If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. If you tell a lie, in my case you have to spend a lot of extra money dying your hair, learning how to ski and hiding your antidepressants. I never intend to lie, but when I look back at all the fibs I’ve told in relationships past, it’s clear I have a distaste for the truth.
That said, I pride myself on being an honest and upfront person, though my track record paints a different reality. I’ve lied a lot — on dates, online, to partners. And as it turns out, a lot of us do. I talked to tons of people who admitted they’ve been less than honest with partners, despite also considering themselves honest people. So why do we lie when what we want can only come from honesty?
“From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, you might lie in order to relay to your potential partner ‘I’ve got good genes. Choose me.’” It’s that primal, Andrea Reynolds, LCMHC, LADC says. The lies all boil down to a desire to not only be accepted, but also validated. We want people to believe that we look good and that we’re cut from the best cloth.
“We are so worried about acceptance and so scared of rejection, getting past the first step becomes the goal — we focus more on getting a second date than having a successful relationship. This mentality allows us to rationalize a lie,” Jeffrey Rubin, Ph.D. adds. Essentially, our consciousness is narrowed down to approval. When we’re not confident with who we are, dating becomes less about the other person and more about ourselves. And underneath it all, we’re not even addressing our own ambivalence regarding the other person because we are so stuck on first getting that stamp of approval.
So what exactly do we stretch the truth on? I’ve waded through three of the biggest thematic lies people tell to get to the bottom of what each fib really says about the fibber.
Bothersome as it is to validate a sexist stereotype, a number of women admit lying about their appearance. This includes hiding their use of shapewear, coming up with fake medical issues to explain natural weight gain, and pretending to be younger. As someone who claimed to be a natural blond for nearly two years, I get it.
Most people who are not of recent Nordic descent are not naturally blond. And while hair dye has become as common as an oil change, there’s still a stigma about it. It’s a beauty service, not standard maintenance. Typically, I have no shame around my haircare routine. But when I met S, an organic Dr. Bronner type who had dated a string of bohemian pixies with golden armpit hair and wool clogs, I knew there would be certain parts of my self-care that would be a bit of a culture shock for him. So when he put me on the spot and asked early on if my hair was naturally “that color,” I said “yes.” “Someone who says their natural hair color is blond might want to appear authentic, low maintenance, or unique, Reynolds says. “It sounds like by lying about your hair you were trying to present as the image he was looking for.”
This fib spiralled into others. Was I wearing mascara or were my lashes naturally that long and black? Me? Wear makeup? Never! I paid extra money to have my roots touched up more frequently. I wore hats when they started to show. I’d scoff with him at other woman who wore a lot of makeup and agree that they should embrace their natural beauty. I didn’t realize until after we broke up that there wasn’t a difference in our superficial opinion, but rather a difference in our values. So why did I think that lying about my hair could make us a better match. “A greater interest in au naturale beauty can put women in a confusing double bind: be authentic and without makeup and be glamorous at the same time,” says Rubin. “Some women have internalized these conflicting cultural messages, causing them to lie or mislead in order not to be rejected.”
Of the many woman I spoke with who admitted to lying to their partners, one never told her partner that she was from the Middle East, another lied about her address, and another pretended her parents met at Yale when they didn’t go to college at all. For my part, I hid my background when I lied about knowing how to ski.
I don’t come from a family who skis or vacations in the Alps. Growing up, we used garbage lids to slide down a bunny hill in the yard. It wasn’t until I had my first pedigreed boyfriend that I realized the fundamental differences between a family that skis and and family that does not. Everyone in M’s world skied. They had their own skis and jackets adorned with a fan of passes on the zippers. They had mountain passes and racks on their cars and sweaters with lodges’ crests embroidered on them. They had pictures of themselves as toddlers on the slopes — it was in their blood.
And while the idea of skiing always appealed to me, I’m scared of going too fast and of falling. I don’t love the cold. My coordination is unimpressive. So it was just never in the cards for me socially, economically, or literally. But when M, who always felt far too ritzy and out of my league to really be mine, asked if I skied, I said I had snowboarded but would like to learn to ski with him. I did stand on snowboard once at a friend’s house, so it wasn’t a complete lie.
“Someone who says they ski might want to appear adventurous, easygoing, or fearless,” says Reynolds. “[It] also insinuates that you’re from a class of people that can afford an expensive hobby like this.”
Clearly I had a feeling that our backgrounds weren’t compatible, so why did I think pretending I could conquer the slopes would fool him? I was really fooling myself.
The women I spoke with who weren’t ready to be open about their mental health confessed to hiding medications, concealing self-harm scars, and lying about a family member with a mental illness. I, for one, told my partner I wasn’t on antidepressants.
Technically, I’m not. I was prescribed an antidepressant five years ago for anxiety, a roundabout prescription that was meant to add some dopamine into my system to help me feel good enough to fight my anxiety. But the truth is that I was also depressed. Until then, I’d always been upfront about my battle with mental health. I made light of it online with moody captions and relatable meme-like musings about the wrath of anxiety. In many ways, it’s a part of my persona.
But when I met A, a happy-go-lucky beach boy free of obvious neurosis, I became self-conscious of my mental health and identity. In some ways, I thought it was a good thing that he made me embarrassed to promote my gloomy disposition for all of the internet to see. I might have a tendency to romanticize the struggle, and that’s irresponsible. But that wasn’t where the judgement ended. Often, A would share with me his negative opinion on psychiatric drugs. We’d argue about it frequently, but he never knew where I was coming from because I never told him I was taking them myself.
“Individuals might lie about their mental health for fear that a diagnosis might scare a potential partner away,” Reynolds says. On our first trip together, A saw the pills in my bag and asked about them. I launched into a defensive story about how they weren’t for depression, that they just helped my anxiety. I carried this lie through the end of our relationship, refusing to reveal myself fully, giving only a little bit, but withholding the the most important part of the truth. To me, anxiety was more acceptable than depression, but how could he have ever gotten to know me if I never showed him my full self?
“It is natural to want to be accepted and to feel guilt or shame about weaknesses or struggles, but if you can’t be honest with your partner about your mental health, you can’t know if you’re a good match,” says Rubin.
While we all have unique reasons for saying the things we say, one thing is overwhelmingly clear: Many of us lie because we’re uncomfortable with our truth. Years out of my relationship with S, I find myself asking my new partner to move our lunch plans back to leave ample time for my hair appointment. The distance, the growth, and the corrected match have left me without shame. In many ways, embracing my truth has become second nature. It’s not because I’ve mastered self-love, though I have made strides, but rather, I’ve come to realize that you get what you give in relationships. Watering a relationship with lies won’t promote growth, no matter what.