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To tell the truth, this is why I hate lying

June 27, 2016

If I’m intolerant of anything, it’s bullshit, and I came by my bias the hard way. My mother, the person I’d once trusted most in my life, lied to me for 26 years about who my father was.

See, I was the result of a drunken one-night stand mom had with a casual acquaintance home on leave from the Merchant Marine. Ashamed, she didn’t tell him that their shtupping had gotten her pregnant. Instead, she conceived a lie, blaming her predicament on an unscrupulous young man—the scion of a wealthy family on Long Island where she worked as an au pair—who claimed he wanted to marry her but reneged when he knocked her up. This story made her the hapless victim in an era when nice girls didn’t get laid before marriage, much less get pregnant.

So I grew up believing my snooty but nameless father had rejected mom and me. On the plus side, this belief fueled an I’ll-show-him attitude that motivated me to be the perfect kid, earn straight As and never get into trouble. I fantasized that someday I’d confront him, he’d be blown away by all my accomplishments and lament how he’d missed out on being part of my life. Take that, you dick. And BTW, where’s my inheritance?

On the flip side, I was tremendously insecure, especially with members of the opposite sex. If a boy wanted me, it validated my worth—regardless of whether I wanted him. This fallacy made for some, um, questionable choices in intimate partners early on.

As I got older, I began pressing mom for my father’s identity. I couldn’t understand why she was protecting him when he was the cad who’d abandoned us. Finally, after a few beers one hot summer night, she blurted out the truth.

This kind of betrayal shakes you to the core. For so long, it had been mom and me against the world, a private club of two who shared the sting of rejection from the same class-conscious snob. But it was all a lie, and I’d spent my entire life trying to prove my worth to someone who was fiction. And the man who was my real father didn’t even know I existed.

But this story has a happy ending. After some good therapy and support from great friends, I eventually felt confident enough to risk real rejection and reach out to my birth father. He remembered the night I was conceived and never doubted that I was his daughter (when we finally met, the resemblance was unmistakable). We were part of each other’s lives for 22 years, and I held his hand when he died (well, that last part wasn’t happy, but I felt privileged to be the one with him at the end).

I also was eventually able to let go of my anger toward my mother and forgive her lie. It wasn’t easy. But I came to accept that she did the best she could.

And I learned a lot. About how lies can alter who we are. How trust is the most important underpinning of a relationship. How the devil you know really is better than the one you don’t (or only imagine) because what-ifs can make you crazy (for example, not knowing my father’s identity, I used to worry, “What if I accidentally sleep with a sibling?”). Gawd.

In the summer 2016 issue of Vanity Fair, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma is asked, “On what occasion do you lie?” He replies, “When I cannot bear the truth.”

I can’t imagine a truth so horrible that I wouldn’t want to know it. A terminal diagnosis. A cheating partner. Whether these pants make my ass look fat. Or flat.

Because without the facts, how can you make the right choices?

I also don’t think there’s such a thing as “brutal” honesty when it’s delivered with love and compassion. Lies may make for good drama—it’s hard to think of a story line in a soap opera or even most literature that isn’t based on a lie (think of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or Ian McEwan’s Atonement). But in real life, they suck, especially when you’re on the receiving end. Respect me enough to tell me the truth.

And then there’s karma to deal with when you’re the liar. Case in point: After we’d been seeing each other for seven years, my first love hooked up with a married woman and didn’t tell me what was going on until after they moved in together.

It broke my heart. But it also taught me to trust my instincts (I knew in my gut that something had been going on, but didn’t have the guts to confront him). And decades later, I learned that his wife (not the married woman he’d shacked up with) had left him for another man. Payback’s a bitch, huh? And it inspires this haiku:

Don’t you wish liars’
pants really burst into flames?
Poetic justice.

So, fellow boomers, what do you think? What have you learned about truth-telling at this point in your life? Do you always tell the truth, no matter what? Do you think there are degrees of fabrication (as in “little white lies” or fibs) that are okay? Has a lie you’ve told come back to bite you? Please share.





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  • 48 thoughts on “To tell the truth, this is why I hate lying

    1. I think the moral of this story is: your mom should lay off the booze. lol. But seriously, it’s great that you have forgiven her and have gotten to know your father, too. Regrets are a waste of time.

      1. Roxanne says:

        There does come a time when you have to just let the crap go, and that’s what forgiving mom was all about. Since both she and my father are now gone, I really do have no regrets. Things really do have a way of working out the way they’re supposed to. Thanks for your comment!

    2. Haralee says:

      Wow the lie you lived with is the biggest lie I ever heard in real life. I love the haiku. I hate lies and liars and they deserve to have their pants on fire.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Yeah, it was a whopper, for sure. And it certainly colored my perceptions of the world and some of the people in it. But I learned that where there’s smoke, a liar’s pants are likely on fire–in other words, my B.S. meter got much more finely tuned! Thank you for commenting, Haralee!

    3. Jim says:

      You are one wicked awesome writer!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Why, thank you, Jim! You made my Monday morning!

    4. Goodness, that must have been hard to deal with at the time!

      The truth is always best in my opinion. When my sons’ father committed suicide when they were aged 16 and 18, the family insisted that I tell them he died in an accident. After a couple of days, the burden was too much and I just felt they should know the truth and thank God I was honest. It was awful for them at the time but it was the right thing to do.

      Since then, the internet has boomed and they are in touch with relatives that know the truth – imagine the trouble for me and the trauma for them if I had lied.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Someone once told me that the right thing to do is often the hardest–you certainly walked that walk, Gilly. And you absolutely did the right thing. Thanks for sharing this story.

    5. Carla says:

      I joke frequently about the fact I have no filter but I’m unflaggingly honest. I say it gently. My intent is never ever to harm. But I’m always honest I just don’t do the white lie thing…

      1. Roxanne says:

        Brava, Carla! I respect that–and now you know why.

    6. I must have been born cynical, but I don’t think I know anyone who is completely honest all the time. Everyone just works within their own boundaries of lying—white lies, half-truths, and lies of omission. Men seem to be good at compartmentalizing, which I think is a form of lying based on the idea that what they’re hiding just isn’t relevant to the person they’re lying to.

      I don’t know your mom’s motivation–was she lying out of fear? Is lying inevitable for people, given the right circumstances?

      1. Roxanne says:

        Judith, you make some compelling observations. I suppose the truth is subjective, up to a point, based on a person’s experience, reality and moral code. As for mom’s motivation, it was to avoid judgment; she was concerned about what other people would think and never really let go of the shame she felt over having a child out of wedlock. Your question–is lying inevitable for people in the right circumstances?–I sure as hell hope not. This may be good topic for discussion over a glass or two of wine (in vino veritas, right?). 😉 Thanks so much for a most interesting comment!

    7. Lorna says:

      I think this should be redone as a magazine article. You could go totally all purpose adult or go to a magazine for parents. I like option #2 even if it means cutting the salty language.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thanks, Lorna–I appreciate your confidence in what I have to say on this topic. I’ll certainly give it some thought!

    8. I love this Roxanne. I cannot stand to be lied to and that is the one thing that will make me end a relationship faster than anything. Now, I do tell momma white lies to keep her calm its the only way to get her to do what she needs to. So I guess that makes me a hypocrite doesn’t it.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I hear you, Rena–dishonesty is a deal-breaker for me, too. I also completely understand why you’d tell your mother what you need to in order to keep her calm–I think this is one of those rare circumstances when a white lie is the better option. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

    9. Jon Brush says:

      Withholding a hurtful truth to spare someone’s feelings…that’s not lying, is it? There is such a thing as a lie of omission, but I’m referring to just keeping something to yourself when it would hurt someone unnecessarily to tell that person. I’ve never had much respect for someone who tells a friend about unkind comments made by someone else, especially if I’m the one who made the comments.
      I’m terrible at remembering NOT to let on that I know something when I’m not supposed to know. In that case, ignorance is bliss.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Withholding unkind things someone said, well, if that someone were my spouse, I’d certainly want to know if he was badmouthing me. I think it would hurt more to find out (and eventually, I think we always find out) not only that he’d been doing that but also that my friends knew and didn’t tell me. As I said in my blog, honesty isn’t “brutal” when it’s delivered with love and compassion. P.S. I’ll remember to not tell you about anyone’s surprise party, okay? 🙂

    10. Barbara says:

      I always knew who my father was because my mother had to tell me whenever she got the chance how much it was my fault he left us! When I finally met him it was obvious to me they deserved each other. Two narcissists will never live happily ever after together but, they sure can make others lives miserable! If only they could be forced to stay together til death….
      I love the haiku!! You are a nicer person than I, Roxanne.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I think you had a lot more to be angry about than I did, Barbara! And you’re proof that living well is the best revenge…

    11. Beth Havey says:

      Thanks for this honest, brave and helpful post. Lies always come back to bite. A lie slays the truth; we can’t live lies over a long period of time. They eat at us. Your forgiveness was brave and healing. Bravo for the truth.

      1. Roxanne says:

        You’re so right, Beth, about lies eating at us. I simply cannot comprehend how some people seem to spin tales so easily–and still sleep at night. Thank you for your comment.

    12. lori says:

      So glad you learned the truth and were able to put it all behind you. I do think it would be nice to see the pants on fire and I bet there would be a lot of fires around!

      1. Roxanne says:

        It would be pretty funny if pants really did catch on fire when someone lied, wouldn’t it? We’d all have to carry around personal fire extinguishers for self-preservation. Thanks for commenting, Lori.

    13. Sheena says:

      Loved your post! Great writing and an amazing story.
      I personally cannot lie! Goes against my grain. But I have heard people’s stories of lies they tell so easily that I am amazed. A little white lie so as not hurt someone’s feelings, that is inconsequential is ok but that’s it.
      Great post Roxanne.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you, Sheena. It really is interesting how some people, like you, simply cannot tell a lie. Yet others, well, lying seems to be part of their DNA. Go figure, huh?

    14. margaret says:

      My older cousin’s wife who lived near us and was a big part of our young lives, committed suicide when I was 13. My older brother was 15 and my younger brother, 11. My parents decided my younger brother was too young for the truth, but my older brother and I were old enough. A few years later my younger brother found out the truth and was furious and felt deserted by the rest of the family. Why had he been excluded? He and I think that was a mistake on our well-meaning parents’ part. He didn’t have the comfort and caring of the rest of us and even at 11 years old, he knew something was very wrong.
      Truth is tough sometimes.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Wow, Margie, that’s quite a story. And it underscores how damaging lies can be, even if they’re told for the best of intentions. Thanks for sharing this.

    15. Jennifer says:

      I learned as a teenager that my mother always figured out the truth and that lies received worse punishment than the truth. It followed me into adulthood. If I lie, I have an obvious “tell”— I immediately tell you that I’m lying or joking. I agonize over being found out.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I’d say your inability to lie is a real plus! My husband has the same “affliction,” which is a huge reason why I married him. Thanks for your comment!

    16. Lynne Spreen says:

      Wow, what a story! I’m glad you and your real dad had each other after all. You are an amazing woman.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Aw, Lynne, thanks. Back at ya. XO

    17. T.O. Weller says:

      Roxanne, your post has become a regular feature of our Monday evenings. When It comes up in my Facebook feed, I announce it to Kip, read the haiku, and then he stops what he’s doing while I read your post aloud.
      This one is exceptional, not only because of your story and how you convey it with such a gentle strength, but even more so for what it says about you and your heart. Thank you for sharing this with us.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Oh, Tracey, thank you so much for these words. It does my heart good to know people who appreciate writing are appreciating what I have to say and how I say it. This kind of affirmation is what we writers aspire to! XOXO

    18. Nancy Mulvihill says:

      Roxanne, you conveyed so well the emotions you felt, and I thank you for your incredible honesty. Bravo.
      I do agree it should be sent to another magazine or newspaper. It speaks so much to the human condition. Thank you.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Thank you, Nancy, for your kind and encouraging comment. It means a lot!

    19. Your birth story is fascinating—-I cannot begin to fathom how you must have felt learning the truth after all those years. And yes, I despise lying, too!

      1. Roxanne says:

        It was a process, coming to terms with it all. But life really does have a way of working out, and meeting my father when I was an adult was probably for the best. Thanks so much for commenting, Marcia!

    20. My face gives me away. I just can not lie. Well ok. I lie about my weight on forms, routinely. At the drivers license bureau the other day the clerk said “has anything changed about your appearance” and I thought that was so politic! I wanted to say, yeah, I dropped 30 of the lbs. I lied about NOT having on my last license. Love your birthfather story.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Being unable to lie about the important stuff is a good thing in my book (weight on forms is inconsequential–unless it’s health-related, IMO)! Hubs is the same way…his mouth does this funny thing whenever he tries to fudge the truth, like about what he had to eat when he goes out with the guys. It’s hard to believe that civil servants at the driver’s license bureau have become so tactful! I’d love to see their faces if you replied honestly…:-). Thanks for taking the time to comment, Carol.

    21. Tara Reed says:

      I’m all for the truth. I have a friend who’s “lie of omission” about her daughter having an egg donor even though she carried him in her womb is going to blow up in her face (in my opinion). It’s too easy to do DNA tests or what if she gets sick and has been giving doctors the wrong family medical history all her life? I get it and I don’t – in this day and age, I think saying “We wanted you so much we did all this” from an early age would be better.

      Glad you had a happy ending – hopefully my friend’s family will too!

      1. Roxanne says:

        Wow, I would agree that this lie of omission does NOT bode well for exactly the reasons you mention. Like you, I don’t get why they feel the need for secrecy in this day and age. Thanks for commenting, Tara.

    22. Wow, Roxanne, you really had some hard life lessons – and lies – that you worked through and came out the other side. Be proud that you did that because I doubt everyone could prevail as well as you did. You are a survivor, a realist, and a wonderful lady. PS In all relationships I insist on the truth. Truth and trust are more important than anything.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Aw, thanks, Cathy. I appreciate the affirmation. And couldn’t agree more that truth and trust are more important than anything.

    23. Nope, I’m team TRUTH and REAL TALK all the time. I’d rather be accused of being blunt than being dishonest.

      The one who lost out was your Dad, it is sad that it took your mom so long to be honest, but at least she finally revealed the truth.

      1. Roxanne says:

        I’m with you, Tracy! Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

    24. Rosey says:

      I’m glad you had the happy ending of getting to know your dad. My aunt just told me my uncle found out his dad wasn’t really his dad on his mom’s deathbed. That shattered his perfect world, I’m sure. He’s always been a man of complete black and white honesty. No gray at all. He forgave her though, and immediately went to meet his family. Like you, the resemblance was undeniable. They bonded, and now my uncle has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. It seems so unfair that they didn’t have so much time, and that his mom waited so long… she lived a lie all of those years too.

      1. Roxanne says:

        Such a sad ending, Rosey. And it just underscores the damage that lies can inflict. I’m so sorry for your uncle, but I am glad that he got to connect with his father–better late than never–and could forgive his mom. Thanks for sharing here.

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