Is It Possible Not To Lie Over a Holiday Weekend? I Decided To Find Out, and Here's What Happened
It's a Friday night, and I am trying to not lie to anyone. It's not proving to be as easy an exercise as I had thought it would be — and not just because, as some experts estimate, we lie 10 to 200 times a day. It's because I am at a bar, the ground zero of American lying, and my friend and I have been accosted by two dudes who are lying like it's their job.
Or rather, I should say, she's been accosted — I, as the person who stands between these guys and what they imagine to be a fun night of lying directly to my friend, am receiving some second-hand lies. These two guys are engaging in some hardcore bar lying — the time-honored practice where you make up outrageous lies to people you meet in a bar because, well, who the hell cares what you say to people that you meet in a bar?
The dudes tell us they're 19, college students, and brothers; then, busted on that lie, they say that they are actually 24, not brothers, and police academy recruits. By the end of the night, I would not have been surprised to hear that they were actually Kathie Lee and Hoda. They are knee-deep in some kind of third-level Inception of bar lies. As I hear them go on to my friend, two things cross my mind: 1. From this vantage point, with the remove of all my highly skilled journalistic training (and also three beers), lying looks like the dumbest thing in the world; and 2. Why the hell shouldn't I lie right back to these idiots?
After all, lying is one of the first things we do as conscious human beings. Toddlers lie soon after they learn to speak, and I know I lied constantly as a little kid, just because I liked hearing the words "I am a secret princess" come out of my mouth. I mean, a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that 60 percent of people lie every 10 minutes — but most of the people in the study didn't even consciously catch themselves lying. They only realized it after they watched a video of their 10-minute conversations.
I wondered if I could break the habit.
The Experiment: I prepared for four lie-free days. That meant: no obvious lies (obviously), no white lies, no excuses to get out of work, no fake flattery, and no trying to cover up important facts (like my dislike for another person, or my brutal hangover). Sounds like someone who's super fun to be around, right?
Oh, and as if that wasn't challenging enough, I decided to give it a go while I was home over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Here's what happened.
I had guessed that not lying to my dad — about my life, my finances, or my opinions of his political opinions —would be the toughest part of this experiment, especially over Thanksgiving dinner, a time-honored day for families across the nation to gather together and yell at each other. Traditionally, on a big family holiday like Thanksgiving, I'd find myself lying to my dad about how much money I had in the bank or a recent depressive episode, just to keep him from worrying. Alternatively, I'd end up lying about my degree of knowledge about various political issues, in order to avoid having him try to bait me into yet another argument about global warming.
But this year was lucky for all of us — I had a decent amount of money in the bank and had been feeling pretty good, and my dad was just interested in talking about marathons and family vacation memories, not how my career choices disappointed him. Sharply on edge, I didn't lie once the entire evening. I mean, without intrusive parental questions about your life, what is there to lie about on Thanksgiving? Turkey? My dad already knows I hate turkey. I walked out of dinner feeling extremely self-righteous — look at me! I am a great person who never has to lie!
Findings: Of course, the lesson was not that I am a great person (it never is, right?). The lesson was that pathological lying is inherent in the person — but regular, everyday lying? That's all about the situation. And making it through this dinner without having to lie was just a matter of luck — as I was about to find out.
The bar is the scene of many of our culture's greatest lies, from "I really like you" to "I am just going to hang out here for an hour and then go do some work." But when I entered the bar the night after Thanksgiving, still high on my own self-righteousness from the night before, I assumed I was strolling into another lie-free cake walk. After all, I was seeing a good friend, and why would I lie to her? I just wanted to discuss Marky Mark's 1992 autobiography with a trusted confidante. But the dudes at the bar had other ideas.
My pal and I were immediately accosted by the two aforementioned dudes, who were engaging in the time-honored "outrageous lying" method of flirting. This is actually a pick-up method recommended by "pick-up artist"/ enormous-hat enthusiast Mystery, who supposedly said, "It's not lying, it's flirting." Our lying bar bros, who never told us their actual names, spent as much of the night snickering to themselves about the cleverness of their own lies as they did trying to snow my friend into coming back to their house (which, they promised, had beer pong).
I, on the other hand, had been honest when these guys approached us —straight-up telling them my age, my job, and my neighborhood. But here they were, lying in a way that they thought was adorable, but which I found pretty damn disrespectful. I wondered if it steamed me up more than usual because I hadn't lied, and they were reciprocating with a steaming bag o' bullshit. I got worked up. How was lying to a person you wanted to bang cute? How was it supposed to create sexual tension, or whatever the hell they were trying to do? I felt embarrassed for them and for me as they giggled while they lied to us.
Findings: I realized that while everyday lying is often tied to laziness, bar lying is about expending a great deal of effort trying to obscure your true nature. While a bar lie is not quite the kindness-based offense of the family lie or the friend lie, it is also full of effort: It's about trying to scrape together something more appealing than your actual self. And I was not about to expend any effort on these yahoos.
So when one of the guys leaned over and asked me what my friend and I were talking about before they came over, I decided to expend the least energy, and go with the truth.
"We were talking about the way Marky Mark dedicated his 1992 autobiography to his dick."
"Huh," he said.
"Huh, indeed," I said.
I had a lunch planned the next day with Claire, an old friend, which began with a lie of omission: I did not reveal to her that I was catastrophically hungover. But otherwise, the light, catching-up lunch seemed to easily roll on lie-free. I was honest about why I was late (I had misread a train schedule like an idiot), and though it put a serious snag in Claire's day, she didn't seem that perturbed about it. I may have been tempted to lie to a coworker or an acquaintance about why I was late, but I couldn't see what I could gain from lying to an old friend.
In fact, as we ate our quesadillas and talked about Stalked, I wondered what I could even lie to Claire about. Friend lies tend to pop up when friends ask for your support on an idea that you don't really support — they're lies that are misplaced displays of affection, or attempts to not hurt those close to us. And since Claire wasn't going to ask me if I thought she should move to New Zealand or start her own home shoe-repair business over the course of our lunch, I couldn't imagine why I'd lie.
Findings: Our relationships with our friends may easily be our most truthful. Or at least, one would hope.
Like anyone with a job, I lie to my bosses with some frequency (sorry, bosses). But they're mostly "dog ate my homework" deadline extension lies — the kind of lies that everyone knows are a lie, but go along with anyway. So without access to those kind of lies over the weekend, what did I do? I just hit my deadlines. It was like when you make plans and then your cell phone dies — without the option to draw things out, you just have to go with the original plan. It was, honestly, a little bit less stressful than lying to move a deadline. Why was I always lying to move deadlines? Just doing shit and not procrastinating felt great! I was proud of myself, as if I had gone jogging or something.
Findings: I don't think that we can live without work lies — the relationship between employer and employee is too fraught to just let everything hang out. But it is pretty easy to get too dependent on them, and worth checking how often you're using them not because you desperately need them, but just because you're feeling lazy.
Our significant others expect us to be completely honest with them — which is how we end up having to lie to them constantly. Though I was able to move out of the pattern of hurtful, pathological boyfriend lying (i.e. saying I had to work late when I just wanted to go out drinking), as I started having more stable, serious relationships, I found that there was a whole new universe of relationship lying to get used to — lying to your partner about not being bothered by habits you hate, or their beloved items of clothing that looks like garbage, or some other choice that you'd never make. And thus, sometimes, we end up supporting a partner's artisanal ukulele-crafting business, or evening class in underwater basket weaving, just because it seems cruel not to.
Honesty is supposedly the foundation of any good relationship; but could taking this out of the picture possibly help, not hurt, things?
My own boyfriend was away for almost the entire weekend, but that didn't mean I wasn't anxious as hell about the idea of not being able to lie to him. What if the haircut he got while he was away was terrible? What if he came home and told me he'd decided to start a home shoe-repair business? But luckily, when he came home, he had no harebrained business ideas, and his haircut was cute.
Findings: I was happy that I didn't feel like I had to lie to my boyfriend — lying to him, even when it feels necessary, also always feels horrible. But I didn't not lie to him, or Claire, or my dad because I was ethical. I just got very, very lucky. And if anything had come up over the weekend that really needed to be lied about — a problem that would have torn my family apart, or hurt my friend or boyfriend — you better believe that I would have lied till my pants were on fire, experiment be damned.
People lie to get out of problems —whether that problem is that you overslept, or that you think you will not be genuinely sexually appealing to women if you tell them the truth. And I, by sheer luck, ran into very few problems this past weekend. But if I had, should I really have felt ashamed about trying to get out of them with a minimum of pain to the people I cared about or damage to my professional relationships?
After this experiment, I do think that deciding that all lying is bad sets us up for failure. Just like those beer ads that urge you to drink responsibly, I think we should all try to lie responsibly, with as little collateral damage as possible, mostly in a way that defrays the pain of others rather than protects our own interests — although we need to make some exceptions for that, too. Lying is just a part of life — and the sooner we stop lying to ourselves about lying, the sooner we'll be able to look at lying rationally, and work on trying to lie when it helps, rather than hurts or disrespects, others.
That said, to any aspiring pick-up artists reading this: It's definitely lying, not flirting. Definitely.
Images: ABC Family; Giphy (10)