In 1979, singer Billy Joel dropped a single fittingly titled “Honesty.” In it, the artist laments the general lack of honesty in the world. In perhaps the most striking line of the song he concludes, “honesty is such a lonely word.”
Incubus (as in the sublime rock band and not the demon that impregnates young maidens) borrowed the line decades later in their song “Have You Ever,” reminding us “honesty is a lonely word.”
We lie to our doctors, telling them that of course we have been following the prescription exactly as directed.
We lie on our resumes, claiming we are fluent in Spanish when we barely got a C in Conversational Spanish.
We lie at work, assuring our boss everything’s “right on schedule” when, in fact, we have yet to start that project.
But the most hurtful lies are those we tell the ones closest to us. If we should be honest with anyone, it should be our loved ones.
Using lyrics from Billy Joel’s classic, let’s examine the reasoning behind the lies we tell those we love.
I can find a lover.
We try to find any excuse not to tell our partner how we really feel. We cheat and don’t tell them because we want them to believe everything’s all good. We reason telling the truth would be too devastating for them. So, we make ourselves believe we are sparing them the agony.
Or the timing just isn’t right. We have to wait for the right time to tell them. We can’t do it now, because they had a bad day and it would only make it worse. Well, today they are in a good mood and we don’t want to bring them down. Actually, maybe it’s better if they never found out…
In the novel the perks of being a wallflower, the protagonist, Charlie, dates Mary Elizabeth a loquacious lass with a love of reading. Think Hermoine Granger with a belly button piercing. Mary Elizabeth’s verbosity vexes him, yet he says nothing for the very reasons one listed above. In short, it ends in tears. She really had liked him.
I can find a friend.
Recently, a straight friend asked me the strangest question. He wanted to know if I found him attractive. I couldn’t help but laugh and change the subject as quickly as possible. “What?!…haha…you’re funny. Oh, look! It’s a bird…it’s a plane…” You can already guess what my unsaid answer was.
I didn’t find my friend attractive. You see, that friend is short and a bit overweight, something he’s terribly insecure about. I know this because he mentions it in almost every conversation we have.
I missed the perfect opportunity to be sincere with him and, perhaps, help him address that insecurity. Instead, I dodged telling him the truth in order to keep the peace.
I can have security until the bitter end.
My father’s worst fear for me when I was a kid was that I would turn out gay. Our focus on our worst fears almost summons them into reality.
I remember he spoke with me, his only son, once about the peril the family name was in. He warned I was The Last of Us, his way of telling me to get married and have children so I can continue the family name. It’s quite funny, actually. By having that conversation with me, he was, in effect, admitting that I was gay. (Think about it.) I’m going to change my last name to that of my partner when I get married.
My mother would lazily ask when she would get some “grandbabies.” I would shrug in response, waiving the opportunity to make it plain. I introduced a female friend at a family gathering in order to appease the gods, if only for a little while. I gave my grandmother a photo of me together with a lass I’d liked in middle school. The dusty, faded photo still stands on her shelf, beside various graduation photos of me and my cousins.
I was presenting the Dallas they needed, not the one they deserved. The real Dallas was rendered illusory. I thought it would be better if they didn’t know I was gay, so that our family could be as normal as possible. Instead, our relationship combusted, because, finally, I didn’t feel like we could relate.
I often wish some film producer would release a documentary on humans that examines them as animals. I’m sure he or she would compare our lying with camouflage.
Take the harmless Viceroy butterfly. As an advantageous evolution, to a predator’s eye he looks exactly like the poisonous Monarch butterfly. If he could talk he would swear up and down he was a Monarch. He needs you to believe he’s a Monarch butterfly to spare himself, and the predator, the pain.
Billy Joel and Incubus were right. Honesty is a lonely word. When we lie, whether by omission or mistruth, we lock ourselves in a prison of solitary confinement. The irony is that we hold the key in our hearts and are free to leave at any time. But, like caged birds, we’ve grown quite fond of our cells. We get great Wi-Fi reception in them.
By lying we create a secret identity for ourselves. Our lovers become enamored with a misperception we’ve fashioned. Our doppelgänger misleads our friends with half-truths and omissions. Our family boasts to associates about a phantom who never existed.
No one knows the true “us” because we don’t let them. It is a lonely place because we keep pretending to be someone we are not, to hold beliefs that we do not. All for the sake of sparing them, and ourselves, the pain. In the end, everyone becomes a casualty of dishonesty.
I urge you my partner, friend, colleague, associate, cousin, sister, tell me the truth. I want it, need it.
I can handle it.