Why be kept a dirty little secret? When you are seeing someone, whether casually, as a FWB, poly partner or more conventional dating, sometimes the elephant in the living room gradually, or suddenly, makes itself known. Why does someone want to keep you secret? How does it feel, and is it ever justified?
The compartmentalisation of people in our lives is something that varies, and is a personal choice with its own rationale. Here are the main reasons why a playmate might be keeping you secret:
Reasons to be a dirty little secret
– You haven’t known them long
-They want to avoid giving the impression that they are planning to progress a relationship with you
-They like to have safe spaces in their life, where changes in their relationships don’t affect their other interactions if you break up, etc.
-They are in a situation where your presence being known would cause problems – a work colleague, or because they are already in a supposedly monogamous relationship, or because there is complex history between you and one of their friends.
-Because your presence in their life would be considered to harm their status. This can be for a lot of reasons, almost all of which are actually protected characteristics under law, but is still widespread. Most of them are also things we literally cannot change.
Let’s examine the last of these.
Dirty little secrets, embarrassment and the legacy of patriarchy
It is, in many ways, one of the most drop-you-at-your-knees, straight-to-any-insecurity experiences in the world to be hidden because someone is ashamed of you. Wants you to be a secret. Good enough to screw on the quiet, sure. But something about you means that the fear of speculation from their peer group as to how you reflect their own perceived worth and status is off. You don’t tick all the boxes to be a trophy. Hence, you are an embarrassment.
Why might you be an embarrassing secret?
-Presenting an identity that doesn’t match the peer group values (emo, goth, rocker, intellectual, political persuasion, hippy, raver, etc)
Why do we do this? We are taught from birth how to conform and fit in, which values to present and what is shameful or praiseworthy. What is shameful, is secret. This includes the people we affiliate with. Even more so those we date or (gasp) make a primary partner.
Value, the media and why we keep people secret
The FCUK brand did an ad campaign some time ago with jumbled words. Despite the seemingly progressive FCUK Racism slogan, it may be also noted that one of their large ads features an overweight woman over 35, with the slogan ‘Yours don’t fancy much’. This is beyond a microaggression against women (especially those of a certain age), and the overweight. It constitutes a full-on attack on appearance, and a reminder that men will be shamed by their peers for deviating from whatever society and the media has determined as desirable in those they associate with – and for women especially, those are very defined physical limits. Be white, young, virginal, slender, flawless and passive. The further you stray from these, the more you risk becoming an embarrassment. The more your deviation harms a man’s status. The more you need to be a dirty little secret.
Why do we need status?
Why are people so hung up on status? It is not aspirational. More, it is a primitive drive, to conform to tribal norms in order to avoid the risk or rejection, and benefit more from the resources this gives us access to. Are adult people really likely to risk starvation and death if they associate with those who don’t give them extra status? If they don’t keep others secret? Rarely. Furthermore, it is those who are already the most objectively privileged who seem to cling tightest to their status, and risk the least. Who are these? The wealthy, white, cis het-presenting men. If you want to embarrass someone with your existence, this is the target. In the LGBTQI+ community, there is often (though not exclusively) a lot more leeway. Perhaps, having already had the courage to face peer rejection and be yourself, the concerns about judgement from an archaic patriarchal system become less of a concern. Perhaps already being on the receiving end of being rejected as an embarrassment, or the fear of it, makes a little personal growth, enlightenment and decency to not wish to re-enact it on others more germaine.
Are swingers more inclusive or more secret?
On the swinger scene, with the exception of the (laughably) ‘elite’ events, there is a certain beauty to be had in seeing people connect with each other, to see their physical forms cherished and enjoyed, celebrated for their diversity and accepted with equality. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t translate into the real world. It is secret. Particularly with the cishet white men. Whatever wonderful connections may be made, whatever joyous interactions had, personality suitability and every other sensible factor, when it comes time to select a partner to show off to the outer world, they choose a slender, young and beautiful woman. They choose an external trophy who will bring them status.
Why do they do this?
Because of us. Us collectively. The behaviour and words of individuals that make up the society in which they live. Our behaviour, our own selective public face and the fact we all do much the same and bear out their concerns with our inherent judgement and nastiness.
We are bad, bad people
Let’s take an old, and common trope. The older white woman, with the young, attractive black man. When we see this couple, what do we instantly think? There will probably be some undercurrent of her needing a (stereotypical) girth to satisfy. And a notion that they have somehow traded off their own perceived ‘flaws’ in terms of bringing status, like some game of substandard Pokemon. Nobody sees them and imagines that they just get on. Make each other’s lives better. Have fun and a connection that transcends the difficulties they are almost certainly presented with in being accepted.
Why should that be? We are awful, awful people. We are brainwashed our whole lives to compete in every way to fuel a capitalist economy and this competition extends to our value not being based just on our own worth, in even the shallowest of terms – but on those we are with. This ability to quickly sum up status with a glance may have served us well as neolithic hunter gatherers entering a new tribe, but it does not serve us as a civilised society. It makes us prisoners to conformity.
Why can’t we stand up and stop keeping secrets?
Our own unwillingness to be the first of our group to present someone who isn’t crafted and cultivated to impress based on the standards of an oppressive patriarchy, means that nobody takes the first step. Nobody pushes back the barriers for others. We all hide. We make people secret. We pretend we don’t know them for fear of speculation and how it will reflect on us.
We try to sound woke and enlightened, and say we should be inclusive. But we don’t put our head on the block. Silence is violence. The fear of microaggressions towards you, or having to defend your person from microaggressions against a peer group you are trying to impress is too great. It takes courage. It takes courage to be a leader. Not by being loud, or pushy. But by being brave. By showing you can risk it to do what’s right. And then everyone else follows suit. It is no accident that the first people spearheading change to bring equality for any disadvantaged or marginalised group had backlash. Now, things may not be perfect, but they are easier. Laws change. Society changes. Things that were shameful in the 1960’s are now upheld as right, proper, and part of the beautiful diversity of life. That doesn’t happen without personal bravery to take a risk. Until you are willing to do that yourself, you may as well stop gatekeeping that Facebook group for outdated synonym use.
It is not okay to reap the benefits of someone, sexually or otherwise, but leave them to fight their ongoing fight alone. They don’t have the choice to opt out of the characteristics that make them ‘not trophy material’. If you do have the choice to opt out of it, it is because you have a level of privilege. And that makes you the very person who is most able to stand up for them and be taken seriously. Statistically, it also makes you the person least likely to do it. Sadly, heroism is often not borne of being the most gifted. It is borne of having less left to lose.
Who benefits from imposed values of looks?
Lest this sounds like sour grapes, because I don’t fit into all the categories that would make me a trophy, let me tell you, I used to. And it was no better then. Men who I wasn’t interested in, suited to or had even flirted with, would ask me to be their partner. I felt like an object to be snatched and be paraded. Vulnerable and oppressed, valued just because I fit into everything that should have theoretically been what people want. I felt unseen, objectified and used. These patriarchal standards of desirability and status hurt everyone, because they dehumanise us all and reduce us to a points list of value to be acquired.
No angel, no secrets
Now, before this little lecture comes off like I’m polishing my halo, I’ll tell you now- I too am a hypocrite. I fear being seen romantically with a woman (and there is a long history of violence and danger that justifies this, more than shame) but I am not afraid to tell people, should it be relevant. It’s not a full secret. I’m not wearing rainbows to work, I’m ‘straight passing’ and I don’t raise the issue. I could represent more. But I can only fight so many fights at once. I could be protected, in theory, from discrimination due to bisexuality. I would have no such protection as a swinger or polyamorist. To me, the three are so closely combined, that it is easier to be largely gender neutral, and certainly asexual, at work, and never discuss it.
I also don’t like to date men shorter than me. For some, this is an issue of features people find attractive or unattractive (though quite how much we have internalised supposed norms is impossible to separate). I’m happy to embrace my attraction for funny teeth, and more curvy women. What I won’t do, is have sex with people I wouldn’t want to be seen with. This is often true of women, often less so for men. For women, who you are with is not just a status symbol – it is, on a primal level, your protector. They determine how safe you are from other men. This is still a real, genuine survival concern, that is little better now than in the stone age. For this reason, a lot of the characteristics often labelled attractive in men (height, musculature, wealth) are based on ability to provide safety. Though there are often very attractive shorter men, I am, myself, on the tall side. And when I try to be woke and look past that, I have always ended up encountering a problem. The internalised patriarchal standard in themselves. I get complained at for being tall- for making them look smaller than other men by standing there. And obviously I am discarded as an ongoing mate or someone they could show off, because my own height, in relation to theirs, makes them feel diminished in status, as well as stature. Though I could date someone shorter than me and present them to peers and get over this nonsense, power through and have it accepted, I can’t fight that feeling within the person themself. And I’m unwilling to be blamed for their height. So I try to avoid the situation.
How do we make things better?
In the search for Utopia, nobody can be left behind. Aiming to be inclusive can’t just stop at saying the right words. We have to be of right action. How can we move from a vague wish to ‘smash the patriarchy’ to actually creating safe spaces for people in our own lives and social circles?
- Establish where you objectively stand in the fictional value system that has been impressed on you. Are you important? Are you considered valued? Do you have any characteristic at all that makes you more privileged than someone who doesn’t have it? If so, you have a modecom of power. The more you represent this impressed ideal, the more your peers will listen to you. Embrace this power.
- In what ways are you, and those around you, actually discretely, actively exclusionary in your words, jokes, and who you allow to be involved in your life? Are you all the same religion? Same colour? Perhaps you are super woke and gay and trans friendly and anti-racist, but none of you would want to be seen with a fat girl? It doesn’t take long to look around you and see the answer.
- When there is someone you like, take on the responsibility to have their back against your peers. Whatever their jokes and judgements, you can quite rightly call them out for bigotry. When you point a finger, 4 point back at you. Any attempt to shame someone for an association is just in-group gatekeeping to try to promote one’s own status. Tell them to get over it. They rapidly will. And they will come to see everything that’s wonderful about the person that made you like them in the first place. And then, in a week or a month, someone else will present someone who fits the characteristic you have now normalised for the group. Thing is, you can’t pick and choose. You can’t be an anti-racist but ageist. You cant be pro-LGBT but anti-fat. Representation and support is intersectional. Choosing to support only people with characteristics that your peer group is ok with is exactly the same thing as ascribing them value based on how much status they add or remove from you. Supporting one group against discrimination but not another is not heroism- it’s an active act of oppression for whoever you’ve chosen to throw to the wolves.
Real stories about being a dirty little secret
How does it feel to be the dirty little secret? Is there ever a time it is justified? Let’s have some stories:
I once went on a paid date with a guy, we met in a pub for lunch…except he didn’t eat with me. He explained that he was Jewish and couldn’t eat non-kosher foods. So I suggested we go to a kosher place and he said he couldn’t because we might run into people he knows in the Jewish community and that he is married! He went on to explain that if I wanted to share a meal with him next time he could arrange a picnic for us and bring all the food with him. There was NOT a next time. I told him I didn’t want to be his dirty little secret and be restricted in what I can and can’t enjoy with someone. Plus I thought the suggestion of a picnic was insulting, why should I have to freeze my arse off because he’s hiding from his wife? This guy still messages sometimes and asks to see me.Lady V, 30’s, professional findom, married lesbian & polyamorist
For a few months, I was the side guy for an Asian (Indian) woman that was in an unhappy arranged marriage! Obviously, it all had to be kept quiet as if anyone found out she could quite literally become an Honour Victim at the hands of her ‘loved one’. It only lasted a few months and I enjoyed my time with her, but whenever her friends were around I was literally hidden away. I was her dirty little white secret,and at times it was exciting but other times it made me feel like I didn’t really count as a person for her. I was there to be used and then hid away when not needed like a human vibrator. I actually ended it, as I was starting to feel like I didn’t matter as a person to her. Over the course of a few months, my feelings went from being at first excited, then sad. Then a bit angry at the situation. Just because someone says they want to be your ‘friend with benefits’ it doesn’t mean they really want to be your friend. So best to check first that the other person actually cares for you on some level, before you start having friendship expectations in addition to the sex. My phone book is littered with past ‘friends with benefits’ who turned out to be not very friendly at all. Or maybe I’m being too demanding. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be friends with people that just want to shag us.Mr P, 40’s, bisexual, married swinger & polyamorist
I have hidden someone. I didn’t want to at first because I thought she was cool. But then gradually she revealed herself to be very possessive and was trying to force me to leave my long term partner for her. And when I refused and tried to break up completely with her, she became an obsessed stalker that was trying to force herself into my life any way she could. At that point I was trying to hide her away as frankly I was actually embarrassed with myself for having fallen for so many of her past lies. I was embarrassed that I had even let her get so close to me to begin with.Mr. P, 40’s, bisexual, married swinger & polyamorist
I’ve done both as I’ve been on the down low and kept someone on the down low. I was kept on the low by several people, mostly older women who have sexless marriages and wanted something with a fit younger man. A few women my age, but more than that they just kept me out of the rest of their lives and we just had fun. With the married women? It’s fine. It’s their lives and I don’t mean anything to them and it’s just fun. With the younger women made me question how I feel and if I’d got feelings I shut it down.
I can be an extreme personality, both for better and worse and I think that attracts people, but in the same way that you like to be near a fire and not step into it. I think if they just came out and said ‘Hey I’m seeing a married man,’ sh-t wouldn’t be so good. I don’t like the secrecy, but I respect they have lives that have nothing to do with me and I just enjoy our time together. I wouldn’t make someone hurt themself to prove anything to me. It just depends on the motivation.
If it was just flings and hanging out? Sure, I would probably feel the same if I were single, but if I was into them and emotionally invested or attached then I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. But again, I wouldn’t ask them to hurt themselves for me. If I thought being with me was detrimental to them I would step back and let them go on their way. They either want me or they don’t. I’ll enjoy the good times and let them live their lives. I don’t need everyone to know I’m with said person, I just want a reasonable amount of time and attention. What seems no reason to me, might be very important to them. As long as it doesn’t put a strain on me, I don’t need to do anything. I don’t see it as shame, and if they treated me badly or impolitely then that would be the end of that.
Same as a group of friends don’t need to know when two of them are hooking up. When I’ve kept people on the down low it was because we were just playing, maybe as friends or as new acquaintances. I find that some have tried to hide the fact that I was different when I was younger because they felt strange about it. And if it was about how I was different in this way, then yes that hurt very much.Roakin, 30’s, bisexual married neurodiverse swinger
I’ve kept someone on the down low because we were colleagues. Or because I was in a relationship. I would absolutely LOVE to f-ck one of my best friends. I have 2 amazing friends. Close to best friends. Both stunning and I would love to sleep with both. Obviously either couldn’t know about the other. They are sisters. If I was seeing someone trans? I’d be happy to introduce them to my friends, as a partner as long as they were convincing enough as female. Otherwise, just as a friend. A guy I had sex with? He could meet friends. As long as he kept quiet about the sex. Having a gay friend is totally fine, but they can’t know that I’ve played. I’d be deathly embarrassed. Thinking about it, it would probably be forgotten pretty quick. I’m just worried about being outed and humiliated.Mr. B, 20’s, secret bicurious kinkster, partnered.
I have experienced attempts to turn me into someone’s little secret many times unsuccessfully. Being strongly averse to it, I can notice the signs rather quickly and it is not difficult to eliminate such inadequate connections. When people show me who they are, I do believe them the first time.Ms. L, 30’s heteroflexible kinkster and polyandrist
Boys that keep you on the downlow!
I seem to be one of those women that boys (and I use that word purposefully) don’t want to tell anyone about. The bit on the side, the secret lover, the distance visitation. Why? Because for some men it’s so easy to live a double life. They thrive off the ability to keep all the balls in the air with no one knowing. But what I’ve finally learned is that they’re also utter cowards and unable to face the fact that they need endless attention.
I’ve had three recent ‘boyfriends’ that turned out to be living a separate life with their girlfriends, and wives, when they weren’t with me.Cooking and watching Netflix series together, while I got the odd weekend when they weren’t ‘crazy busy’ with work. This carried on for a couple of years before I found out. Once through a friend, once the wife and once from the man himself, assuming I’d known all along because I’m obviously a mind reader with super powers! When the truth came out, one denied it, the other didn’t see it as an issue. Isn’t this what everyone does? Me…I was crushed.
When I’m with someone I wholeheartedly pour myself into being someone they want, sexually, mentally and emotionally.To find out I was an added extra sent me into a spiral of doubt and self-hatred. ‘I’m never good enough to be the significant other,’ is what I used to think. And that’s painful when you’ve given your all. In fact, it’s utterly depleting. But the truth is we want it all! The perfect home life and the exciting sex life; and some will do whatever they choose to have this. Usually insecure people seeking validation.
My lesson was to realise that this isn’t about me. I’m simply easy to manipulate because I give too much and try to see the good in everyone. Make sure you reality-check your thoughts daily! And walk away as soon as you realise you’re not a significant part of their life.Miss R, 50’s sex positive heteroflexible goddess
Strangely enough, that’s my ex-wife to a tee. Although she knew about J and tolerated me to an extent, she was terrified of people finding out and once I’d left her and come out she was horrified. What was interesting was the reaction on Facebook when I came out, which varied from ‘Oh, cool’ to ‘Yup, tell us something we didn’t already know!’. Saying that, all the mutual friends from my married life had probably unfriended me by that stage and everyone else is really cool. Even coming out as a sexworker hasn’t been too problematic, but then most of my friends now are involved in the business, so it does make life a lot easier. Saying that, Mum would be horrified about everything, which makes living under the same roof as her problematic at times.Ms. J, trans woman and sex worker