So a wealthy husband named Bruce recently took out a large ad in The Los Angeles Times to apologize to his wife, Trudy. He had apparently been "gaslighting" the poor woman for months, telling others -- and making her believe -- that she was mentally ill. In the ad, he begged forgiveness, acknowledging that Trudy had done much for him personally and professionally, not to mention had raised their two daughters.
And we all needed to know this, why?
Lest you think this was merely American narcissism gone mad, there is the current tale of a divorce in China. ("A Hollywood style celebrity scandal rocks the Internet with billions of views," wrote the L.A.Times.) This saga stars a popular actor discovering that his actress wife has been engaged in an affair with his agent. The details are endless, "viewed" almost nine billion times, and the couple's personal addresses and financial information have been revealed.
Back on our shores, an anti-Trump rant recently appeared on the "private Facebook" (whatever that is) of the head of a TV network. Naturally, it found its way to the public. And of course, many of us live with the fear that more of those "non-classified classified-, non-denial denied" Hillary emails will appear and do serious damage. One really has to wonder, not only if anything is private anymore, but if people even want anything to be.
I once wrote an article asking why folks in crisis constantly go on news or talk shows to discuss it. Bottom line: if they hear it on television, if Oprah blesses them, so to speak, it means it really happened. Now, you add social media to the mix and the result is that people would rather publicly whine than privately deal.
I recently thought I was having a discussion with my daughter, when she grew immediately defensive and ran out of the room, threatening to go on Facebook to tell everyone what I'd said. ("My mom just told me I was getting fat.") She was proud to show me all the support she received, ignoring the fact that she never allowed me to finish the discussion, that I never used those words.
I understand that with all the sharing sites and apps, reality TV, and everyone over the age of 12 writing a memoir, expecting people to keep things personal is a pipe dream. It is easier to send a mean-spirited comment for all to read -- hey, it may even get you nominated for president -- than to ponder, consider, or argue face to face. That couple in China may be obnoxious publicity hounds, but even they don't deserve having every detail of their marital spat revealed. Bruce, the shamed husband behind the L.A. Times ad, seems to harbor real guilt, but why can't he tell her about it instead of us?
Perhaps the only thing that people still choose to deal with in private is death. Not all, by any means: witness the best seller, When Breath Becomes Air, though the doctor-author left some real inspiration behind. Nora Ephron, who famously put every aspect of her life -- from her cheating husband to her worrisome neck -- in print or on film, chose only to tell her family about the illness that eventually took her life. Her famous friends were hurt, but I love that she showed how privacy still counts.
No one can turn back the clock, or turn off the tweets, but there are still ways to express personal feelings that resonate, while not injuring someone else. (Just ask singer-songwriters Chris Martin and Frank Ocean.) I often think about what we are leaving our kids: clones, drones, and phones. In her new novel, The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver moves us forward to 2029 and at one point writes, "Florence wasn't sure what she'd want to hide from her own son. Yet what best protected privacy wasn't concealment but apathy -- the fact that other people simply weren't interested."
That is what I most fear for our sons and daughters: that the very concept of keeping something personal won't matter. Everyone will have told their stories so often that, finally, no one will be listening.