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The Pros & Cons Of Keeping Your Relationship Private

In a generation of over-sharing, will your relationship be healthier on the low?

Love & Relationships

Oprah and Stedman. Beyonce' and Jay Z. Taraji P. Henson and Kelvin Hayden. Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha. Rihanna and Hassan Jameel. The late Nipsey Hussle and Lauren London. Off top, they are some of the celebrity couples who choose to keep their relationship intensely private.

I don't blame 'em either because in the day and age of social media, smartphones with cameras and folks who seem to feel entitled to everyone's business, if you truly want your relationship to go the distance—and to remain healthy and strong while doing so—keeping certain things quiet, under the radar or even confidential, can be one of the smartest things that you could ever do.

Still, there is a bit of a fine line between being private about your love life and keeping it a secret.

A secret typically implies sneaking around, being cryptic and/or taking a bit of the cloak-and-dagger approach to what the two of you have going on. If your relationship falls more into the Column B category, there are some pros and cons that come with taking that sort of approach. If you've never considered that secret relationships can be both good as well as bad, take a moment to check out why it's always a good idea to consider both sides of the coin.

PRO: It Gives You the Chance to Solidify Your Relationship

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We all know what they say about opinions (everyone has one and they are just like a—holes; sometimes literally). Well, if there's ever a time when there seems to be absolutely no shortage of them, it's when folks catch on to a new relationship that exists. If you put it on social media, that gives the opportunity for exes, trolls and pure haters to put their two cents in. Even if it's not online, you've got friends and family members, on both sides, who typically choose to weigh in with their thoughts and perspectives (whether you like it or not).

That's why I definitely think that a benefit that comes with keeping your relationship on the low is you don't have to listen to incessant chatter from other individuals. You can take the time that you need to pay attention to what the two of you think, want and feel—and build from there.

Not to say that outside influences shouldn't be factored in to a certain degree (sometimes others can see what you can't or refuse to look at). But since your relationship is a secret, you can control who, how and when you let others in. That is a good thing.

CON: It Can Put Unforeseen Pressure on It as Well

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Stephanie Mills once sang about not being able to go on being someone's secret lady. In another tune, Luther Vandross once asked why he couldn't tell anyone about his relationship. Xscape ("My Little Secret") and TLC ("Creep") also sang about messing around on the low. Something that all of these jams have in common is the importance of assessing motive. If you're in a secret relationship, is it really as innocent as wanting to give your situation time to grow and develop? Or is it something a bit shadier like one or both of you are married or in a long-term relationship?

Or, could it be that you are actually fine with things being out in the open, but he isn't? If this is the case, even if he isn't seeing anyone else—hiding around, not going out much or never meeting his world can start to take a toll on your self-esteem. It can have you feeling like, if he is as into you as he claims, why doesn't he want to show you off? Why isn't he forthcoming about what he has with you?

Yep. That is one of the challenges that comes with agreeing to not telling anyone about your relationship. It can start to eat away at you and put tension and strain on what y'all have going on. Sooner or later, something will have to give.

PRO: No One Will Know About Your “Downs”

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Despite what Instagram and the hashtag #relationshipgoals may show you, every relationship has its fair share of trials and tribulations. The thing about social media is you are able to control who knows and sees what—and how much.

Over here, nothing irks me more than passive aggressive shots that some couples take on their social media accounts, whenever they are going through it (because they do have each other's phone numbers, right?). And so, if there is a real plus that comes with no one knowing about your relationship, it's that they will not be aware of your problems or issues. The two of you can quietly and privately resolve them together without anyone criticizing or butting in.

Although it is critical that I say this is only a perk if, what you are going through is normal day-to-day stuff, and not abuse. If you are being mistreated, in any way, your relationship is not a secret. Sistah-friend, you are being isolated. It's time to let someone know exactly what is going on. Soon, please.

CON: On the Other Hand, They Won’t Know About Your “Ups” Either

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How do you feel when a friend of yours announces her engagement on Facebook? What about when you're invited to a surprise birthday party that another friend's man is throwing for her? How about when a couple that you know posts an anniversary pic on their IG? Whenever I experience these types of things, it's a reminder that good times are meant to be acknowledged and celebrated. Yet, you rob those who care about you of the opportunity to share in your joy if no one knows that your relationship even exists.

If you are naturally private or introverted, this point might not matter to you—at least, not immediately. But there will come a time when, as your girls are braggin' about how good the love they have is, because all you can do is nod and grin, you'll start to feel a little resentful that you can't say the same.

PRO: Secrets Can Be Seductive

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Meeting up in undisclosed locations, being intimate with someone no one else knows about, sharing something with another person that is only between the two of you—there's something very seductive about all of that.

It's attractive. It's enticing. It's erotic. I get it. More than I get it, I've been there.

On this side of seductive, there is also something that's very "grown woman" about knowing that you don't need others to be aware of your relationship in order to enjoy it; that it's not about wanting to go public, just so you can feel some sort of validation of your worth (due to being with someone). And, there is also something sexy about not feeling like you have to share every detail of what is happening, whether it's inside or outside of the bedroom; that so long as you and "yours" are pleased, that's all the affirming or approval that you truly need.

CON: Again, Secrets Can Be Seductive

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As a marriage life coach, I've certainly seen my fair share of affairs. Three common reasons that come up is a lack of consistent sex in their relationship with their spouse, someone feeling as if their partner takes them for granted and/or sheer boredom. If you've never cheated, all of these reasons might lean on the side of semi-ridiculous to you, but let me put it to you this way—the Lifetime channel would probably not exist if people weren't pulled into the lust, intensity and even drama of a lot of their movies. Same thing goes for illicit relationships; they tap into all of these feelings as well.

But if there's one more "con" to consider if you are currently keeping your relationship a secret, it's the fact that it can make it that much easier for him or you to keep another relationship a secret as well. Just think about it—you've already mastered how to limit information, sneak around and put on a poker face. Sometimes the seductiveness of secrets can make it tempting to start something up with someone else. And hey, who would know since you already know how to keep things on the low?

This point right here takes us all the way back to motive. If your relationship is a secret because you are protecting its value, that's one thing. But if it's a secret because you're doing some stuff that you know you ain't got no business doing, well, all I can say is if you sow a secret relationship, you'll probably eventually reap one. Only this time, it'll be the kind you didn't want—your man being in a secret relationship with somebody else.

Secrets aren't bad if your reasons are good. And by "good", I mean right and healthy. Choose wisely, y'all.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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