Within one unfortunate year, I was contacted twice by women who were, unknown to me, having a relationship with the man I thought was dating me exclusively. That’s right, me - a woman with an advanced degree who came out in several major newspapers admitting to sleeping with married men and asking them to get a bit more honest with their partners – was being lied to.
I can talk about this now with a 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?
I told myself I missed something and, had I been wiser, wouldn’t have been duped. It felt shameful to admit to my friends that my putative boyfriend turned out to have another girlfriend, especially when it happened a second time. Yet any remorse should sit squarely with the deceiver. If you’ve been lied to in a close relationship, you are not the chump. You are a normal person who believes what people tell you. Unfortunately, it can really discombobulate you for a while. 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.”
Though he never deceived me, the man with whom I’d weathered several decades and numerous therapy session taught me a lot about defensive counter attacks. So, when these lying men armored up by claiming I had my facts wrong, I kept my cool and deflected their attempts to avoid the focusing on themselves.
In retrospect, the quality these men shared was conflict avoidance. 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 keep everyone happy no matter the cost. But we were big people now, able to abide by our own moral code of conduct. So why were these delightful men deceivers?
When I tried to get at the answer, one of them told me to fuck off and never contact him again. The other agreed to sit down over coffee and give me his perspective. His initial excuse, 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 own interpretation of events. Naturally, he agreed.
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.” By the time we met, he had reconciled with the other woman, so I had to give him credit for giving me his time. I want everyone to have the benefit of the doubt before condemning them, and this man was not evil, just clearly broken in so many ways.
“It seemed like the easiest thing to do, to avoid it becoming a bigger issue,” he said when I pressed him. He wanted to avoid discussing his double life until he decided whether he and I were worth throwing away his longer relationship. But this attitude assumed he had control of the situation when, in fact, there were multiple people involved, all operating with different expectations.
Here’s something from the data to consider: good looking, confident people may be bigger liars than most of us. In Psychology Today’s, 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 handsome man had lots of past lovers, including married women. At least he didn’t hide his more remote history. But he seemed open and comfortable talking about old flames, which alleviated any suspicions I might have had about his overall truthfulness. In the future, I might experience an intensely charming and good-looking man with a few more reservations.
How to deal with deceit is also contextual. Deception in the form of infidelity after years together is a sticky wicket to pick apart. Had I been with a man for nearly four years, I might have made an attempt to understand his motivations better, as his other girlfriend did. Building a shared history with someone is one of the greatest benefits of long-term loving, and I wouldn’t throw that away if my partner demonstrated a serious effort at getting to the root of bad behavior and seeking forgiveness. But I have no tolerance for being lied to from the get-go. What kind of foundation is set with that precedent? If we 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.
Being duped is the risk we take for trusting, and I generally enjoy trusting people. How sad would it be to avoid being vulnerable with someone we care about because of the possibility we might be deceived again? I can’t possibly live a satisfying love life steeped in suspicion. I’ll get out there again and love and trust and enthusiastically cherish someone, understanding there are no guarantees. Honesty in love might, at times, feel scary. It becomes less so through practice. One of my favorite quotes is from the Indian philosopher and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti : “Love is never security; love is a state in which there is no desire to be secure; it is a state of vulnerability.” We are all vulnerable to deceit. How we deal with it becomes the measure of our character and the foundation for our success (or failure) as good lovers.