Unless you’re a cyborg, a space alien, or have been created in a lab using DNA from Mahatma Gandhi’s toenails, you’ve likely had vicious arguments with friends and lovers. And unless you’re even more stubborn than I am, you’ve probably made up with at least some of them afterwards. In such instances, it is statistically impossible that you’ve never either heard or said, “I didn’t mean what I said—I was only saying it because I knew it would hurt you.”
Bullshit. I think you meant exactly what you said. I believe you probably feel bad about saying it, but not for a moment do I believe that you didn’t mean it.
You may feel bad because you care about the other person and hate yourself for deliberately hurting them. Or maybe your remorse is more self-centered—you feel bad because you hate to realize you’re the type of rampaging jerkasaurus who would strike out with such flagrant malice when you feel cornered. Or maybe—probably the most likely reason—you want to avoid another drawn-out fight about the fact that you actually feel that way. Better to bury it under the crawlspace.
But I don’t buy the concept that people don’t mean the nasty things they say to one another while arguing. I think that in the heat of battle, they finally belch out whatever it is that they’ve been suppressing for a long time because they didn’t want to hurt the other person. They knew that if they mentioned it, whatever romance or friendship they had might be smashed beyond redemption.
I don’t care much for apologies. I think for the most part, people don’t apologize to make the other person feel better—they do it to receive forgiveness and ease their self-loathing for being such a cruel motherfucker that they’d intentionally inflict emotional pain. It’s sort of like a criminal saying they’re sorry—people suspect it’s not because of the damage they caused, but because they got caught.
Is it worse to lie in order to hurt someone, or to tell the truth in order to hurt them? I think it’s worse to lie, because you’re a liar on top of being a malicious prick. Lying is another transgression piled on top of the baseline malice. So either you were lying when you said it, or you were lying when you said you didn’t mean it. Either way, you’re a liar.
I can be merciless while arguing with someone, but I always mean it. And in a lot of cases, it’s not even primarily intended to hurt. I’m fully conscious that hurt feelings will be a side effect, but to me, the main intent is to tell the truth that I’ve been keeping suppressed for so long that I’ve bitten a fucking hole through my lip. I’ve only suppressed it not to hurt you, but that doesn’t automatically imply that my main purpose is to hurt when I finally blab it out of my mouth.
Since all humans are invariably self-justifying critters, I think my method is ethically better than someone who lies with the intent to hurt someone else. In a noncommittal, irony-drenched world where it’s getting increasingly difficult to discern whether anyone ever means what they say, I think it’s better to be sincere than to be a liar.
But maybe I’m projecting. Or at least that’s what you told me. Then again, maybe you didn’t mean that.