chronically busy lives that become grist for oodles of "how-to-simplify your life" themed books and articles that we, being so chronically busy, have no time to read. Paula consulted her PDA and ticked off the days she was not available.

"Monday I can't take a lunch break, Tuesday I've got a doctor's appointment, Wednesday I've got a business lunch, and Thursday's out since I promised to shop with Barbara for a wedding dress."

"Barbara?" I asked. "Barbara's engaged?"

"Omigod," Paula said. "I cannot believe I said that. And I was sworn to secrecy!"

"You know you can trust me," I said, immensely satisfied at suddenly finding myself In The Know, a place I am not normally found. Inexplicably, Barbara had remained one of our social set's most eligible singles for a long time. News that she was about to don the lace veil was the most exciting information I had heard since I learned that our very nasty neighbor's pipes had burst. It was hard to decide which news was more delightful.

"You know you can trust me," I said, satisfied at suddenly finding myself In The Know, a place I am not normally found.

"You can't tell anybody," Paula said. "But the engagement is going to be announced in shul this week. Boy, are people going to be surprised!"

"I'll make sure to be there, and don't worry. CIA agents couldn't drag it out of me." Unless, of course, they actually tried to drag it out of me. In that case, I would have chosen the wrong example.

Though Paula and I failed to find a single day anytime in the next six months when we were both available for lunch, the conversation was still a rousing success by my standards. I walked a little taller just knowing something juicy that almost nobody else in the world knew.

An hour later, the phone rang.

"Make sure to come to shul this week," Mimi said. "There's going to be a big announcement." Her "I've-got-a-secret" tone irritated me. I was supposed to be the only one, other than Paula and the groom, to know about this! I had kept my trap shut, and what was my reward? I had suddenly tumbled from the social gossip elite, and I didn't like it.

"Yes, I've heard," I said, in a studied, nonchalant tone.

"How?" Mimi demanded. "Nobody knows!"

"Well, you know, and I know also. Why are you calling people if it's supposed to be such a secret?"

"Obviously, I don't want to deprive people of the joy in hearing the news. This is BIG."

"Have you also alerted CNN and the New York Times?"

"No need. Larry already works for one of the wire services. It'll be all over once services are over," Mimi said.

The same day, I got an email from Barbara herself. "I already know that Paula spilled the beans," the bride noted. "But please don't tell anyone else. I really want this to be a surprise."

"Don't worry," I replied. "I wouldn't tell anyone even if I was promised the jumbo jackpot of the California lottery, which today has reached $48 million." In retrospect, also probably not a great example.

Now I had paid attention during the rabbi's classes about not spreading gossip, even really good gossip, so I kept quiet, even though I was bursting to share such happy tidings. And after all, a promise is a promise.

I had paid attention during the rabbi's classes about not spreading gossip, even really good gossip, so I kept quiet.

The next day in the market, I bumped into one of the shul staff. "You didn't hear this from me," he said sotto voce near the tomatoes, "but there's going to be a big announcement in shul on Shabbat. Only thing is, I can't tell you exactly what it is. Wish I could," he said, clearly relishing the presumption that he knew something that I didn't.

"Somebody already beat you to the punch," I said. "I learned about this three days ago," I said.

"Three days ago? That's impossible. This news is hot. At least that's what I heard." He sounded hurt.

I shrugged. "What can I tell you? As Ben Franklin said, ‘Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.'"

Over the next few days, I received no fewer than four phone calls, three e-mails, and two unsubtle hints accompanied by winks about the big bombshell that was supposed to have remained a bigger secret than the Manhattan Project but had leaked like a New Orleans levee.

Barbara's next email to me read: "I'm not accusing you of anything, but it seems everyone already knows about my engagement. I only accidentally told twelve people, and they each promised not to breathe a word of it. Only two days left till the announcement, so please restrain yourself from passing the info any further."

At that moment, the king-sized down duvet that I planned to get for Barbara as a wedding gift shrunk to a three-speed blender. I may be a writer, but I'm no leaker.

On Shabbat I arrived at shul early, and the place was standing-room-only, a very rare condition. It was as if God Himself had been announced as the guest speaker.
When the service was over, the rabbi stood to announce what by now was the worst-kept secret in the history of Western Civilization. The women were all on the edges of their seats, and two actually slid off.

The air in the room was electric, as the rabbi dropped hint after hint about the identity of the bride and the groom. Finally, to great fanfare, he announced Barbara's engagement to a man whom most of us did not know. Not that it mattered. Two more singles had been rescued from the cauldron of singles events, blind dates, wretched dates, and internet dating services. We sang and danced as if we had just discovered and trademarked the recipe for world peace, or least the recipe for a good non-fat cheesecake.

It was still one of the best secrets, if not the worst-kept ones, that any of us had ever heard.

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