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Dusting Off: The Confidant

You’ve got friends and colleagues and acquaintances. And thanks to Facebook, you’ve probably got a pretty accurate count of each one. But when the time comes to confide, to spill a personal secret to someone you trust implicitly... you may be coming up short.

According to a recent Cornell study, the average American makes do with only two “confidants”—down from three in 1985—and as we scan our own contact list, we have to admit that’s about right. We’ve got double the personal network of the last generation, but it’s only half as deep—but it’s not too late to dust it off...

We don’t want to blame it all on Facebook. There’s also Twitter, YouTube, voicemail, the reply-all button and any number of other modern communication tools that mean a few words, told in confidence, can’t be kept between two people anymore. The Eisenhower-era “keep it under your hat” has given way to “don’t say anything you aren’t ready to hear on CNN.” The list of media figures blown up by supposedly private conversations is growing longer by the month—and with every high-profile meltdown, the stiff upper lip grows that much stiffer.

So if you’ve got some reasonable suspicions about your no-good cousin, it would be downright stupid to put them in an email—even if you’re only sending it to someone you trust. What used to be a conversation is now evidence. The wise, considerate thing to do is to keep it to yourself.

Given that, we’re a little surprised we have any confidants left at all—but it’s nothing that can’t be brought back. We suggest a non-digital encounter in a dimly lit room, over drinks or coffee. A few magic phrases like “I haven’t told this to anyone else” or “I’m saying this because I trust you,” and presto, you’ve got a new confidant.

Just hope he isn’t wearing a wire.