On today's Nerve, there's an interesting story - about a couple bonded together by their compulsive lying.
Writes Snowden Wright (who appears to have a Facebook page, so it's either not a pseudonym or it's a consistent one)
The act of lying has been one of the few constants of my love life. More so than clumsy first kisses. More so than awkward first dates. Telling elaborate lies is something I've done more often than getting my heart broken. Throughout college and into early adulthood, my go-to name when hitting on women in bars was "Gardner Barnes," a character played by Kevin Costner in Fandango whom I'd idolized as a teenager. During my twenties and up until recently, my standard persona with girlfriends made me out to be a talented artist undaunted by my prospects, though I secretly agonized I'd never succeed as a writer. I have acted like a handsome man while believing I am ugly, and I have acted like a kind person while believing I am cruel. Honestly, I have considered myself a complete fraud.
And his girlfriend, far from being a victim, is complicit.
For years Jocelyn had been my partner in deceit. Despite the on-again, off-again nature of our relationship, she and I, whenever we veered to the more-than-friends side of the spectrum, always turned our courtship into the stuff of legend. "Romance" can mean "flight of fancy" as well as "love affair." One time we ordered up champagne to the honeymoon suite at The Stanhope Hotel. Another time we accepted toasts for our anniversary at the Grand Central Oyster Bar. During all those occasions and after all those falsehoods, however, the only real lie was the one I told myself. What I'd said about Jocelyn wasn't a charade. I was in love with her.
Although the author makes clear that the need for escapism arises from his self-dissatisfaction, it's not clear whether the pair more enjoys the fantasy or the power of manipulation. After all, as grifting goes, this is hardly high-stakes: they're accepting, mostly, free drinks and unearned congratulations. It seems to be much more about forging some kind of a tenuous connection with other people by giving them what they want than much else. The author certainly doesn't shy away from this reality: he makes it clear that the fantasy nature of their relationship makes it impossible for him to relate to Jocelyn in a real way and admit his feelings. Because the habit of lying — or anyway the safety of it — is too hard to break.
The piece doesn't address it, but it got me thinking about two things: first, a conversation I had recently with a male friend who admitted to lying on his online dating profile. "It makes it easier," he said sheepishly, "and I can always come clean later." But there, of course, is the rub. Lying is isolating — and as this article makes clear, even when you're in it with someone else. I was also reminded of Dan Chaon's recent bestseller, Await Your Reply, which is all about questions of identity and truth and whether relationships can exist when based on falsehoods. At one point, there is this meditation:
At a certain point, you must be able to slip loose. At a certain point, you found that you had been set free. You could be anyone, he thought. You could be anyone.
It's not giving too much away to say that the result is alienation. The book contains a female character too, but the attitude towards falsehood seems very masculine, and in this way dovetails interestingly with today's Nerve article. And that article ends in an interesting way: "Eventually someone will come along whose actuality exceeds the fiction I have created of my life." The lack of agency is pretty telling.
[Image via Shutterstock]