Father Tony

The White Lie

Filed By Father Tony | December 09, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living

Recently, my husband and I had an argument. He had taken a few days off from his exhausting work as the owner of a business and wanted to share in the decompressed and perpetual leisure of my beachy days.

pinocchio1.gifI knew enough not to fill our schedule with social commitments, but how to avoid them became an issue. I proposed the method.

"Your brother and sister-in-law will want to drive the four hours to Fort Lauderdale if they know you're here. And Dennis and Orson will want us to spend time with them by their pool. And there's Pieter and Rob. We can't not tell them you're here, so I think we should tell them that we've already booked day trips that will keep us from spending time with them."

He flatly refused this solution. "Have you got a better idea?" He didn't. His solution was to do nothing, to say nothing and to anticipate nothing.

I protested. "When they find out you were here, they are going to be very disappointed and they will take it personally. "

He shrugged. "Not my problem." Oy.

I then delivered a defense of the white lie. "It's a gift we make to those we value. It says I don't want to hurt your feelings. It's an aromatic social lubricant. It's a gracious thing. It is nothing like the real lies people tell for selfish reasons."

He wasn't buying it. He's the kind of man whose response to the eternal question "Do these jeans make me look fat?" is to walk to our closet and say, "Well what are your other choices?"

In the course of his vacation, Dennis and Orson called. They wondered "Isn't this the week when your hubby is in town?" I mouthed their question to him with a hand over the phone, and his answer was to go into the bathroom, leaving me to deal with it. I took a breath and announced the truth. "Yup. He's here, but he doesn't want to plan anything. He just wants to relax."

After the week was over, I got a text from them proposing we meet for coffee. It contained the following sarcastic note. "Of course we wouldn't want to force you to see us and we will certainly understand it if you have no interest in spending time with us...." Just as I had predicted, they were going to kill the messenger - and over a message that they were misinterpreting.

When I met them for coffee, we got into a fully tilted and spirited discussion about this. I begged them not to personalize it. I could not say that we had not socialized with anyone else because we had, (and in this town, word travels) but only on a spontaneous basis, with no advanced planning and at the tail end of his sojourn when he was more rested.

It didn't help that I had posted a photo of us on an excursion on the boat of Bilerico's Mark King and his partner Ben - a spur of the moment adventure, as I explained. We parted amicably but they remained convinced that they had been marginalized as friends and they also made it clear that I was complicit in this act. Oy.

On the phone to my husband, I brought home my case. "See? I'm paying the price. The white lie is a good and helpful thing. We are all imperfect as social creatures and friends and lovers. We actually want and need the little illusions that are created by the white lie. It's like adjusting the lighting in a room to make it more complimentary to our faces. No one wants the harsh light bulb." His response was to ask me to define when the white lie becomes the black lie. What is the point where the whiteness is stepped down to gray and the gray to grave?

I reiterated my opinion that we all know the difference. The bad lies are the ones told by presidents who make us think that they are our advocate when they really have no desire to work for repeal of things that oppress us, like DADT. The bad lies are the ones that cover things we regret doing. Things that gnaw at us forever.

I'll never change my husband. He is who he is. He won't eat fish or seafood. He won't wear jewelry. He doesn't like to shop or dance or watch TV. I could have married someone else. Someone who'd perfume the kitchen with the aroma of a perfectly grilled salmon that we'd share with forks held by hands bearing matching wedding rings. Someone who cared about the next episode of Glee. Someone so skilled at the white lie that you'd say thank you when receiving one from him. Obviously, I can laugh about the worthlessness of these little discontents, but would it kill him to just play along with my idea of social mechanisms once in a while?

I'll put it to you, wise Projectors. How do you feel about the merits of the white lie?

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I agree with your husband. A lie is a lie. I have been with friends when one received a phone call and the other made hand signals so he said "no she is not here". Guess what, when I call and he tells me that I don't believe him anymore. Why didn't he just say something like "she is talking with another friend and will have to call you back later"?

In my opinion you should have said "my husband came here to relax and told me we are not going to do the circuit because it defeats the purpose for his visit". If they can't grant the man a relaxed bit of time off then shame on them.

But Deena, that's my point. Our friends are imperfect - just as we are imperfect. They didn't believe it and they were hurt. That's why there is the white lie: to spare them some pain.

When our friends were upbraiding me for having been shunned, I almost got up and left the cafe in which we were seated. I had to remind myself that our friendships are not conditioned on perfection of behavior and response.

I have to admit, I am conflicted on this issue.

Well at that point in the cafe I would have flipped open my phone, pressed auto dial for your husband and handed them the phone. Sounds like you left yourself hanging out there all alone.

"What are your other choices???" I love that!!!

As far as white lies go, I've had to rethink that because of a story I read once. I think it might in the book "Year of Living Biblically", but I'm not certain. Anyway, it goes like this:

Say a friend calls and wants to hang out. You just want to stay home, but, not wanting to hurt their feelings, you tell them you're sick. But then that friend, sincerely concerned about your health, shows up at your place with some food and movies. They find that you're obviously well. Suddenly the small story you told to try and keep from hurting their feelings has actually hurt them more.

I used to be kind of into the little white lies at times. I'm trying not to do them so much anymore because I figured out that in the end, I'm the one who ends up stained from it. Part of working around that though is figuring out what it is inside me that makes me need to do that.

I agree with Deena, a lie is a lie is a lie. If you lie nothing good comes about, especially when you're in a relationship. You're not going to change your husband, but lies aren't helping the situation.

I found being straight and honest with my loved one is the best solution in any situation. :)

Bonnie Smith
COO/Director FXP

Was the truth, in this instance, really all that bad? "Gosh, you know I'd love to, but this husband of mine made me promise we'd play it by ear. We need some time to hang out together and not make plans."

And THEN when they see pictures of the two of you on our boat that weekend (thanks again for coming by, glad you ditched the other friends), simply explain that some friends make a more compelling case for hanging out then, well, others.

Well, I certainly hope that helped!

Mark & Ben

p.s. Seriously, the truth is always Option A. How you tell it, well, that's another thing altogether.


A clarification: We did not ditch anyone that afternoon. Their call happened a few days earlier. I'm not a fan or advocate of folks who "trade up" once they have made plans.

I was KIDDING! We drug you guys over at the last minute, and that's the truth, and fortunately there were no "pending" plans.

I feel strongly that all dishonesty is wrong. There are some few examples of times when I'll do it anyhow, but those relate to things like lying when my boss doesn't want to take a phone call. Even then I'll say he's unavailable or something not entirely untrue. Evasion isn't right, nor is misleading by omission, but they're slightly better to me than saying untrue words.

If I was you, I would not worry much that your "friends" got upset. Good friends would be understanding of your husband's need for rest and would happily respect your scheduling preferences. Yes, I believe there's a responsibility to value and protect your friends' feelings, but not at the expense of what you believe is right.

And yes, they're allowed to be imperfect, mistake the situation, and make unreasonable and overly entitled demands on your time. But this isn't the end of the story. They may yet realize how silly they're being. I think they'll come around and respect you more for sticking to your husband's values. Hopefully they'll realize their mistake. But just as you'll never change your husband, you will never change anyone. All you can do is set an example of the values you'd like to see in the world and hope that others will see the sense behind them.

I don't feel my values on this topic are superior to any others. It's a personal decision I try to live by for my own happiness. I hope it will attract others to me who are of a similar mind while gently keeping me away from those who hold incompatible values. Sounds like a similar approach is working for you and your husband! To me, nothing regrettable happened here. It's just a natural evolution of your friendship--all parties have learned something new about the others. Change is expected.


Well stated. Friendships do evolve. The funny thing is that my husband is entirely unconcerned about this. He shrugged it off in a few seconds. I try to do the same. With less success.

What you propose is essentially what I said to them when they called. I actually used "play it by ear". They found this offensive. They took it to mean "Maybe we'll see you maybe we won't. Depends on how we feel at any given moment. Don't call us - we'll call you."

On the flip side, I am never offended if someone tells me they just don't feel like getting together or similar. I have learned, however, that some guys are perpetually unreliable in that they break their commitments so often. You stop making plans with that type.

I find it excruciating to tell a lie, even a small one. I can certainly keep some details to myself, but it's such hard work to remember what I'd created that I much prefer the small pain of truth to the greater pain of lying. I do try to couch the truth in gentle terms so that my concern is apparent.

White lies make me wonder whether the kindness I perceive is genuine. It puts a wall between us that is difficult to breach. At what vague point on the end of the continuum does it become a "real" lie? When I discover a white lie, it tells me that someone doesn't give me credit for dealing with the truth. Please treat me as a grown-up and equal.

For someone like me who has a great deal of trouble reading subtext, truth—even painful truth—is a refreshing transparency that engenders trust. I want to trust what someone says, and white lies defeat that, even when intended in kindness.

There: I've disagreed with you and said so. Was that so hard to hear?

Dear Birdie,
Not at all difficult to hear from you and I'd expect nothing less. You and the Baad lamb are similar in that regard. Both of you expect the same honesty from people that you give to them. Knowing this, I reserve the white lie for others who find the truth less savory. What's interesting about this discussion is that it forces us to dig deeper into the nature of relationships and our investments and approaches to people we value with a variety of motivations. This is an onion of many layers.

Unfortunately, now that I've broached the subject, no one will ever again believe me if I say I have a headache.

And, by the way, have you never told someone close to you that you had a "headache" when you really didn't?

Only once, and he was not someone close. The only blind date I've ever had, the summer I graduated high school, went terribly wrong very early. He was rude and made assumptions he had no right to make, and I claimed "headache" to get away. Yuck. White lie? I suppose. If I had it to do again, I'd be much clearer.

Since you are a priest, Father Tony, you might be able to relate to the question that I might bring up for myself, and that is the famous question, "What would Jesus do?" Sometimes this question is helpful and sometimes it isn't. It may not be that helpful in this instance, because it isn't obvious what Jesus would do ... but I don't think he would fabricate a "harmless" lie.

Imagine Jesus after a long day of traveling and giving sermons and doing Q & A. He's tired and needs a day off. But someone finds out about him and comes to his hideaway (the large home of a wealthy friend in the area) and insists on seeing him. When the sojourner arrives, Jesus is asleep and the master of the house refuses to wake him or say which room he is in. The sojourners says, "I'll wait here outside until he wakes up." When Jesus emerges from his nap, hours later, the master delivers the message, and Jesus might say, "I'm really tired, but now I've gotten a few hours of rest, so I'll give this person five or ten minutes." That is totally my imagination, but that's how I imagine Jesus.

I have two categories of friends: The ones I prefer to keep, but I wouldn't be devastated if we parted ways. Then there are the few friends who are your real family (and GLBT people especially understand the difference between one's biological family and one's chosen family). With the first category of friends, I might risk using the type of "white lie" that you, Father Tony, describe. But for the friends who are my lifelines as I go thru life, I do everything I can to be totally honest with them. Down to the last one, if I said, "Sorry, but my husband and I need some quiet time just between the two of us," or "Sorry, but I'm tired and I really need some rest and privacy" ... every single one of them would understand without feeling like our friendship had been devalued.

Sometimes a ten- or twenty-minute visit by phone can substitute for a complete in-the-flesh visit. Father Tony, you might have worked this out with your husband ahead of time, and when Dennis and Orson called, you might have asked your man, "Can you talk with Dennis and Orson for a few minutes?" and handed him the phone. If these friends are valued, your husband will give them the twenty minutes for a telephonic visit. (This also allows your husband to make his own case about why he needs some time alone.) If the friends aren't that important to to you, then say he's busy or unavailable or asleep, and let the chips fall where they may, because if these friends find someone else to socialize with, it's no big deal to you.

So ... let your conscience be your guide ... but I would not risk dishonesty with friends who are deeply important to me.

Dear AJ,
Your distinction in the level of friendships that might require a different level of honesty is interesting, but the absolute truth-sayers who have commented above would disagree with you.
Jesus seems to have been not much of a plan-maker. He seems to have been very spontaneous which was easier for him because he could work miracles to deal with the moment at hand - like calming a storm or changing water into wine at an embarrassing moment for his hosts (just joking). I think the closest he came to telling a lie of any sort was his answer to Herod who asked him if he was the messiah, the king of the jews. Jesus replied "That's what you say." which is a bit of a dodge in anyone's book.

An after-thought: Jesus also showed us, by example, that it is a virtue to value and protect one's solitude. We are told he would often go up into the mountains, or into the wilderness, to pray and meditate. We can imagine that he might have continued to do this, even after he became well known in Judeah and highly in demand.

My husband and I have similar discussions, but we flip roles often. When we go visit my family in my home town, I want to plan lots of events to visit friends and family, but he doesn't want to because we're "on vacation." While we're home, hr tends to plan a lot of social outing but I don't want to socialize that much because I've just got off work and want to be away from people ;)

I've never been a fan of lying out right, but I do find myself asking "well what should I tell my friends, then?" He doesn't particularly care, and when the situation reverses he'll ask the same question and I won't particularly care.

I feel like people should learn to respect when someone wants to just be alone. I know in my situation, it's rare that we go to my hometown, so my friends want to take advantage and say hi. So we've come to a compromise: we dedicate one evening to socializing with my friends when we're there. We tell people we're going to x bar on y night and if they'd like to hang out they should come too. Then the other days we can relax with my family.

It's not perfect and I don't always get to see all my friends, but they are always welcome to come visit us up here whenever they'd like! ;)

Dear Dickie,
Very practical.

I'm laughing as I imagine sending out a mass emailing with the text "Dearest Ones, Father Tony and The Baad Lamb will be making exactly one public appearance this week devoted to our friends. It will be at Alibi between the hours of 8 and 10PM next Tuesday. We reserve the right not to appear should The Baad Lamb be insufficiently refreshed by that date and time. Please know that should you encounter us at any other time or venue, we will not resent your spontaneous adjunct."

What is wrong with just saying to everybody that "We need time to reconnect and just spend lots of time with each other! Please, give us a full week to do this? We will resurface in a week! OK!" No white lie! Just what you need to do!

My Partner and I have times when we simply want to be by ourselves. We communicate this to our friends; good friends do understand and appreciate our truthfulness. We believe in being honest and telling the truth.

I have no ethical dilemma at all when it comes to lying. For some reason it's just not one of my values to tell the truth. I think I was born that way.

What I found was that it's extremely easy for lies to cause hurt to others, and in trying to avoid that hurt, you often mess up your own plans as well. I'm a very good liar; because not lying has no place in my value system, I got lots of practice when I was younger. Unfortunately, I still sometimes got found out, and people were hurt. I started going to extra effort to cover up lies. I would plead illness to avoid hanging out with a friend so I could go to a party, only to find out that, having lost the prospect of hanging out with me, they had decided to go to the same party. I got to stay home, pretending to be sick.

My policy now (and it's mostly one of convenience) is to avoid lies to people I care about, and save them for people I don't mind hurting. I will lie shamelessly to a telemarketer interrupting my dinner. I might tell a small lie to a co-worker, if I'm confident that I won't be found out. Friends and family? Strict no-lies policy.

I've found out that all of my practice in making-stuff-up can be equally well applied to spinning-things-the-right-way. "I'm sick" becomes "hey, X is having a do at her house and I'd REALLY love to go, I haven't seen Y or Z in ages. Can we move our coffee catch-up back a few days?"

In your instance, I might have gone with "Sorry guys, he really needs a break and to just chill out for the week. How about give him a few days to recover, and if you've got a particular day in mind just call in the morning and see how he's feeling?"

Of course, different people need to be handled differently, and sometimes you need to take time to come up with the right truthful-but-diplomatic answer, but I've found it to be a much better policy than giving in to the temptation of the easier option (being, of course: just lie).

he sounds great | December 10, 2010 9:06 AM

You have WAY too much time on your hands! I love the attitude of your husband. He's tired. He wants to chill. Fuck the social Emily Post 1950s crap. You need to examine your neediness about social games. To be frank, you come off as a Gidget-era Laura Petrie manipulator married to a cool modern man. He's honesty and realness. You're 13 year old girls' social circle games. Perhaps you Twitter and Tweet too much?

Dear Dawg2,
Finally! I've been waiting for someone to deliver your comment. My post was in large measure tongue-in-cheek, and more about the behavior of our friends and not really about us. Actually, this was no big deal for us, but I thought it is something experienced by a broad spectrum of Projectors on a regular basis and how we handle stuff like this is indicative of many other aspects of relationships.
Yours truly,
Mrs. Petrie

A lie is a lie is a lie, even if done with good intentions. I learned that the hard way 3 yrs ago. A Friend of 12 yrs asked me to ask some other friends of mine to join him in a baseball game that night. What he did NOT know was my other friends were not fond of him at all. So, to spare his feelings, I lied and said they were away. God works in strange ways..he ran into them at the game that night. He ended our friendship with me and proclaimed that I cheated him and my friends out of good seats at a baseball game. Sometimes a white lie can back fire!

simply - we have plans for most of the week would have done. When I was a young working mom I told anyone who invited us that I had plans on Friday nite... My plans were pizza for the family, and time for me with my tv. The only way to survive is sometimes to have some downtime. No lie, plans can be 'to do nothing' what your hubby wanted.
BUT ps..I'd put his fanny on the phone next time.

Dear Deb,
If I had told them "We had plans", they still would have felt set aside. While I am not justifying their reaction, the net effect of your words and mine would have been the same.

I don't lie to spare people's feelings. Ever. Even children. When I find that someone has lied to me, they are crossed off the list. End of the line, even family. Lies do nothing but create unintended consequences that come unexpectedly and sometimes you have to lie to get out of the lie you told earlier. It's a cycle of lies and I don't have the energy for that shit.