How does an otherwise honorable person lie? And not a little white lie, but the kind of major, character-defining lie that any of us who is, or has been, a cheating piece of shit (CPOS), has told the people we love most about the things that matter most to us, to them? And why, how is it that such large-scale deception can coexist with utter trustworthiness in other spheres?
Most of us are no longer surprised when we learn that someone – anyone – has had an affair. Some social conservatives (most likely, the ones whom, tomorrow, we will learn are gay, or philanderers) would have us believe that someone who cheats on her husband is a whore, that someone who cheats on his wife is a no-good scoundrel. But most of us know in our bones that a cheater, someone who betrays, lies, deceives in her or his personal romantic life, may well be perfectly honorable in every other sphere – his word may well be his bond, and the fact that for years, he lied, daily, to his wife, children, family, friends, colleagues has literally no relationship to his character in those other spheres.
How can this be?
How can it be that I, someone who for twelve years daily told my wife lies – about my whereabouts, our money, my desire, my activities – lies of omission and commission – how can it be that, in every other world, I have a sterling – and justified – reputation as a person of my word, as an utterly trustworthy, utterly reliable person? (Witness even the trust several readers of this blog have placed in me, trusting that I’d never reveal information about them they’ve shared with me, whether pictures, or orgasms, or identifying details in connection with those other things. A number of readers of this blog seem perfectly comfortable trusting that I’ll be a safe, reliable, trustworthy confessor of their sins.)
And yet, with my wife – the most important person in my life, and, unquestionably, other than our son, the person whom I love most, about whom I care most – I lied. At first, reluctantly – I tried hard not to. But just as a woman “turned out” by a pimp (or simply deciding to have sex for money on her own) finds it’s much easier to turn her second trick than her first, and just as riding a bike that first time is harder than any subsequent time, once I began lying, I found it actually quite easy – shockingly, depressingly, tragically easy – to keep doing it.
Some of this lies in one’s, in my, definition of my self: once I established that I was the kind of person who could lie to my wife, well, then the cost of telling a lie was much lower. I wasn’t becoming a liar; I simply was reinforcing that which I already was. There’s more going on though, obviously: there’s a bit of “splitting” that I did of myself. I remember saying to the tiny circle of people who knew some (my friends) or all (my shrink) of what I was up to, “I hate lying to my wife.” So obviously, I knew I was lying. Sometimes, I believed I was lying for her own good – because the “project” on which I was embarked was, essentially, a project of sexual self-improvement, and therefore, for her ultimate benefit. Sometimes, I believed I was lying for her own good – because I thought I knew that she didn’t really want to know the deep, dark, truth, and telling her would only be disrespectful of her manifestly clear desires. And sometimes, in my worst moments, I believed it was simply o.k., that it was the kind of thing that “everybody does.”
But why didn’t I have this same self-serving approach toward the truth in other areas? Why, in work, not lie when it was convenient? Why, among friends, not even tell the littlest white lie? Somehow, for me, it boiled down to this: I could deceive my wife, in a way I’d never deceive another, precisely because I did love her (do love her), because my sense of self was sufficiently expansive to include her, at least for this purpose: lies to her were not structurally different, to me, than the sort of self-deception that we all do, that isn’t at all surprising, or even necessarily related, in any way, to character.
This, I think, is one of the basic points of all relationships: somehow, the boundaries between us and our beloved(s) are different than the boundaries between us and others. In some ways, the act of love, of fusing one’s notion of self with that of another, is a violent act, one that leaves all sorts of detritus to be cleaned up later. Sometimes, the detritus never gets cleaned up; sometimes, once it becomes manifest, the relationship ends; and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you make it through to the other side.