Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I recently confided in a good friend some personal news, and told her not to tell anyone. I didn’t think trusting her was a problem, as she has confided in me numerous times in the past and I have kept her personal stories to myself.

Within a few days, she had told two other friends. Although she apologized profusely, I was still angry. I told her I should never have confided to anyone in the first place. She responded by saying I was right and shouldn’t have confided in anyone, as even well-meaning folks like her can say things they don’t mean to.

I feel like she’s trying to justify her behavior. Am I overreacting? And how do I move forward from what I see as a betrayal in trust (even if she says she didn’t do it on purpose)?

Trusted Friendship

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Trusted Friendship: Before I dissect this, I want to make clear upfront that your friend is in the wrong.

That said, there are ways you can tweak your own behavior next time you feel a secret disclosure coming on:

●“I didn’t think trusting her was a problem, as she has confided in me numerous times in the past.” This isn’t proof that you can trust her; it’s proof she can trust you. So next time you spill, choose your listener more logically. Someone who starts sentences with, “Hey, did you hear . . . ” might not make a very good vault.

●She’s right that if leaks upset you this much, then you shouldn’t tell anybody. And, you’re right that her saying this is self-serving. Except . . .

●“I told her that I should never have confided to anyone”: You handed her the line yourself. While she’s still guilty of weaseling, it’s not as if she thought, “Hmm, how can I get out of the blame here?” She apologized profusely, and then agreed with you that sharing was a mistake. Right?

●Which brings us to the most important aspect of sharing: You. Pick your confidants carefully, yes, but know yourself above all. Your need for secrecy and your methods for handling secrets need to be in sync.

Re: Secret: “She says she didn’t do it on purpose”: I’ve never understood this caveat. Does intent matter when dealing with the consequences of someone else’s actions? Besides, truly knowing someone else’s intent is impossible anyway, especially when she’s trying to defend herself.


Anonymous: Maybe it doesn’t affect the consequences, per se, but intent means everything to the future of the friendship, both in fondness and trust.

And while I agree that it’s impossible to know anyone’s intent but our own (if that), it is possible to judge someone’s integrity. If you think a friend would lie about her intent, then you don’t think much of that friend.

Re: Secret: When defending our actions as kids, we would say, “But I didn’t mean to!” My dad would reply, “Yes, but you didn’t mean not to.” Meaning not to is a more disciplined approach, and usually more meaningful.

Anonymous 2

Anonymous 2: Great stuff, Dad.

Re: Secret: We often judge others by their ACTIONS, but judge ourselves by our INTENT. It’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Anonymous 3 and 4

Anonymous 3 and 4: I don’t, but know many who do.

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