Quarantine Has Taught Me the Importance of Privacy (and How to Get it)

Growing up as a teenager, there was no such thing as intentional privacy in my household. My dad didn’t believe in allowing us to have boundaries and aspects of our lives that were just our own. Privacy has always translated into not telling the full story or keeping secrets, both of which had very negative connotations. When I was 12 or 13, I hated carrying a backpack and found it way cooler to lug my textbooks around in my arms and wear a purse instead. Although I didn’t have much to carry other than a few dollars, capless pens, and various chapsticks and glosses, it was my purse. One day, on my way out the door to rush to the bus stop, my dad randomly stopped me on the stairs and asked me what was in my purse. I’ve always been fiercely defiant when cornered and still am (and raising a child who also is!). While I had nothing to hide, I didn’t like being demanded to show him what I had in there as it could’ve been a love note from my admirer or pads or something that was for my eyes only. That day on the stairs, we argued and yelled and he eventually snatched the bag off of my shoulder and everything that I had inside exploded everywhere. My ink pens were scattered on the steps, my glosses rolled under the couch, and my loose change fell into oblivion where missing socks must go. I was mortified and hurt that he’d leaped over that personal boundary so brazenly and carelessly. At that moment, it was seared into my brain that privacy was bad and if you demanded it, you too were bad and must be hiding something. 

When I first started dating my son’s dad, we had a textbook college relationship that was marred with consistent break-ups and make-ups. My roommate and friend at the time made me feel like I was required to give her a blow by blow of every fallout and minor upset. If I forgot to mention that he ate my last chicken nugget when I was in his dorm room or that I found a girl texting him during booty call hours, she would accuse me of keeping secrets and not being a real friend. She’d say I was hiding things from her and isolating myself in a way. Processing the hills and valleys in my relationship privately was seen as a breach of our friendship and I learned to avoid causing rifts in our friendship by overly sharing everything or anxiously hiding what I truly couldn’t bear to share. 

At that moment, it was seared into my brain that privacy was bad and if you demanded it, you too were bad and must be hiding something.

A few years ago, I went to my dad’s house to hang out and grill up some food. I’d just started dating my boyfriend at that time and I really liked him. Excited to tell my dad about this new guy that was in my life, I told him everything. I told him that he was tall, and Black, and really handsome to me. I told him that he was a dad of 1, had a job, my friends liked him, and that he lived in Brooklyn. I told him how long we’d been dating and that I really felt like it was getting serious and that I hoped to introduce them in the near future. After asking a few questions of his own that I answered openly and honestly, my dad asked if we were having sex. I was stunned that he asked about my sex life and even more stunned that he did it in front of his wife and my younger sister. With a pause, I shuffled my eyebrows and fluttered my eyelids simultaneously with confusion sweeping across my face. I replied by asking why he’d asked me that. Clearly, I wasn’t the Virgin Mary and any consequence that would come from having sex would be mine alone to deal with. Instantly, he was taken aback that the door to my private life didn’t swing open with a simple inquiry.

Looking back at me from the grill, in a noticeably even tone, he said “if you’re having sex with him, that means you’re serious about him. If you’re really an adult, you can say if you are or aren’t. There is nothing to hide”. There it was again; hide. But the truth was that I wasn’t hiding whether I was having sex with him or not. Also, having sex with someone was not an indication of how serious I was about them. Looking at his wife for some sort of refuge, I said “do you think that is a reasonable question?”. Without making eye contact, she said sure it was. That day, I didn’t allow my privacy to be invaded and I refused to answer. Despite being guilted by the 8th deadly sin of hiding, I decided that I’d rather steep in that feeling of doing something wrong than allowing my father to think that he could ask me about my intimate and very private life. 

After asking a few questions of his own that I answered openly and honestly, my dad asked if we were having sex. I was stunned that he asked about my sex life and even more stunned that he did it in front of his wife and my younger sister.

For most of my life, I’ve associated a lack of privacy with being an honest and moral person, two things that are important to me. I pride myself on avoiding lying as much as possible and being an open book. When I say something, people trust me and my word because I meet any and all inquiries with directness and truth. It’s not until recently that I’ve realized that privacy and honesty are not antonyms. Like most of the world, I haven’t seen my friends as much as usual over the last nine months. This means things that I would usually tell them all at once, I have to break it down and retell the story over and over again during individual conversations. After a while, I grew tired of telling each friend every time I had a casual sexual encounter, gotten upset at work, or made some other life decision. So, instead of sharing everything, I started to share the highlights and that is it. I share what I feel like sharing and I am realizing that, by doing that, I am keeping some things private. I am still honest. I am still moral. I am also a private person now and I’ve never in my life been that. Typically, I’d tell a stranger at the bar about the time that my milk let down on a one night stand. But, now that I am older and undoing the traumas of my past, I am realizing that even if I’ve lived a certain way or was raised in a certain space that I don’t have to plant roots there. Privacy isn’t bad. No one is entitled to be privy to my every move, thought, and happenings. I get to share what I want and keep private what I want and still be a good person in the mix of all of that. I get to carry around my purse of privacy and never allow someone to snatch it from me again. This may be remedial for some but it’s an epiphany for me. 

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