The Intention of Lying

Deborah Mitchell essays

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I met my husband over 10 years ago. He was and is unlike anyone I’ve ever known. Nothing bad or ugly sticks to his brain. A negative experience will pass over him like a stone skipping over a pond. It might touch him, briefly, but it will land at some far point never to be thought of again. He is eternally an optimist, a genuinely sweet and kind spirit that, when pushed, will not get mean or hard. Yes, he gets angry occasionally, but his anger is mild and short-lived. Because he does not remember bad experiences, he does not hold grudges, in spite of the bad things that have happened in his life. I am often amazed that he is still as trusting as a puppy.

My husband was a chronic liar. Sometimes he still struggles to maintain integrity with his words. You would think that this would make him a bad person. It does not. Early in the relationship, I believed that his struggle with the truth would break us up. I yelled and screamed at him for being a liar, but I came to learn and understand that he is, in this way, still a child. He would lie when he thought I might disapprove. He’d lie to make himself look better. He’d lie to because he didn’t want to face the fact that he’d made some bad mistakes or he didn’t want to face a painful memory. He’d lie because, as he once told me, he always had.

There’s a lot to be said about a person like that, and it’s nothing good. I know what you’re thinking. Once a liar; always a liar. Liars cannot be trusted; they are not “real.” After all, how can you know someone if he cannot even be honest with himself, much less the one person who is supposed to know him above all else? And you are right. Trying to love a person who has a malleable persona that changes on a per-story basis, is like trying to find the one true skin of an onion. It takes a long time to get to know someone like that: you have to judge him solely on his actions.

Some women might consider dishonesty a deal breaker. Or they might not pay close enough attention to catch the inconsistencies in a liar’s story. Unfortunately, I remember much of what I hear and see, and my mind will rewind and compare stories.

But one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that we all lie. It’s just a matter of how much, to whom, and what we lie about. We lie to strangers, we lie to our families, we lie to ourselves. There are folks who tell the little white lies, and they justify that with, “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” Of course, what they mean is “I don’t want my words to cause someone to get upset with me.” Fine. Then there are those who lie to trick you out of something—money or goods. There are liars who just want to look virtuous in the eyes of the world. There are liars who want to get out of financial trouble or stay out of jail. There are even “original liars” who told us that Santa and the Tooth Fairy are real, honest-to-goodness hard-working people. Then there are people like me who lie to themselves. “It doesn’t matter, or I’m fine with that.”

Oftentimes, truth is an elusive thing anyway. Everyone has their own truths, their own interpretations of what happened or what they saw. You can ask siblings about their parent’s marriage or about a family vacation, and they will all have their own memories and their own perspectives. What might be a happy relationship or a positive experience for one, might be negative for another.

The question is how does one’s lying affect your life? My husband’s lying didn’t change the fact that he called me often during the day, does random acts of kindness and makes our relationship a priority. It didn’t affect how he treated me. I’m not in any way condoning dishonesty; I’m just saying that you have to understand its roots and how it affects you. My husband continues to work hard to make me happy, and part of that is trying to be honest in everything he says to me. Is he? I’ll never know for certain. His words have not snagged any previous conversations in my mind lately. But do spouses ever know if their partners are 100% honest 100% of the time?

 

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About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

I've written for Salon.com, CounterPunch, CNN, Mothering, Brain Child, the Dallas Morning News and many others. My book, Growing Up Godless: A Parent's Guide to Raising Kids without Religion was released in 2014. I also write about environmental and social issues.

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