About three years ago, I had a very bad breakup. I almost got murdered. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, and nowadays it’s a story I’m usually quite open about. The short version is that my ex-fiancee was cheating on me with a drug dealer. When I found out, I kicked her out of the apartment. The guy she was cheating with got angry about this, and he came to my apartment with a knife. He tried to break down the door and kill me.
Needless to say, I survived, there’s now a restraining order keeping either of them from ever setting foot on the apartment complex grounds, and I no longer speak to my ex-fiancee.
When I told my father about the breakup, he asked, “What happened?” Naturally, I didn’t want to go into deep detail about the whole “almost getting murdered” thing with my dad. It was something I had to deal with in my own way. So my only answer was, “It’s complicated. Long story short, she cheated on me.”
That was it. That was the only explanation I gave. And my dad never asked for more. The only thing he ever asked, about six months later, was whether I’d talked to her since then. Obviously, I hadn’t. My dad respected my privacy and the fact that I didn’t want to go into detail. He never pressed me for information, and he never tried to find out through any other source. Because that’s who my dad is.
One time, a few months ago, we briefly discussed privacy. It was after I found out my sister was getting divorced after about 9 years of marriage. Similar to my own situation, she had been cheated on by her husband. The only thing my dad said about it was, “Whenever someone cheats in a relationship, there’s always something else going on that leads up to it. But that’s not my business. When you kids reached a certain age I decided your lives were your own business.”
My dad and I have a lot in common. I try to respect people’s privacy. Oh, sure, occasionally I’ll tweet an #OverheardAtRowan comment or some other funny tidbit I see or hear out in public. But those things aren’t private. There’s no expectation of privacy when people are having a loud conversation in a room with a dozen other people in it. There is, however, an expectation of privacy in the things people don’t say.
For example, I have a few friends who are gay. One of them, I had the impression that he was gay long before I ever found out for sure. When he introduced me to his boyfriend, that was a pretty obvious sign. The other, I had absolutely no idea until he came out to me. So I was surprised, but it didn’t make any difference. But in both of their cases, I never pried, and I never asked any of our other friends. Because I respect people’s privacy. I’m not going to go up to someone and ask, “Hey, you know such-and-such? Is he gay?” No. That would be wrong. It’s up to someone as an individual to decide if and when they want to share any such personal details with others. Even if they’re completely out and open about it, it’s still up to them. It’s not anyone else’s place to share such details.
As far as I’m concerned, asking someone else to confirm your “suspicions” about another person is a horrible violation of their privacy. Maybe you think you know something about them. And maybe you’re right about it. But if they want you to know, they’ll come to you when the time is right. And if they never come to you, then that’s how it is. You don’t have a “right” to know privileged information about another person’s life. No matter what. If my own father, who has more “right” to know about my life than pretty much anyone, can respect my privacy and not press me about things I don’t want to share, then everyone else can respect each other’s privacy as well.
And more than anything else, if you’re ever thinking about asking a third party for private information about someone, stop for a second and ask yourself this: Why aren’t you approaching the person themselves about it? If you have ANY reason to think this person wouldn’t want to share details of their private life with you, then why the hell are you asking someone else about it?
Treat people with respect. It’s not that hard to do.