December 10, 2003

dishonesty

Why do people lie? How can you tell when they are? Have you ever thought someone was lying but then it turned out they were telling the truth? Or maybe theyíre really lying but theyíve convinced everyone around them with their utter sincerity?

I feel so gullible. I want to believe the best from people. I want to think if theyíre not telling the truth, they didnít mean it; they misunderstood the question or the situation, they donít know their own innermost motivations. Something to justify the fact that theyíre standing there in front of me or speaking into the phone and telling me things I know canít be true. With a voice that sounds so incredibly sincere, with nary a bobble or stumble, smooth and firm. A voice that makes me wonder: Is it me? Did I misunderstand? Did I misread, overreact, do I want to actually ascribe worse motivations and actions and really theyíre innocent of all wrongdoing and itís a colossal foul up? And maybe that voice sounds so rational, so reasonable, so honest because it is. Or maybe theyíre just damned good liars.

I caught someone in a lie a few months ago. He was supposed to attend a wedding in another city and cancelled at the last possible moment. The story he told was one for the record books, full of sturm and drang involving the intense security and long lines for said security gates at Penn Station. But New York doesnít have security at train stations. It was a beauty of a whopper, designed to make you feel sorry for him. In that case, I knew it was a lie before he opened his mouth because I knew he needed to find an excuse to get out of coming and also that heís not someone who can do anything the simple way. Truth is usually far simpler than a lie, but itís also often not easy, it means saying something that can be painful either for your audience to hear or for you to admit. And so people twist their stories into something more palatable. Iím not immune, Iíve been known to tell a little white lie now and then. Seldom, though. And it always feels strange as hell. I donít lie well. It doesnít sit right. And so I canít figure out how other people do and do it so well.

I think to lie well you do have to believe at least a little in what youíre saying. Or at least you have to believe that youíre right to say it because the truth is more complicated but also would exonerate you, if they only understood the whole situation. To lie effectively you have to feel like youíre in the right overall only people wouldnít understand so you give them this predigested pap instead so they donít have to think.

It makes me feel so helpless, thatís part of it. Because if someoneís distorting the facts, you canít have a real conversation. You canít get to the bottom of anything with them. You can try, and they can pretend to, but they donít have to change anything, they can just lie again and make it okay.

Someone who works with Damian lied to me this week. Or at least I think she did. Someone else, someone I consider intelligent and thoughtful, thinks this person didnít lie. So maybe she didnít. But when I told her what Damian said (my concern for this situation stemmed in part from his comments, including that she doesnít want to play with him), she said ďI donít want to say heís lying, butÖĒ and let her voice trail off. When a grown woman starts to accuse a five year old of lying? Somethingís wrong there.

I donít know. He is a five year old, this makes him less than ideal as a witness. There may be more truth there than I can unearth. But thereís enough history in this particular relationship, not all of it good, that Dan and I think itís time to pull the plug whether or not lies are involved. And Damian, unlike her, has no motivation to lie. He's not covering his ass, he's not setting her up. He's a young kid with no agenda here.

But it leaves me feeling horrible. What if Iím wrong about her? This isnít a court of law, though even in the courts, judges and juries canít always get to the essential truth. People lie to cover their asses, they lie all the time. Some people lie like they breathe. Some people lie to themselves and so the lies become their version of the truth of their world. And whoís to say I never lie to myself? How can I know? They say the story of a war is told through the eyes of the victor, the other side doesnít get a voice and their tale might be very different. Thereís no such thing as an objective witness, is there? Maybe thereís no such thing as objective truth, nothing rock solid and tangible, nothing you can grab onto and feel the weight of it in the palm of your hand. Which leaves me feeling lost today. Did I make the right decision?

In a way, it doesnít matter if she lied. The fact that we think she may have, the fact that she did do some things (Dan and I witnessed them ourselves) that we find questionable, even the fact that we feel we canít talk to her about this, not in any real way Ė it all means I did do the right thing when I said ďWe have to move on from this. Now.Ē But I wish it felt better. I hate not trusting. I hate assuming the worst. I hate being the one to break off a two year relationship with someone who seems to mean well. But maybe she never did, maybe she lied about that too.

Posted by Tamar at December 10, 2003 02:11 PM
Comments

Actually, my dear-- Penn Station does have security these days, as does Grand Central. Guards stationed by each entrance to popular trains demand tickets waved and, in the year after 911 at least, ID. I'm not saying your friend wasn't lying - only that the security/Penn Station line wasn't as implausible as you think. These are the days, as Carly Simon once sang......

None of which bears directly on the main matter, of course. It sounds instead like *she* lied to protect a source of income. And I get why that feels heartbreaking -- what? this is about money, not love?

Certainly you made the right decision. And I'm sorry for your grief.

C

Posted by: Chris Lombardi at December 13, 2003 06:39 AM

Maybe I should have gone into more detail on that Penn Station lie. It involved metal detectors like in airports, and searched suitcases. For an hourlong ride to Connecticut. Mm hmm. Yup.

Thanks for the support re. the other thing. It's not easy and I still wonder if I made the wrong call there. But overall it's a relief.

Posted by: Tamar at December 17, 2003 10:04 PM