Hax: Are lies ever permissable?

The Washington PostJanuary 29, 2014 

Dear Carolyn: The other day, I discovered my boyfriend had lied to me about riding with a girl co-worker to a college football game in another state (he claims they only drove together, and didn’t see each other at any other point during the weekend). He has apologized profusely and said he never told me because he didn’t want me to think anything was going on between them when it wasn’t. Would this be considered a white lie? Or just a lie?

And when is it considered OK to lie in order to protect someone’s feelings? I have a feeling he should have told me the truth in this situation.

WARY GIRLFRIEND

Of course he should have. Boyfriend of how long? Thanks.

Dear Carolyn: We have been “talking” for more than a year now, but he was hesitant to start a new relationship because his old one of three years didn’t end so well.

WARY GIRLFRIEND AGAIN

That helps, thanks.

The short answer is, flat-out lie.

The long answer starts here: You’re new to each other, he’s been burned before, and the details of your story (hitching rides, “girl co-worker”) point to a high probability of youth.

There are few circumstances where flat-out lies aren’t serious, but being young and insecure in a new relationship can be one of them.

Some people hit adulthood ready to tell the whole truth about themselves without fear of rejection, but in my experience they’re the exception. For many young people, fear of consequences is powerful motivation to spin.

Of course, spinning backfires: If seeing the real versions of each other would break you up, then you don’t belong together. It can take some hard experience, though, for this idea to override fears of getting “caught.”

So. If your boyfriend in fact didn’t stray but genuinely feared your reaction, and if experience taught him to associate truth-telling with punishment, then that would mitigate his lie.

Once. If he’s telling the truth now, he can be forgiven, once, for misjudging you as someone who preferred a sanitized version of events.

Once, because now you establish who you are. You apparently want complete honesty, so say that: No matter how bad the truth, it beats a lie. Live it, too — both by being truthful yourself and by receiving hard truths gracefully.

But, do recall my saying his lie “can be” minor. It can also, obviously, be serious. It’s possible his “nothing happened!!!” is just another lie. Or, he could have a lie-first reflex that he can’t or won’t fix.

You won’t know whether this is a fixable problem or a deal-breaking one without context. If you don’t have enough yet, then accept what he says, then let time show you how well acquainted he is with truth. That’s what dating is for.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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