"Why do people lie to people they love?"
The question popped out of my mouth unbidden while watching TV. I've been watching "Shameless" the last few weeks. The show is filled with titillating sex scenes and bathroom humor, but it is also dead-on in some depictions of humans in self-destructive undertows, and in very rare moments of grace. The characterizations are strong enough that we can't seem to look away, and so we keep watching episodes as these characters make bad decisions, lie to one another, hurt one another -- and then, suddenly, we are rewarded with a moment of grace that feels true and honest.
One night, curled into the corner of the sofa watching an episode where two characters lie to one another about important events, the question just fell from my lips, and fell into my lap. And then we were on to the next scene, which was undoubtedly some tangled mess of bare limbs in a badly lit room. It is, I think in retrospect, a silly question. Naive. People lie to lovers, or to their spouses, children, parents or best friends for a relatively short list of reasons, though we may be motivated by a variety of emotions. but I would posit that the most common thread among them, the most common motivation, is fear. And, in my experiences, those fears can be relatively simply categorized. The two big categories are fear of being judged once the truth is out, or fear of being called out for behavior we know is foolish, selfish, self-destructive or hurtful.
And then, one afternoon speaking with a young female friend, I listened while she detailed a fear that her lover was lying to her about his drinking. She was working out a plan to catch him, to prove to herself, or to him, that he was lying (or underestimating?) his drinking. For a moment, she reminded me of a character in "Shameless." And, after a moment, I thought how lovely it is to be my age.
Trust your gut - this is what we learn as we grow older. One of the most interesting realities of growing older-and-wiser-and-more-pummelled-by-gravity is the increasing sense of accuracy we have about sensing lies. When we are young, there is so much energy and focus on proving our intuitions right (or wrong). But there comes a moment, or a year, or a decade, when validating our intuition is no longer the question. We simply know, without question or "proof" when someone we love is lying, withholding, telling half-truths. We do not know, of course, the truth of whatever the matter is, but we no longer question whether our instinct is incorrect. Luckily, or happily, or blessedly, one of the other amazing gifts of wisdom that we earn with our wrinkles is the ability to choose how to react to that knowledge. Will you confront the person and demand an accounting? Will you chase down proof of what you sense? Will you wait it out to see whether this is a pattern? Will you walk away from this person you know is lying? Or, will you try to unravel why they feel it necessary to lie, whether something in your behavior toward them makes lying to you seem safer than telling the truth? Perhaps you'll just let the entire thing go, presume that the intentions are not, or were not, malicious and focus on something larger. Or play ostrich, if you're feeling tired and beat-up.
I've been told big, uncomfortable truths by my father, by friends, by coworkers, lovers and by my late husband. They are often difficult to hear, and always difficult to accept. Because of who I am, the people in my family and the people I surround myself with, those I invite into my life, the truths have often dealt with substance or alcohol use or abuse. I'm grateful for having heard all of them, because they freed me to understand my own choices and life in the light of reality, and not the pink glow of false hope, or the yellow-brown murk of half-known reality.
But, even writing that, I know how difficult those truths were to tell. Telling the truth can be risky, as can demanding the truth. It can end or damage a relationship, show our weaknesses and faults to someone that we love, make the person we are demanding tell us the whole truth feel cornered or pursued. And it is in recognizing these risks, knowing them, that we find our way. It is the gift of age and wisdom to understand that in many parts of our life "truth" has shades, that our right to know is balanced against each person's right to privacy. And, the big truth, that claiming too vigorously the right to privacy may well equate to limited intimacy. Sometimes those limits are healthy, but I tend to think that the healthy limits will not trip that ol' gut-meter, unless we mix a pile of self-doubt into the stew. And we wrestle because all of these, all of them, are the normal tensions in a friendship, a family, a couple.
Reading this, it seems I've made a pretty good case for keeping secrets, doesn't it? That's because secrets can truly be a way to maintain privacy--and that is not "wrong." Anyone from a big, nosy family or a small, nosy town knows this. But secrets, while they may protect your "privacy," will never free you. What I know about telling the truth when being silent might be easier or safer is that it is an expression of trust. What I know about trust is that it is the path to intimacy. And real intimacy, I'm here to tell you, beats any other possible way of being with the people that I love. I'm talking about real truths, about sharing the important scary places in who we are with just those few that we need to trust. Our weaknesses, our screw-ups, the times and ways that we are not our best selves. Intimacy is made or broken based on trusting those we allow to know these big, scary secrets. Which, in a frustrating twist of human connection, means that these will be the things that we most fear sharing. The things that we most fear are those that will reveal some dark morass in us that makes us unloveable, unworthy of connection. Airing them and not being judged is the essence of intimacy. And, as many of you reading this may now, sharing them brings the glorious gift of robbing them of their power to shame us.
Did you get that part? A secret that you keep from the people you love out of fear of being judged, out of fear that telling the truth will make others stop loving you, maintains power over you. That power has a name, and it's shame. Whether you think of that word or not, that's the one that fits, unless you have sociopathic tendencies. We long to trust, we long to connect and be honest, and a secret you're afraid to share carries shame. So that's why examining your little pile of "privacy" items to make sure they are not facts, behaviors or memories that you're simply too ashamed to share, is important work. Blechy, but important.
I wish my young friend well in her quest to prove the unproveable question of whether her lover's drinking is excessive, and whether he intentionally misleads himself and my friend when he speaks of it. I'm done with that sort of investigation.
And so it was that I was wandering alone in Kathryn Albertson park in Boise yesterday, in thin early-spring sunshine, being grateful for wisdom. While I walked I was remembering some of the big brave truths I've been told, thinking of some of the times that I've been brave enough to share my scariest truths, and how those moments nearly always built upon one another. It's a dance, isn't it? A more grown-up, complex and rewarding version of "you show me yours, I'll show you mine."
So thankful for the path I've walked, for the people I love and have loved. When I raise a dram of scotch (or a glass of decidedly NOT green beer) later today, I'll be toasting all of those people I've trusted and who gave me their trust. I'll be toasting many of you. I wish us all strength and courage on our journey.
Best to all who happen this way.