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.


  1. The way that blurring of boundaries can lead to taking that one most important person for granted, expecting more of them than you ever would of anyone else, venting anger at them in a way you would never dream of doing in any other situation is surely not a good thing? Yes, to an extent, in our own homes/closest relationships, we are all able to let down our guards and manners. But when ‘love’ is seen as a way to treat a person with less consideration or respect than we would others that’s no love that I would want.
    Ultimately there are always two people in a relationship. Two individuals. From what I have read of your story, you are able to acknowledge that separateness and allow each other space to grow. The blurring of boundaries you describe is how I see a dysfunctional relationship where one or both parties are not allowed the freedom to be their own person. Absorption. Surely a relationship is greater where there are two whole people rather than two halves.

    1. Yes, I agree. But I think it’s very rare for relationships to reach the state in which there’s a healthy acknowledgement of “two-ness” without passing through a period of confused one-ness. Maybe I’m generalizing inappropriately from my life’s experience, and from what I’ve seen and read. But I think it takes a special maturity, of the sort that rarely happens before 40 or so, to be able to love AND appreciate two-ness at the same time.

      1. My observation is that the one-ness/ two-ness thing is about background, experience, expectations and none of those things are about a particular age. But yes, unlikely that self-awareness or self-reliance are so clear in one’s 20’s. Also that young search for a relationship to have a family, I think, masks what one needs for oneself, the criteria are different somehow. Took me a while to work that out. Slow learner maybe 🙂

  2. I think it’s easier to lie to someone you love.I’ve never been in love with anyone (I don’t think) so I have little backing me up here.

    I tend to be hardest on the people I care about the most.I tend to lie to their faces with a straighter face (never big lies). Always for the “best”.

  3. Really well written post. I recently ran into a small problem with my ex (who is still a good friend) who read something on my blog and discovered a relatively benign lie that I told a few years ago, but a lie none the less. The sad thing is I don’t even remember telling that little yarn, but my justification must have been “I’m doing it because I love you.”
    So strange that a little lie logically seems to be both the right answer and the wrong answer at the same time.

    1. For years, my chosen name in the demimonde of illicit sex was “Grey.” This reflected my – admittedly self-serving – belief that there’s just no black and white. I still feel this way, even after having “graduated” from that demimonde. Simple rules are for simple people. “Honesty” is a great value, but it doesn’t trump kindness, and that imposes a burden of discretion that many of us find challenging. Especially with regard to those whom we love.

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