Sunday, June 9, 2019

No Privacy Rights for Her

Everyone, women especially, has a right to privacy. We might debate whether it is written in the Constitution, but it is largely accepted by most Americans today. Besides, the right to privacy is no longer limited to what women do or do not do with their bodies. It’s scope has expanded: we are up in arms about the fact that tech giants are collecting and distributing our private tastes, predilections and searches. And this without even getting into the issue of Instagram oversharing.

Just when you thought that there was no battle we would not fight to defend a woman’s right to privacy, a man writes in to Carolyn Hax to complain that his wife does not want to reveal all of the details about her past, premarital life. Now, you would think that her discretion is admirable. Surely, she can keep a secret. Thus, she is someone you can confide in. You would think that she must enjoy a right to some personal privacy, a right to keep a few secrets from her husband.

Husband does not see it that way. He wants to know it all. He badgers his wife all the time, to the point where she occasionally makes stuff up in order to shut him up.

It’s not just husband who does not accord her a right to privacy. Carolyn Hax joins the chorus and accuses said wife of being a liar. And Hax adds that the wife’s sense of discretion might be a reason for destroying the marriage. Hax had had better days.

Think I’m kidding? Here is the letter:

Is it odd when your spouse doesn't want to share details about her life from before you met? I've been an open book about myself from the beginning, and she has been rather secretive, even lying about previous relationships. She lets slip insights about previous experiences and when I ask her, "That sounds interesting, when did you do that?" She generally clams up. It does bother me.

— Open Book

Of course, the solution to this problem is for the husband to stop being an open book. And to stop pestering his wife. I trust that his wife does not want to hear of his past relationships and his past exploits. That is one meaning of her reticence. The other meaning is that she is smart enough to know that men do not really want to hear about what their wives were doing before marriage. You might think that they do. They do not. Normally, husbands respond badly to such disclosures. And besides it’s none of his business.

Anyway, now that we have some perspective, examine what Hax says:

And it’s not odd that it bothers you.

But it is odd of you to ask after you already married a known liar whose dishonesty bothers you, and when your core values include openness and candor.

So now that you realize you can’t follow both, I’m not sure which of these two contradictory paths you prefer to commit to here — with “here” being the corner you’ve married yourself into. The path of secrets, or the path of transparency.

As with the paint version, you can stay right where you are, in your corner; you can get a lot of good thinking done as you’re waiting for paint to dry. Maybe you’ll decide you’re okay with occupying a marriage you know has secrets you’re not in on; maybe with close attention you will come to understand more about who your wife really is and why.

Or you can walk through the wet paint to the door, ruining the finish and maybe your shoes, because you decide getting out of the corner is worth making a mess of your own handiwork.

I wish I had a more satisfying answer for you besides, “I don’t know — do you want this kind of life?” A skilled therapist might be able to help you understand your own reasoning for making the choices you did, and maybe even offer the kind of insight on your wife she’s so adamant that you don’t get.

Hax labels the woman a known liar. Got it? Affirming a right to privacy makes you a liar. And Hax does not suggest that this man, who cannot respect his wife’s privacy, ought perhaps to give up his antisocial ethic about being totally open and honest.

Clearly, she is siding with the man who does not respect his wife’s privacy, who cannot take a hint, who persists in asking questions that are not relevant to him.

Since the man is clearly at fault, Hax blames the woman. Go figure.


Anonymous said...

There is an old Eddie Arnold song that makes your point exactly - I Really Don’t Want to Know.

He wants to know how many men have kissed her, but tells her that no matter how many times he might ask, please keep it a secret.

cj said...

My ex- would remind me of her past, even though I'd told her it didn't matte (so long as incurable contagion weren't involved). But she reminded me - weekly. 11 years worth of weekly reminders of a very active sex life. And I didn't care about the past, but the reminders were the present.

Anonymous said...

This husband is a fool and the wife might be better off if he left. It's none of his business, doesn't he get it? There is a thing therapists usually like called "boundaries." Isn't the wife entitled to draw a boundary here? Ugh to the crappy advice he was given.

Anonymous said...

Why “women especially”?