Do You Want to Know a Secret?

With me, what you see is what you get, but that’s not entirely the case

Photograph by Getty Images

In her just-published memoir, Shirley Jones — Mrs. Partridge to most boomers — talks openly of her X-rated sex life. Much of the action involved her “well-endowed” first husband, the late actor-singer Jack Cassidy. Kinky barely describes his sexual appetite. On her TV talk show, Katie Couric asked the blond, 79-year-old singer-actor her secret for staying youthful. “Masturbation!” she replied, without hesitating.

Does make you wonder if she had both hands on the steering wheel of that psychedelic school bus.

In “Florence Henderson: Life Is Not a Stage,” Mrs. Brady admits to having had a one-night stand in a Las Vegas hotel room with New York mayor John Lindsay. Henderson was married at the time. His Honor, she reveals, gave her a not-to-be-forgotten going home gift: crabs.

He couldn’t have just said it with flowers?

Can’t anyone — not even America’s most wholesome TV moms — keep a secret?

I’m not judging Jones or Henderson for revealing such intimate details of their lives. As a writer who came of age during “New Journalism,” I’m always dredging up events from my past to share. Like Henderson, I recently wrote about my experience with crabs, except they were Dungeness — I once lived in San Francisco and my Italian landlord was a fisherman.

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I remember when I was in my twenties and got a reprimanding phone call from a friend of mine, a woman who was in her seventies. I had shocked her dinner guests the night before by talking about my psychotherapy sessions. “People, especially ones you barely know, don’t want to know such personal things about you,” she told me.

Hey, at least I didn’t tell the guests I was in a three-way, like Jones does in her book. I was never in a three-way, maybe that’s why.

Friends are sometimes hesitant to tell me things as it could wind up in an article or blog, which has happened, though I usually don’t include last names. I was recently taken aback to find out that a proper Midwest couple I know used to film porno videos in their attic. How can I not share that?

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People think from my confessional blog that I have no secrets — be it undergoing conversion therapy when I was a teenager, turning 65 this fall or having never having attended an outdoor rock concert (I hate amplified music, crowds and muddy fields). With me, what you see is what you get, or so people think. But that’s not entirely the case.

For ten years, I harbored a very dark secret that only my dog and cat knew about. And no, I did not have sex with any member of the Partridge Family or a national politician — not even a local one, I don’t think.

Here comes the reveal:

I had a long, ongoing affair with a neighbor of mine, who was married with kids. To protect his privacy, I won’t say his name or what his profession was — just that it required he wear coveralls and goggles. Of all the so-called “doable dads” on the block, he was considered the hottest.

Both my male and female friends used to swoon at his hunky good looks. My friends also spent a decade feeling sorry for me. They thought I had no one in my life, that I wasn’t getting any action. They were always trying to set me up with dates, which I’d decline. I believe in monogamy. I’m even faithful to the unfaithful.

I was living in Minnesota this year when same-sex marriage became legal there. I decided to write a story for a national, liberal-leaning website about gay men who are married to straight women. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon in every place I’ve lived, be it the West Coast, East Coast, Midwest or Deep South. For many homosexual men, the need for having a family, and for being socially accepted, is so strong that they deny their sexuality. I thought a blog might shed some light on a tragic, timely subject.

I finally decided to share my big secret in the story. Enough time and distance had passed between parties for anyone to get hurt. Besides, I knew what I was talking about, firsthand.

But then, the night before the article was to go live, I got a 10 o’clock phone call from my editor. The powers that be had killed it, she told me. It was too revealing. They might have been OK with the subject matter, she informed me, but definitely not the part where I shared my story. That did it.

So, unlike Shirley Jones and Florence Henderson — former poster children for everything decent in America — I was told to shut up. Maybe my friend who had the dinner party all those years ago was right. People don’t want to know such personal things about me.

Still, I’ll keep writing them. It’s who I am.

Let’s just hope Katie Couric never asks me my secret for staying youthful.

Tags: memoirs