Within the past year I’ve been contacted twice by women who were, unknown to me, having a relationship with the man I was dating. That’s right, me – the author of ‘Savvy Love’, a woman with an advanced degree, the one who came out in the New York Times and The Times of London admitting to sleeping with married men and telling them to get a bit more honest with their partners – was being lied to.
I can recount these situations now with sanguine indifference, but the first few moments of being confronted by these women felt as though someone had drained all the blood from my body and replaced it with nitrous oxide. Was I an idiot?
It’s easy to think I missed something and had I been smarter I wouldn’t have been duped. It felt shameful to admit to my friends that my putative boyfriend had another girlfriend. Especially when it happened a second time. But I wasn’t the one who lied. The problem sits squarely with the deceiver and if you’ve been lied to in a close relationship, you are NOT the chump. You are a normal person who chooses to believe what people tell you. Unfortunately, it can really discombobulate you for awhile. Abby Ellin in Psychology Today writes:
‘Being duped contaminates your entire sense of self. It throws you off-kilter, makes you question your perceptions. Like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, whose husband has her convinced she’s insane when all along he’s deliberately manipulating her, the duped lose faith in their ability to determine what is real and what isn’t.’
Fortunately, I’d weathered several decades with a spouse who was a marvelous gas-lighter, so when these men armored up by claiming I had my facts wrong, I recognized the classic defensive counter attack and called them on it.
In retrospect, the common thread between these men was that they were conflict avoidant. I don’t think they were sociopaths or malicious, though certainly they manipulated all involved in order to keep up the charade. Like myself, they had both come from childhoods that were chaotic and possibly neglectful. Perhaps that makes us motivated to make everyone happy no matter the cost. But we were big people now, able to abide by our own moral codes of conduct. So why were these delightful men deceivers?
When I tried to get at the answer, one of them ran. The other agreed to sit down with me over a coffee and give me his perspective. His initial excuse for the lies, after being outed by his other girlfriend, was to tell me repeatedly that I didn’t have all the facts and my interpretation of his behavior was woefully narrow. After I stopped my eyes from rolling, I conceded that all of us have only our own perspectives, and since I was going to write about this experience no matter what, he’d be better off giving me his interpretation of events. Naturally, he agreed.
I won’t bore you with his persistent inconsistencies. By the time we met, he had reconciled with the other woman. Interviewing a liar might be the most fruitless thing I’ve ever done, so I don’t quite know how accurate data regarding deception is, since my liar was as charmingly cagey about his lying as he had been about his previous ‘truths’.
“It just seemed like the easiest thing to do, to avoid it becoming a bigger issue.” he said when I pressed him. I believe he wanted to avoid a discussion with me because he hoped I’d never need to find out about his other girlfriend. But this attitude assumes we have control of the situation when, in fact, there are multiple people involved and we’re all moving parts.
At this point in life, I have zero tolerance for deception early on in a relationship. Had I been the one who had been with him for nearly four years, I might have made an exception. Building history with someone is one of the greatest benefits of long term loving, and I wouldn’t throw that away if there was serious effort at reconciliation. But if you start out a relationship dancing around half-truths and omissions, I bet you all the lemons in Sicily they will eventually bite you in the ass. Give up on your liar and run.
Here’s something from the data to consider: good looking, confident people may be bigger liars than the rest of us. In The Truth About Lying,
“Further research reveals that extroverted, sociable people are slightly more likely to lie, and that some personality and physical traits—notably self-confidence and physical attractiveness—have been linked to an individual’s skill at lying when under pressure.”
I knew this man I was dating had lots of lovers in his past, including married women. But he seemed open and comfortable talking about them, which alleviated any suspicions I might have had about his overall truthfulness. But in the future, I might experience an intensely charming and good looking man with a few more reservations.
Being duped is the risk we take for trusting. We can’t and shouldn’t avoid being vulnerable with someone we care about because of the possibility of it happening again. So my only advice to those who have been lied to is to go out there and love and trust and enthusiastically cherish someone again, understanding that there are no guarantees. With risk comes the greatest rewards. And if you’ve been the person who has lied, just please, cut it out. Honesty in love might, at times, feel more difficult. But it’s not, once you start practicing.
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