Recently, I came across an article written by the well-known human guinea pig, A.J. Jacobs, in which he adopts a lifestyle called “radical honesty”. Pioneered by 60-something Virginian Brad Blanton, radical honesty involves taking a personal oath of sorts to say everything you think, even if that means confessing to sexual fantasies starring your wife’s sister. Blanton, a trained psychotherapist, recognizes that people often lie to avoid offending others, but he recommends that you “hurt people’s feelings and stay with them past the hurt.” Otherwise, Blanton argues, we condone secret keeping, which, he believes, is the “primary source of modern human stress.” An intriguing hypothesis.
Truthfully, however, I was disappointed by Jacobs’ story because the author focuses on interactions with family members and colleagues privy to his research. Is it dishonest not to disclose your temporary association with a movement rooted in truth-telling to anyone you communicate with along the way? Perhaps. But it certainly takes a lot less moxie to say “your ass looks bad in those pants” to someone who’s aware of your newfound devotion to sincerity.
Convinced that I could do a better job than Jacobs (sorry, dude, but that’s the truth!), I decided to conduct my own experiment—without telling anyone about it.
My boyfriend and I are exiting the gym at 8am on day one of my personal study when obligation to the truth starts to get sticky.
“Let’s have sweaty sex as soon as we get back,” my boyfriend suggests.
The sex part sounds great (who doesn’t love a salty nipple?), but the part that entails soiling our newly laundered sheets isn’t appealing in the least. Normally, I would never admit to loving a clean comforter more than a damp romp. I believe in prioritizing sex in a relationship, which, in my opinion, sometimes means getting it on when you don’t want to. It’s also important to me that my boyfriend feels properly desired, and I’m relatively certain that my Theory of Sanitary Efficiency will do just the opposite.
I so badly want to suck it up and fuck my boyfriend without another word. Instead, as we head to our apartment, I brace myself to reveal exactly how I feel. Looking directly at his reflection in the elevator’s mirrored wall, I say, “I don’t actually want to have sweaty sex on our fresh bedding, which still has a hint of that Bounty sheet scent to it. But I’m going to anyway. Otherwise, I’d be a hypocrite for recommending that people have sex when they don’t want to.”
Totally unfazed, “There’s always the couch.”
I could fixate on why I missed this simple solution, but I’m too delighted that my anxiety over sharing a petty inclination proved unfounded.
Pushing further, “It would also be great if you could do something about your breath.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?”
To the tune of our electric toothbrush’s buzzing, I consider that my boyfriend might be way more resilient than I give him credit for. It’s also possible that I’m too much of a worrywart sometimes. If a life governed by pure honesty liberates us from the constant aggravation of our silliest concerns, it might just be worthwhile.
By the time my boyfriend is thrusting inside me, I’m in the truth groove.
“Can I come on your face?” he mutters.
“I don’t want you to come on my face. Actually, yes. It’s cool. Come on my face.”
In the heat of the moment, my hesitation sounds clunky and unsexy. When a gal changes her mind, where does the truth lie? Is it really more candid to narrate one’s entire train of thought than to announce the end result of one’s mental process?
Ultimately, ejaculating on my face proves logistically difficult due to our positioning, so my stomach earns the sperming honor.
“I think I just needed to see it splatter,” my boyfriend admits.
An especially frank comment. Does honesty breed honesty, I wonder.
Later, when a friend suggests meeting up for an early evening drink, my instinct is to sift through the textbook excuse list: I’m feeling a bit sick! I’m swamped with work! My great aunt Martha died! But in the name of radical honesty, I text: “I don’t feel especially social right now. I’m a little grumpy, so I probably wouldn’t be very good company anyway.”
My explanation is met with understanding. Additionally, I’m freed from the burden of having to recall a fib when we see each other next.
That evening, I’m honest about my appetite for Thai food over Chinese. I’m also adamant about my desire to watch Downton Abbey instead of my boyfriend’s top pick, Shark Tank. Twice, I “win.”
The thing is, I don’t feel good about it. Isn’t it kind to shelve your wishes so your partner can get their way without fielding a trace of guilt? Brutal honesty might not preclude compromise, exactly, but it does seem to taint the perpetual give-and-take that defines a healthy, functioning relationship.
Showered and dressed the next morning, my boyfriend asks the same question he asks every morning once showered and dressed: “What’s it like outside?”
In an ode to veracity, I blurt, “Neither of us has left the apartment yet, so I only know as much as you do. Why the fuck don’t you look it up yourself for once?”
My boyfriend’s somewhat shocked, dejected expression is all I need to swear off radical honestly forever. I don’t feel honest. I feel like a coldhearted, lazy, whining bitch. This simple, routine weather exchange was probably something my boyfriend relished subconsciously, and with one blunt, unwarranted comment, I ruined it forever. I’d much rather go back to restraining frustration and clicking a button or two to answer a loved one’s benign query, even if I don’t want to.
The main problem with radical honesty, like many an extremist policy, seems to be a complete lack of regard for exceptions. Isn’t life too complicated for absolutes?
Now more than ever, I believe in truth—but I’m also certain that there’s a time and a place for lying your ass off.