Let’s talk about how lying hurts us

I had an experience recently with a woman who said something to me specifically because she wanted me to to contradict what she said [1]. The trouble was I didn’t disagree with what she said. Now she has interpreted my failure to contradict her as evidence that I hold an assortment of negative opinions about her. As you might imagine I find this incredibly frustrating.

My earliest memories of encountering this sort of behavior was in 4th grade when just about everyone started having a crush on somebody. The thing that baffled me then was the fact that every last one of my peers pined for their crush in secret, but either studiously ignored or were actively mean to that person in public.

It goes like this: Say, I have a crush on Ichigo, and more than anything else I want him to like me back. BUT! if Ichigo knows that I have a crush on him then he might start liking me just because of that. Then I’ll never know if his love is pure, because it only counts if he started liking me all by himself. So I can’t do anything that might let Ichigo know how I feel, lest I inadvertently destroy the pureness of our potential love.

As a kid this totally baffled me. Because in my head I imagined what would happen if two people liked each other but used this same sort of reasoning, and so, kept their feelings private. They would end up suffering, longing for each other in secret while wasting precious time that could have been spent together, being happy.

The reason this baffled me as a child was because I hadn’t internalized the key idea: “it only counts if he does it all by himself.” The idea that my input would taint the result didn’t mesh with my uber-practical mind. To me if the guy you like starts liking you, who cares what made him start. And hey! If I can get the guy I like to like me then why the heck not take advantage of that?

Now, as an adult I continue to find myself frustrated by things some of my peers are doing. Certainly they’ve moved beyond keeping school-yard crushes secret, but they’re still holding on to the idea that some things only count if they had nothing to do with making it happen. This thought pattern is most often demonstrated in situations where one spouse wants something (a valentines day gift, an anniversary party, etc), but refuses to tell the other spouse what they want.

Certainly when one part of a relationship isn’t engaged in maintaining that relationship it is perfectly reasonable to be upset with that sort of imbalance. For example if your husband forgot your birthday because he just can’t be bothered to pay attention to that sort of thing (even when he knows it’s important to you), then that is pretty terrible, and you are totally right to be upset about that sort of thing. But that isn’t what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the sort of thing where you deliberately mislead someone about how you feel, and about what you want specifically because you want them to see through your charade. The best words I can think of for that sort of behavior are manipulation and lying.

I can understand the appeal (puts on wistful, romantic voice), the tragic romance of suffering in silence, of not wanting to burden anyone, and yet having someone who is so close to you, so attuned to your needs that they see through your facade, they see past the brave face you’re wearing and see the real you underneath it all. It all sounds very exciting, but that is no way to treat people in real life.

It is also, in my opinion, distinctly anti woman and anti feminist. I can’t think of a better example of the way that power in women is discouraged than by this idea that it is somehow wrong for a woman to do something that directly leads to her getting what she wants or needs from a relationship.

In relationships between men and women this sort of behavior creates a dynamic where nothing a woman says about her own wants or desires can be trusted to be accurate. If I can’t be trusted when I say that I don’t want a valentines gift, then can I be trusted when I say that I don’t feel having sex tonight? Even if doesn’t end in spousal rape, it still fosters a belief that everything a woman says is up for debate. If I want the men in my life to respect and listen to what I have to say, then I have to be honest with them even when it isn’t very exciting or romantic.

It is because of those reasons that I feel the need to discourage this sort of manipulative behavior whenever I see it. Doing so diplomatically is easier said than done. Because of that I try to lead by example whenever possible. So while it may not be very romantic to know that my husband is going to get me a crockpot for Christmas because that is exactly what I asked for, it is healthy for me to know that my husband loves and respects me, and believes me when I tell him how I feel and what I want or need. I also feel that one of the important ways that I show love for him, is by making it easier, not harder, for him to make me happy.

1. She said that she was ‘giving up’ on getting married. I felt that this was a healthy step because her focus on marriage has not led her to make the best decisions for herself. She has been reporting to other people that I think that she is unmarriable, and that no one will ever love her.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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30 Responses

  1. MJK says:

    I actively avoid but jobs like this and fortunately most people seem to sense that I won’t play their reindeer games. I detest this sort of behavior.

    Anyone else who was at BYU remember the entry in Final Cut around 2001 where a husband and wife were fighting? she had tearfully confessed to an affair, and the end the husband stalks out and we are left with the impression that he may not forgive her. She immediately picks up the phone and calls a friend or sister, and the sobbing words from her mouth are ” He believed me”

    My friends and I developed a rather intense hatred for that little piece of cinema.

    • MJK says:

      Hoho, foiled by auto correct which doen’t approve of my saying that I avoid nut jobs

    • MVS says:

      Hate the idea imbedded in that piece of cinema, but ugliness is part of reality, and the affect of portrayed reality is revealing to concsious viewers and can act as a potential cause of change, if properly portrayed. It’s kinda like the technique that South Park uses when mocking various institutions: they matter-of-factly state things in such a true way that you can plainly see ridiculousness of taking those things serious.

  2. John Roberts says:

    After about twenty years of marriage, my wife finally took seriously my insistence that all I wanted for Christmas was socks and a new pair of moccasins. From then on, she bought me a dozen socks every Christmas, and a new pair of slippers. Period.

    Saved a lot of money for a lot of years, and brought me true happiness.

  3. Diane says:

    I have a different take on this problem I have never made it a secret that I grew up in foster care. I am not embarrassed by this. It is what it is and its part of my truth. However, when I was younger, I was much more guarded and therefore thought to be closed off. Which really could not be further from the truth. Its just that people would ask me about my family and I would say something and knew immediately that they were uncomfortable. And then I wound up feeling guilty because they were uncomfortable.

    Now, I just don’t care, if someone is going to ask me a question about my family, they need to make sure they are willing to listen and not recoil. I don’t apologize to anyone any more and if they are uncomfortable with my answer, than its on them because they are the one who asked in the first place

  4. SilverRain says:

    I completely, 110% agree. This is how I am. What you see is what you get. I tell it how it is, I don’t leave my guy guessing.


    Guys don’t tend to like it. I have had multiple experiences when a guy says he likes how he doesn’t have to guess about me, but when things die my honesty and openness has been at the root of it. Every time.

    Most guys want the sweet, reticent kind of girl who leads them on a bit of a chase and keeps them guessing. At least, most single guys who are active members of the Church sure seem to. Oh, they won’t SAY that, and I don’t think they even realize it. But the “something” about me that just doesn’t jive with them always seems to trace back to my candidness.

    • stacer says:

      I get what you mean, SilverRain. I’ve been called—to my face—by an exboyfriend at BYU “too masculine” because I’m an honest, open, what-you-see-is-what-you-get person. But while I might never marry, at least to an LDS guy, I’d rather still be myself than married to someone who expects me NOT to be myself.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Most guys want the sweet, reticent kind of girl who leads them on a bit of a chase and keeps them guessing.
      I think this goes back to the power idea that I mentioned. A woman or girl who is coy, and says one thing but means another is also a woman or girl who is looks like she will be easily controlled.

      Having said that, what I am most condemning here isn’t just people who are coy or misleading, but rather people who get really upset and nasty about it when it doesn’t work out how they planned. I remember a commenter here once described a woman who told her husband she didn’t want a Valentines day (maybe it was mother’s day) gift, all while fully intending to get really angry at him if he didn’t get her a gift anyways. That just sounds abusive to me.

    • dankrist says:

      I’m totally sure thus is true of some guys. I mean, I know it is. My experience has been the opposite of yours, though. In that most men I’ve interacted with prefer to avoid the coy, manipulative behaviors.

  5. To me, this sort of lying is immature, at best. How do you expect people to understand you if you don’t say what you mean, or mean what you say? If you’d rather not talk about something, just say you’d rather not talk about it, or that you’d rather talk about it later (assumedly more privately).

    I understand shyness. I understand having a hard time articulating things and having words come out that are not what you intended. Those aren’t the same as deliberately lying in hopes they will persist or “see through” you.

    On a side note, I had the most difficult time not lying to my wife when setting up a surprise birthday party for her. I got lucky that she never asked the direct question about it (she asked if she should expect a party, so the answer was no), and she was in tears by the time people started showing up unexpectedly. Not going to try that again; I just don’t do well at sneaky.

  6. Miri says:

    I’ll be honest, I’ve been one of those people. I don’t know where it came from, but for a long time I had that belief, that it didn’t count unless it came totally from my husband’s mind (or whoever else it was at any given time).

    Part of the problem was that when he’d ask me what was wrong, I would say “nothing” when I really meant “I don’t know.” When I finally realized how dishonest that was of me, and how it damaged our ability to communicate, I decided that I would stop saying I was fine when I wasn’t; that, even if I didn’t know how to say what was wrong, I would at least not pretend that nothing was. It’s sad how hard this has been for me, but I’m still working on it.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I don’t think it’s sad at all. I’m someone who has recognized how non-sensical this sort of thing is since I was a kid, and I still fight some pretty heavy insecurity that so much of my relationship with my husband is inferior, or less pure somehow because I am up front about what I want and how I feel.
      This is how relationships are modeled by our peers, by movies, by ads, and by just about everything else you can imagine. We’re up to our eyeballs in it. It should be no surprise that it is hard to get past that.

  7. jks says:

    Luckily most of this post seems foreign to me. My parents are happily married and neither of them misleads the other. My mother told me to never expect husband’s to read minds so I guess I just thought only stupid wives/girlfriends did that. My marriage is on the up and up. I clearly tell my husband what is wrong, what I want, if it is my birthday and what I want to do to celebrate my birthday.
    As for crushes, I was shy. I thought that is why I didn’t speak to my crushes. However, I also see that liking a boy actually never made him like me back. I tried a few times. Maybe times will/have change/d but the choice really was to pick out of the boys who pursued me than to have any success pursuing a boy…although, perhaps I’d be better at pursuing now.
    As for the unmarriable, it was classic “I’m fat/I’m ugly” girl talk. Your job as a friend is to say “you aren’t fat.” I am not particularly good at that because it isn’t about truth and I am not into lying. Now that I’m not a teenage girl I don’t have conversations like those because my friends aren’t like that. However, if they make a mistake and say “I’m such a bad mom.” I know my job is to say “No, you aren’t” even if they forgot to buckle a car seat or whatever.
    If you aren’t really able to give your friend emotionally what she needs when she wants to talk about or be depressed about being single, perhaps steer her towards the conversation you are able to have or someone else who would be helpful. “I’ve given up on marrying” perhaps should have been read more like a distress signal that she thought her life wasn’t worthwhile and was sure she could never be happy than a well thought out Plan B that you can support.

  8. spunky says:

    This is brilliant! I used to play the guessing game with my husband. I would be disappointed in his gifts, his choice of resturant, etc. He fianlly verbalised that he was really, really trying his best… but he had no clue what I liked, because I only told him what I didn’t like- after he went to the effort of trying. Not cool on my part. He was always more up front: “I like this” and “I don’t like that.”

    So- that taught ME to be more in touch with ME. Really. I don’t have to go with whatever is on offer, just so I don’t hurt another’s feelings or because my feelings might not be true or right. I wonder if some of the secret crush stuff is just for a game– a mindless distraction so that you can focus on that one person– rather than really seeking out what you want, which might be just a desire to be loved, not necessarily in a romantic way, which I suspect might be the issue with the * woman.

    I think it boils down to us being honest with ourselves. And that is a hard, scary and conflicted thing- espeically since women are so often told that “righteous women like ABC, NOT XYZ.”

    • Diane says:

      Not, just about being honest, but, being forward and allowing ourselves to ask for things and then not feeling guilty for it afterwards because somehow we are bad for speaking up for ourselves

  9. LovelyLauren says:

    Interestingly, my husband does this a lot more often than I do. I am quite straightforward and I expect the same from him and then get frustrated when he wants me to just know or do things without any kind of prompting. He’s told me that he doesn’t (always) like it when I outright say that I want to have sex, he would prefer I “just start” and I’m suppose to know when he’s interested or not. He doesn’t do this all the time, but definitely more than I do.

    I once came into work and my face was puffy because I had been crying. My boss asked me if I had been crying. I looked at her and said, “Yes.” She acted really surprised and told me that she had expected me to say I had a cold or allergies or something. It seemed silly for me to pretend that nothing was wrong when it would have been dead obvious that I was lying.

    On a side note, I totally hate that pic from tumblr you posted. I’ve seen it or ones similar to it on facebook, tumblr, pinterest, etc. and it just reinforces the idea that we aren’t allowed to say what we actually feel. It seriously bugs me. Women, or anyone, should be allowed to be upset, to cry, to rage, to express themselves Sure, it would be nice (and often is nice) when my husband knows that I’m upset, but why make things difficult for myself when I can just tell him: I am irritated with school/work/church/you/responsibilities/whatever and I just want to be irritated for a while.

    • Starfoxy says:

      In my parent’s marriage it is my dad who is most likely to do this sort of thing as well.
      And I’m right there with you hating on the images like the one I posted. I see them on pinterest all the time too and they drive me batty.

    • DefyGravity says:

      My marriage is similar. While neither of us do it often, my husband seems to want his mind read. But since my dad has been saying for years that men aren’t mind readers, I guess it got beat into my brain.

  10. Whoa-man says:

    I LOVE this. I encounter this sort of passive-aggressive/evasive communication all the time and, sadly, in my life it usually comes from women. I think there are many many reasons why that is the case: from the good girl syndrome to women fearing assertiveness= bitch. However, I think you really nailed down WHY this type of communication is so damaging, and for me, that is the hardest part to communicate. Thank you!

    • EmilyCC says:

      I also found this applicable to some women in my life. I think I did it myself when I was growing up, but it was exhausting to be that woman and to second guess others as I, myself, hoped to be second-guessed. (Talk about wasted energy!)

      I am grateful for women who model more honest and direct ways of communicating with each other and members of the opposite sex.

  11. mellifera says:

    I took a family life class at BYU (from Lili Anderson de Hoyos, a real-life family therapist). It was actually pretty fabulous, in that among other things she spent a whole couple of days letting us know exactly how idiotic this kind of behavior is. She’s a big sassy lady– a good role model for saying what you mean and meaning what you say. ; )

    • stacer says:

      Come to think of it, perhaps the reason I feel so strongly about being straightforward in relationships is not only my what-you-see-is-what-you get attitude (which is how I’ve always been), but also all those conflict resolution classes I took as a marriage, family, and human development major. I can second the fact that it’s really hammered in that you can’t resolve any problems in a family without addressing them first. Which requires straightforward communication (with I-statements and so forth).

  12. John Roberts says:

    OK, possibly a more helpful comment.

    What is being discussed here is not necessarily untruthfulness, but a form of “Magical Thinking” or “Wishful Thinking”.

    The logic goes like this:

    “I am a bad person. I do not deserve to be happy. Therefore, I must not do anything which might bring me those things which might make me happy. Especially, I must not ask for love, attention, or happiness from others. Or chocolate. However, if the world just happens to randomly conspire to give me what I need to be happy, that is OK, because that proves that God or the Universe does not think I am such a bad person after all, even though I know that I really am a bad person.”

    This is why many people cannot ask for what they want, but are disappointed when they don’t get it.

    Even to the point of, for example, not letting your supervisor at work know that you are interested in a promotion, and then being disappointed when she gives the promotion to someone else. Because you really deserved it. But you didn’t get it because you are a bad person, and deep down, everybody knows it.

    I can see that individuals brought up in the “guilt gospel” could be particularly susceptible to this mind-set.

    [Note: the “guilt gospel” is not unique to “Mormonism”; in fact, I believe that it is anathema to the fundamental teachings of the Church, but gets spread anyway. Truth: Jesus Christ wants us to do those things that he knows will make us happiest.]

    I have a solution to this problem that has worked well in the past in raising children with less of this mindset: repeat to them over and over again those three little words: “Yes, you can.”

  13. honey says:

    I never got the memo about not saying exactly what I thought when ask any kind of a question. It took me many years of offending many women and having few female friends to find out I just don’t have the same social filters most girls seem to have. I always got along much better with boys (I was a tomboy) and men, they are generally more upfront. Now I just apologize first when answering, or ask if they really want to know the answer or are just making small talk.
    I recently read the symptoms of ADD and thought to myself ‘to bad I didn’t know this 40 yrs. ago!’
    I appreciate my husband ’cause he is very straight forward with me! WE get along great. Women except my daughters, sister and Mom, not so much!

  14. Fran says:

    Geeze, this is story of my life…I mean, me trying to be open and honest in my communications and then people finding me incredibly offensive, because I didn’t pick up on their non-verbal communications etc. (or took their words at face value). I cannot even recall how regularly I get in trouble because of it all.

    And yet, I’d say it was one of the main things that made my husband fall in love with me (after I told him that I liked him, and he ran off in fear…).

    And despite it all, sometimes I fall into the same traps (wishing my husband would have just noticed me and fallen in love with me “on his own” vs. feeling like I had to work on him to convince him I’m freakin’ awesome and worth loving…).

    Have you ever read “The Curse of the Good Girl” by Rachel Simmons. It addresses a lot of these weird communication behaviors. I really don’t get it either why people like to complicate their lives in this manner.

    Then again, occasionally I DO wish people could read my mind. It just takes so much time at times to have to explain everything, and it’d be nice if I could convey what needs to get done without having to rattle it all down. 🙂

  15. Miri says:

    I actually have had a lot of trouble with this in the last two or three years, as I’ve started being more straightforward about what I think and feel. (It might be unfortunate that this coincided with my becoming interested in politics, since that’s so touchy an issue anyway.) I try to just say what I think simply, without feeling like I need to apologize for and qualify my every thought–which is real progress for me–but to others it comes across as rude, and in the context of political discussions it’s caused a few problems. I’m not sure how to find a balance that allows me to feel okay about my level of honesty without others thinking I’m a jerk.

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