"You must release me from my oath. I can't keep your secret, Penny. I'm going to fold like an energy-based de novo protein in conformational space... like a Renaissance triptych... like a cheap suit."Secrets are cool. Everyone wants to be in on them, making one or discovering one. What's more satisfying about these is selectively spilling the beans. One of the guiltiest pleasures of secrets comes from breaking them like a colorful easter egg full of surprises and skeletons. But actually keeping one? That sucks. To keep a secret requires that characters not just withhold information, but actively lie and at times even kill for it. Formerly honest souls now have to struggle with constantly lying. Even less honorable characters may find it eats them up inside, trying to claw its way out with talons of guilt. Depending on the secret, the keeper may even be in for a great deal of inconvenience... and danger. A Secret Keeper doesn't just cover for their friends' Super Hero troubles, but will end up taking the social bullet for them, suffering quite a bit... when they aren't getting kidnapped or tortured to reveal that Secret Identity, that is. This is especially excruciating for characters who are The Fettered, The Confidant, are magically restrained from spilling the beans, or simply caught between the conflicting loyalties. Of course, most secrets do eventually come to light—this is fiction we're talking about after all: every secret is made to be spilled. Depending on the secret, the keeper usually has a falling out with one or more characters, and may face great danger. Of course, if handled well it can make for a great cathartic payoff when this character chooses to unburden themselves and share the secret. Of course, if the keeper is having their buttons mashed in, they may blurt it out to hurt another character. Much to their regret later on. Villains on the other hand will use it to blackmail the keeper... which of course, doesn't stop it from coming to light eventually. When a character genuinely doesn't want to spill the beans, it's because They're Called Personal Issues for a Reason. This is one of the reasons The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life.
— Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
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Anime & Manga
- In Ranma ½, Ranma swears to keep Ryouga's curse secret, even when Ryouga uses his cursed form to sleep with Ranma's fiancee Akane. Ryouga's cursed form is as a cute little piglet that Akane adopts as a pet. Semi-subverted in that while Ranma won't come right out and say it he does drop a megaton load of hints, but Akane is just that dense that she doesn't get it.
- Unfortunately when Akane does seem to realize it, Ranma goes out of his way to protect Ryoga's secret, making this Double Subverted
- The fact that everyone in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is hiding something is one of the main reasons for how badly things always turn out. Because everyone is keeping secrets, they can't trust each other and work together, and the Hate Plague will seize on that distrust and turn one or more of them into a delusional, homicidal serial killer, which is the last thing they need with everything else that's going wrong. Interestingly, though, They're Called Personal Issues for a Reason also comes up and is an important part of at least two arcs.
- InuYasha: Totosai's role in hiding his dead master's plan for developing Sesshoumaru enough to finally obtain Bakusaiga results in him putting his life on the line, as Sesshoumaru detests being manipulated so much he has a tendency to kill anyone he catches doing that.
- Symphogear: The heroine's need to keep her magical girl deeds secret puts a big strain on her relationship with her best friend.
- In Aim for the Ace!, Coach Munakata's death happens when Hiromi and the team are in the USA. The first ones to find out (Ranko, Todou and Osaki) keep her Locked Out of the Loop. Neither is happy about it.
- A good part of Hiro's problems in Fruits Basket come from him having witnessed how Akito threw Rin out of a window but being unable to tell others. When he finally can't resist anymore, Hiro goes to Rin's boyfriend Haru and breaks down crying as he explains what happened.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, this is a common issue for ghouls that live among humans.
- After his transformation into a Half-Human Hybrid, Kaneki becomes terrified of his lifelong Only Friend learning the truth. He begins to lie and avoid Hide in an attempt to protect him from the truth, before finally cutting all ties with his human life. In turn, Hide does everything in his power to find his missing friend. It all turns out to have been for nothing — when they are finally reunited months later, Hide confesses that he knew almost the entire time and never said anything. Unfortunately, it may or may not have been his final act.
- Touka lives in constant fear of being discovered, and takes great pains to maintain her life as a normal High School girl. Her greatest fear is that her Muggle Best Friend, Yoriko, will learn her secret. To protect her identity, she repeatedly threatens to kill others and regularly makes herself seriously ill by consuming human food.
- For Spider-Man, things could have been so much easier if everyone he cared about had known he was a super-hero. Subverted when one of his closest friends proves to be a deadly enemy.
- The Matt Fraction 2011 Defenders title is purportedly going to put all the Defenders in this position when they stumble across an Ancient Conspiracy.
- The DC Rebirth reboot of Superman has Supes' son, Jonathan, in this position, as he really hates the idea of hiding who he is from others.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe superheroes are persecuted by this:
- Paperinik, alias Donald Duck, suffers greatly from the contrast between the lack of respect he gets in his civilian identity and the admiration, or at least grudging respect, he receives as Paperinik, especially because he fully understands the Irony in having become Paperinik to take revenge for the disrespect and finally getting respected only in his masked identity while said identity sometimes making things worse for him, as he'll miss important engagements due his superhero duties and cannot explain why. In the "classic" stories (outside the Paperinik New Adventures continuity) he even lacks a confident, as his identity is that important-to the point Gyro reacted to being told about his identity for this purpose by wiping his memory of it on the spot.
- Paperinika, alias Daisy, goes through Donald's same problem at balancing superhero work and civilian identity. Thankfully, her Gadgeteer Genius did not wipe her memory of her identity, so she has a confident.
- The infamous Belligerent Sexual Tension between Paperinik and Paperinika is only made worse by the fact they hate each other as superheroes (or at least try) and are loyal to their respective significant others... Who just happen to be each other.
- The Red Bat, alias Fethry, shares the same trouble with the different treatment his identities get as Paperinik. Differently from him he can take it in stride thanks to a more optimistic character and knowing he's treated that way because he's a terrifying Klutz.
- The King Kuei's mother, the Dowager, says this is the reason a Secret Relationship falls apart as one would have to constantly hide in The Stalking Zuko Series. Which was one of the reasons she opposed Kuei continuing his relationship with Song.
- Fai is emotionally exhausted that he had to lie to everyone from day one about who he is and why he's running in Shatterheart. He couldn't let anyone get close to him without risking the truth and ends up on the losing end of a love triangle as a result.
- In Foundling, this is how Chen viewed keeping Reimu, a human, a then secret from the rest of the youkai, not that the latter was making it easier, as, doing what small children do, she made a lot of noise and is noted to be very curious, along with taking up more attention and food than a litter of pups (she may be exaggerating on the third one), which in turn, annoys her. Naturally, the chapter in which she narrates is aptly titled, "That Damned Secret".
- Advice and Trust: Rei really wants to tell Asuka and Shinji about her true nature and everything else she knows involving SEELE and NERV, but Kaworu pointed out that they would be killed for knowing too much if she did. This leads her to take out her frustration on him because he's the only one she can talk to about it.
Rei: She is crying and hurt and upset and I don’t know what to do and yet she still tries to make me feel better and I just had to leave her and run away because if I don’t she’ll ask why I can’t say anything or she’ll get hurt and aaaaRRRGH!
- In the Miraculous Ladybug fic Powers of Invisibility, Juleka becomes the Secret Keeper to both Marinette/Ladybug and Adrien/Chat Noir, and has to deal with the fact that Marinette isn't ready to tell Chat Noir her secret or let him do the same. Things only get worse when Juleka finds out that Nino and Alya are dating and hiding it from Marinette and Adrien, mainly because they don't want it to get back to their parents. It's mostly played for laughs (so far), due to the awkwardness of having four new friends determined to hang out with her yet unable to talk about why they're suddenly so close with any of the other three around, culminating in Juleka having to walk out of a lunch with the four after being bombarded with text messages. Despite this, it's noted that Juleka is happier with them in her life than she's ever been before.
- In The Sanctuary Telepath Janine has to keep the murderous elemental in her brother's head a secret for safety reasons. It effectively destroys her close friendship with Helen and the only reason the relationship between her and James haven't met the same fate is because he wasn't in that much of a danger and she could tell him everything after examining the situation a bit more.
- It sucks ever more for John as everyone believes him a serial killer while the entity controlling his mind was the real murderer. Janine and later James are the only ones who know the truth and treat him accordingly.
- A rare AI example: HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sequel and the novels have confirmed that HAL went crazy because he was ordered to keep something very important secret from the crew, when his entire prime directive was to provide accurate, truthful data. Ordering a computer to lie can be a very bad idea :
"Let me put it this way, Mr. Amor. The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error."
- Heywood Floyd was not pleased when he found this out.
- The movie Little Secrets is built around this trope.
- This is the source of Charlie's Angst in the sequel of The Santa Clause—he can't tell his friends that his father is Santa Claus.
- Juice: Q nor Steel can't tell anyone that it was Bishop who killed Raheem, unless they wants to be the next victims.
- In Big Eyes, Margaret is uncomfortable from the start about Walter claiming authorship for her paintings, but reluctantly agrees when he argues that it's the best way to profit from her work. As he becomes increasingly attached to the fame that follows though, conditions for her get worse as he forces her to paint for hours in a cramped room, lie to her daughter, and isolate herself from her friends and neighbors. It gets to the point where she has a brief mental breakdown, hallucinating people in a grocery store as having big eyes, like the subject of her paintings.
- Lady Audley in Lady Audley's Secret resorts to murder a couple of times in an effort to hide her bigamy. She does crack eventually, though.
- Just about everybody in the Percy Jackson 'verse seems to be hiding a terrible secret. Just a partial list:
- The first Great Prophecy. Secret keepers: Annabeth and Chiron
- The Roman Camp from the Greek Half-bloods. Secret keepers: the gods
- The Greek Camp from the Roman Half-bloods. (see above)
- 'I'm a pyrokinetic. Secret keeper: Leo
- Enceladus has my Dad. Secret keeper: Piper
- I'm really eighty-three years old and back from the dead. Secret keeper:Hazel
- My life is tied to a piece of half burned wood. Secret keeper:Frank
- In the Warrior Cats series, when Leafpaw is the only cat who knows where the traveling cats went, she feels the strain of being loyal to both her sister and to her father.
- Sandypaw in the SkyClan And The Stranger manga feels bad about a secret: he and the other apprentices (and a young warrior) were getting food from Twolegs. In fact, he says that keeping secrets is wrong and he doesn't want to be a part of it anymore. When they get reminded about never taking food from Twolegs, they look ashamed...and Sandypaw is seen smirking at them.
- A major factor in the resolution of Aunt Dimity: Snowbound. A wealthy young woman loses her betrothed at Dunkirk and turns her country home into a convalescent hospital for other troops. A valuable diamond parurenote goes missing, and she is written off as crazy when she lodges her complaints with the military authorities. She gradually retreats into her own world, spending much of her time and dwindling resources on writing letters to Americans she thought were the thieves until her death. It turns out two American servicemen did steal the jewels, but fearing exposure, they hide the pieces for decades, and their children, disillusioned by the revelation, pose as stranded hikers to secretly enter the estate and return the full set.
- The Framing Story of the BIONICLE book Tales of the Masks is the six Turaga arguing about whether to tell the Matoran and Toa of the lost city of Metru Nui and expose them to their true origins — thereby revealing that the tales they had been telling them for the last 1000 years were only Metaphorically True lies. In the end, they decide to do it. This causes Matoro to become quite mistrusted by his people (which still greatly effects his personality after he transforms into a Toa later on), as he was the only Matoran to have attended the Turaga's meetings and had to keep all of their secrets to himself.
- A big theme in The House of Night series. Zoey almost loses all of her friends and almost dies because she didn't tell her friends she 1)knew that Stevie Rae was really alive and 2)was secretly involved with a professor. Stevie Rae also has problems with this when she does not tell about her relationship with Rephaim.
- Poor, poor Harry Dresden. He has to keep so many secrets it's a wonder he manages to get anything done. Especially notable was the first three books, where he felt he had to keep the entire White Council a secret from his Muggle friends, resulting in nearly destroying his relationship with Murphy. Things get better after an Internal Reveal, but later books are giving him more and more things he has to keep hidden.
- In The Southern Reach Trilogy, Lowry got red flags over how obsessively the psychologist was applying for a job at the Southern Reach and had her secretly investigated. He discovered that she's Gloria from the forgotten coast and used this information to blackmail her.
Live Action TV
- Connie Brooks in Our Miss Brooks is often unwillingly made privy to Walter Denton's latest prank. Miss Brooks has to keep quiet or risk having Walter suspended or expelled, sometimes making her an almost de facto confederate to his schemes.
- i.e. "Cure That Habit" forces Miss Brooks to stay quiet about Walter's having sent a postcard to the titular alcoholism support group in Mr. Conklin's name.
- "Wild Goose Chase" has Miss Brooks be forced to keep quiet about Walter pretending to be a quiz show host, and having tricked Mr. Conklin in believing he won a free T.V. set.
- "The Cafeteria Strike" sees Miss Brooks have to cover up an impending protest by the students, led by Walter Denton.
- "Dress Code Protest" sees Miss Brooks try to dodge Mr. Conklin's discovering Walter's idiotic scheme to protest the principal's new dress code.
- "The Sweater" has Walter Denton put Miss Brook's name to an expensive present purchased by Miss Enright and gifted to Mr. Boynton. Miss Brooks is quite unwittingly pulled into the deception, but is loathe to reveal it as it results in an atypically amorous Mr. Boynton.
- "Stretch Has A Problem" sees a different kind of secret kept by Miss Brooks. Miss Brooks must keep secret Stretch's crush on Harriet Conklin, while keeping the lovesick Dumb Jock ready, willing and able to play in the state basketball tournament.
- "The Grudge Match" again deals with the Stretch-Harriet-Walter love triangle, as Miss Brooks must cover up the fact that Stretch Snodgrass went to the movies with Harriet Conklin, Walter's designated squeeze.
- Miss Brooks is quite the unwitting secret keeper. In "New School Bus", she has to hide the fact that Mr. Boynton bought an old paddy wagon to serve as a bus for Madison's sports teams.
- Joey in the Friends arc when Chandler and Monica are keeping their relationship secret. It gets especially hard when he has to take the fall for them when they almost get caught - repeatedly. After one Embarrassing Cover Up too many, he turns the tables by "revealing" to everyone that he'd slept with Monica and she was obsessed with getting him back in the sack.
- In Desperate Housewives, when Carlos accidentally kills Gabby's sexually abusive father, and the others help him cover it up, they become consumed with guilt which drastically affects their day to day lives.
- My Name Is Earl: in order to not ruin Christmas for Joy, he has to pretend to Joy's parents that he and Joy are still married, and then he finds out that Joy's mother is pretending to be wheelchair-bound and has to keep that secret or else ruin Christmas too. Since "ruining Christmas" was the item from The List he was working on at the time, he had to keep both secrets.
- In Pushing Daisies, Olive didn't know everyone's secrets—she never learned the show's biggest one, Ned's power of resurrection. However, she had at that point been privy to several secrets from all over the cast (Chuck being alive, Lily being Chuck's mother, and her own—an unrequited love for Ned) and sworn to secrecy in every case, which was driving her mad with conflicting impulses. She did slowly let some of them go by clever yes/no games and getting some of the secrets' owners to allow her to fess up, as well as outright admitting to Ned she was having trouble moving on.
- Let's not forget the first episode of the second season; she literally stops what she's doing, faces the rest of the cast and screams at the top of her lungs for at least half a minute, then going on to berate all present for dumping all their biggest secrets on her. Then she gets whisked away to a nunnery by Lily so her secret wouldn't come out.
- For that matter, Chuck was being eaten up maintaining the lie that she was dead from her aunts, as well as having not let Ned re-dead her resurrected dad, making him "kill" an "innocent" bystander Dwight Dixon with his powers Equivalent Exchange. And in the first season, Ned was likewise being eaten up by guilt over inadvertently killing Chuck's father before he figured out how his powers worked. And not one to be left out, Emerson Cod was too ashamed to tell his mom he had a daughter (who had been kidnapped), and wanted to tell her to maintain their honest relationship. By the time he told her she had figured he was hiding something, but had guessed wrong. Really, Keeping Secrets Sucks is a big theme for Pushing Daisies.
- Chloe on Smallville keeps Clark's secret, but also keeps Lana's and some others. She lashed out at Clark at least once, when Clark complained that she didn't tell him about somebody else; she replied tartly that just because she's keeping his secret from others doesn't mean she can't keep others' secrets from him.
- Pete found this out too, with Clark's secret torturing him for much of Season 3. Chloe eventually gets caught up in that aspect of it as well, withdrawing from life and having fewer and fewer friends who aren't in on The Masquerade. By Season 9 she's permanently become Watchtower and really has no life outside the infant JLA.
- Captain Awesome on Chuck is suffering from this these days. He stumbled on the fact that his soon-to-be brother-in-law was a spy near the end of Season Two. For a while he thought it was cool and interesting, but after he got asked to use his skills as a doctor to help, that was enough for him. Unfortunately, the spy life didn't let him go... now he's not sleeping much, not working out, and trying (and failing hilariously) to lie to his wife about what Chuck does when he isn't around.
- It's not always puppies and sunshine for the cast of Hannah Montana, mainly due to this trope. In fact, the title character breaks down twice for it. In the movie, she decides she's done leading a double-life and gives away her identity, but the crowd talks her into staying as Hannah. She breaks down again in the final season and finally reveals it on national television.
- You'd think the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer would learn to let people know about any drastic changes in their love life after season two or so. Failure to do so has led to character deaths, permanent bus trips, the gang nearly tearing itself apart with mistrust, and more.
- In Supernatural, the few times Sam keeps a secret from Dean that isn't too personal. And every single time Dean has to keep a secret from his brother (granted, that's mostly because he only keeps secrets about his brother's fate or things he's done that Sam wouldn't like).
- Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory doesn't like being asked to keep a secret, and for a good reason.
- Subverted in House of Anubis with Sarah Frobisher-Smythe. Her entire life, people have been using her and trying to force the secret about where her parents hid their fabulous treasure, though she had no idea of the truth herself.
- MythQuest: Keeping the portal to the mythworld a secret almost causes Alex to lose his best friend.
- This is a major theme for Mitsuzane's arc, at least for the beginning, in Kamen Rider Gaim. At first, he just has to worry about keeping his life as a Beat Rider a secret from his prestigious brother who has hopes for him taking his company. Then said brother approaches him and reveals to him an Awful Truth when Mitsuzane threatens to expose his company's secrets. Now he's forced to keep that a secret as well as another Awful Truth... only for the people he cares about most to find out anyways. Needless to say, when the girl he has a crush on finds out both truths and is crushed when Mitsuzane's forced to stop her from exposing those truths to the town, he's pissed. Very pissed.
- In Scream Queens (2015), it's revealed that 4 members of Kappa were forced to keep a secret that one of their pledges had a baby in their sorority house and later died because they were more interested in partying. The resulting guilt destroyed their lives - one of them became a reclusive shut-in, one of them became a crazy woman who stole milk and diapers, another killed herself and the last one became an anchor for Fox News.
- Daredevil: For most of season 1, Matt Murdock keeps his second identity as Daredevil a secret from Foggy and Karen. When Foggy learns about it, as the result of finding Matt bleeding out from getting attacked by Wilson Fisk and Nobu, he is pissed off, and while they do reconcile in time to take down Fisk, their friendship is on noticeably thin ice. In season 2, the strain of Matt's double life and the reappearance of Elektra causes him to falter in contributing to the Frank Castle trial and almost costs him the new romantic relationship he was beginning to have with Karen. The realization that he's been driving them away leads Matt to decide to willingly tell Karen his secret.
- Iron Fist (2017): Ward Meachum has to keep secret for over 13 years that his father Harold is alive and is the one calling the shots at Rand Enterprises from behind the scenes. This is implied to have been a contributor to his drug addiction problem.
- In Pokémon Live!, the song "I've Got A Secret" is about Delia and Misty lamenting how they can't tell their respective secrets to Ash.
- Many of Shakespeare's works involve how hard it is to keep secrets.
- The entire webcomic The Green Eyed Sniper is focused on secrets that the characters keep from each other. Shanti hides her secret life as an assassin from her partner Blitz and her friend Sekhmet. Sekhmet hides from everyone that she's a wanted war criminal. And Blitz hides from Shanti that she has protected Sekhmet's secret for the past two years. None is them is happy with these secrets and there will be consequences...
- Chapter 3 of morphE focuses on a bet for the captives to call their families. Amical allows them to but sets a fate spell to prevent them from giving anyone clues to their location. Billy is told he will lose his career if he does not arrive on set by the weekend, Asia ends up crying in sheer desperation for not being able to disclose information to help her guardian investigate her kidnapping and Tyler has to create an incriminating cover story to stop his family from worrying about him.
- The Paradise setting involves an unknown force changing humans into Funny Animals (and sometimes changing their gender, too) in a way that is Invisible to Normals—-forcing the Changed into a Masquerade since to everyone else they still appear to be their old human selves (and gender). Changed who have to maintain the Masquerade over the long term, keeping their true condition from friends and loved ones, often find it harder the longer they have to keep silent.
- Christopher Mattiaz from MatthiasRat's stories has not been able to be intimate with his wife for two years because he changed gender six days after their wedding—and can't tell her why either.
- Joey from Jetfire's "Veil" series kept his Change from his parents over three years and two gender changes before breaking down and telling them the truth—which made for fairly awkward interfamily relationships for the following month or so.
- In Worm, when Taylor was attempting to infiltrate the Undersiders, she found trying to hide her heroic intentions from them a great source of stress.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Is Not Your Color," Rarity confides to Twilight Sparkle that she is incredibly jealous of Fluttershy for her job as a model, while Fluttershy tells Twilight that she hates her job and only keeps doing it for Rarity's sake. Hilarity Ensues, mostly from Pinkie Pie's constant reminders on the importance of keeping secrets.
Pinkie Pie: (sighs) And you were doing so well.
- Eventually the stress drives Twilight mad and after struggling to keep herself quiet ends up blurting out Spike's "secret" crush on Rarity.
- Averted with Pinkie, who apparently has no problems keeping secrets whatsoever. Especially if she Pinkie Promises.
- Pinkie Pie's propensity for springing surprises works against her in the Season 5 episode "The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows", as she spends the entire episode constantly struggling to keep the surprise secret of Shining Armor and Princess Cadence having a baby from her friends and everyone else. After the secret is finally broken by Cadance and Shining Armor, Pinkie literally falls to pieces.
- The title character of Jem maintains a double-life as the titular pop star and as Jerrica Benton, which wreaks havoc on her love life since she ends up getting her boyfriend, Rio, attracted to both identities and never does get the nerve to tell him for fear of how he'd react to being led on. She also deals with the affections of Riot from The Stingers, who's attracted to her Jem persona only. It also causes other problems since her method of staying in persona requires that she wear a pair of holographic earrings (as opposed to make-up), such as not being able to get through metal detectors. Furthermore, since Jem is entirely made up as a person, Eric Raymond tries to exploit this in one episode by setting most of the city on a massive manhunt to learn her real identity, though she's able to get people to calm down and leave her be at the end of the episode.