Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
When is it okay to lie to keep a secret? Does it matter if it is your own
secret or someone else’s? If you swore to someone that you “would
never tell, no matter who asks” does that extend to answering a
question from the person being harmed by the secret? Are these
agreements that have to be negotiated and understood before a secret
is shared, or is it more fluid, so when circumstances change could the
confidante could be asked to change her behavior? And on and on…
Fact: My best friend is having an affair with a guy from work. She fell
into the rabbit hole of lust very quickly and claims she knew all along it
was a mistake but she was helpless to stop herself. She has a husband
and three young children. From the outside they look like the perfect
family but she has confided things about the marriage that might be
grounds for divorce. Now both another close friend and her husband
have taken me aside and observed that she is “acting strangely” and
wanting my “confidential” insights. What can I say? What should I say?
What should I not say?
There’s a Talmud of possible answers, and no one size fits all, so I will
concentrate on your immediate situation. I think your friend is
avoiding the real problems in her life and marriage by creating others
that serve as a distraction and smokescreen. You need to have three
conversations, the first with your fiend and then with her husband and
When you talk to her, be candid about your point of view on the affair
and the responsibility she has placed on you to be dishonest on her
behalf. Beyond the issue of truth and integrity, she is asking you to
become a party to a bad, potentially explosive, situation, one that will
affect the welfare of her whole family. While you are not responsible
for the outcome, and do not want to be a precipitating factor in
causing a blow-up, your silence will not protect her for the long-run.
Tell her how you feel, and what you are and are not willing to do.
Note: That will require you answering many of the questions you
asked so your own heart and conscience are clear. Even if she asked
for your permanent silence, circumstances have changed. She needs
to know that, and you need to be clear with her about the limits of
what you will and will not say.
If any third party asks, you should have a simple answer ready. A
good general rule is not to answer a direct question about another
person’s behavior with any answer much more definitive than I don’t
know what’s going on in her head. Perhaps you should talk to her
directly. You can preface that with, You’re her husband/friend/etc…
You can also try to doge by saying you’re not into gossip. But odds are
that your apparent discomfort with both subject and delivery will only
reinforce suspicions in the person asking. Eventually you will end up
having to say, Let one without sin cast the first stone, and then take a
step back when they start flying. Your friend will need more than your
silence in the months to come.