Everyone has that one quirk that comes out while drinking. Some people start singing, some people start speaking their truth, some people consistently start disrobing. Me? I start asking people to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets. To be fair, I do this sober all the time. It is, unfortunately, my go-to icebreaker. I guess it’s an ice breaker in the sense that the Titanic was an ice breaker — ya, maybe some ice is broken, but mostly it is a horrible disaster.
I think I began doing this because I hate small-talk. I hate the show of it, I hate smiling through the drone, I hate knowing that neither of us will remember this conversation five minutes from now. My coworker this past summer coined the phrase, “you’ve got to network to get work.” Unfortunately, my idea of networking is accidentally asking someone if “they think strip clubs are just a watered-down form of misogyny?” I don’t network too well.
This might not be groundbreaking, but I have found that people are much more willing to tell secrets under the veil of anonymity. There is something decidedly exhilarating about sharing your secret with a stranger. Throughout my off terms in hostels, bars and random apartments, I have met strippers, a strip-club owner, undocumented workers who planned on burning their passports to sneak across borders and a nurse whose coworker has stolen thousands of dollars of narcotics. One heterosexual man disclosed to me that he had made out with his guy friend in order to make a third friend feel less anxious about his wedding the next day. (Why this would be comforting is beyond me.) I don’t know the names of most of these people, and I never will.
Inspired by postsecret.com, I began alienating friends, acquaintances and randos during my sophomore year by starting a column titled, “Dartmouth Admissions,” where I would ask people to write their secret on a piece of paper and hold it up in front of the admissions building. (Get it? Admissions?) I did this eight times, and at that point I was tired of yelling, “tell me your secret!” at strangers, so I stopped.
My best friend in elementary school used to say, “secrets are no fun unless you share with everyone!” That is some kind of bullshit. The exclusivity of secrets is what gives them life, what makes them warm. I love secrets because they represent someone giving me the honor of his or her vulnerability. That is what makes secrets special — someone choosing to be vulnerable with you.
Being vulnerable is hard. Especially at Dartmouth, a school small enough that news travels fast yet large enough that community is not always sacred. It can be terrifying to put yourself out there when the next moment that person can be groupme-ing out to their housemates, Greek house, a cappella group or society about “this weirdo who wants to go on a hike sometime, like why’re you so obsessed with me omg.” Immediately after pressing send on a flitz, I can picture that guy pressing “forward” to his frat. It is easier to ignore someone you just met than to say “hi” and be ignored. And don’t get me started on trying to turn a “let’s get lunch” friend into someone who texts you “what do you think dinosaur penises look like?”
Often the things we are the most vulnerable about don’t fit on a sign. They don’t make good stories, they aren’t scandalous. The things that make us vulnerable might seem minute, but they feel huge to us. Whenever I would have someone write a secret for Dartmouth Admissions, they would ask what my secret was. I would laugh and throw them an answer about some embarrassing night freshman year. However, those funny moments, those embarrassing flops, those scandalous stories, aren’t my true secrets, and they aren’t yours. They don’t show me a side of you that you rarely expose to others. It took me a while to realize, but reducing someone down to their secrets boils off all the intricacies that make them who they are. Here’s what my, and I think everyone’s, secret is (sorry to out you all): we are all just looking for people to be vulnerable with and who will be vulnerable with us in return.