The art of mystery

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

This infamous line our mothers have told us repeatedly, and yet some of us – ahem, me – fail to really pause and consider the meaning behind the message.

What constitutes familiarity?

To me, familiarity is the state that you and your best friend enter into when you begin to learn every intimate detail about each other. It’s the relationship with your siblings when you have grown up in the same household and kept each other’s secrets. It’s the dynamic between your roommates when you have witnessed each other’s personal lives at home.

Familiarity can transform a relationship from adoration and trust to disrespect or contempt.

Humans are an interesting breed: They like to place each other on pedestals. As soon as their deity shows any sign of weakness (read: human), they are not nearly as revered. I’ve seen it time and time again.

So, what’s to be done? Can you tell anyone your deepest, darkest secrets and still be respected? Can you spill your insecurities and still be admired? Can you live as you do without assuming that your habits are on scrutinizing display 24/7?

The answer is simple: Adopt the art of mystery.

The art of mystery means being a good conversationalist without revealing information that would constitute familiarity. It means having fun while keeping the intimacy of your personal life far from display.

It means stop telling your friends every single thing when you start chatting and feeling gezellig (a Dutch word that encompasses a friendly, warm and cozy atmosphere).

If you do need to share those parts about yourself that no one in your life should learn, see a counselor or write in a journal. Maintain a healthy relationship with everyone else and refuse to burden them with familiarity. Let them place you on a pedestal from time to time.

And, if you do lose the art of mystery and enter a state of familiarity, what is to be done?

Well, there’s always the other saying our mothers taught us:

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”

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