The other day, a friend and I were discussing the most important quality in a partner. Although we came to no real consensus, we could agree that one commonly-cited quality was off the list: “loyalty.” Don’t get me wrong: “loyalty” is great if you’ve been cheated on before. However, it’s really boring when its expressed through allegiance to bars or sports teams. Fairy godmothers don't come around all that often; surely, you wouldn’t want to waste your wish on loyalty.
No, my first thought was honesty. It seems like this quality could prevent cheating, if that was your first and foremost concern, and it could also prevent making food or wearing clothes he secretly despises for years on end. Plus, when another person is authentic, it means I get to operate at a higher level of disclosure, too. It means we get to occasionally offend each other by being “too honest,” and that minor inconvenience is swept right under the rug. You know, that really ugly one that we're keeping because I bought it and you're pretending to like it.
On second thought, maybe dishonesty has its place.
Most people lie. Anyone with a job spends some portion of the day pretending they like something (or someone) they don’t. I would imagine it's the same for people with kids. Even the childless and the unemployed laugh a little too hard at their friends’ jokes, add or subtract an inch on their dating profile, and tell themselves they'll meditate tomorrow. Plus, lies are not just common; they’re fascinating. Why are we drawn to lie? What are we hiding?
I’ve always prided myself on honesty. When I was twelve or thirteen, my favorite youth pastors remarked that my outsides matched my insides, that I seemed unafraid to be different. I carried this flattering self-perception of authenticity all the way through high school and college, long after it was deserved. I carried it all the way through a fake tan, highlighted hair, and a “naturally” petite frame. (Counting calories is as natural as Botox). I was “fine” being alone - really, I loved my independence - but I always seemed to have a boyfriend. I was "fine" being quirky - really, those Birkenstocks and socks added to my west-coast charm - but I used booze to relieve social anxiety. It was a lie.
The desire for authenticity, for an honest relationship with the world around me, was a core motivation behind blogging. Thus far, it has been somewhat of a five-month experiment. How much honesty can I tolerate? When I don’t want to write something down, what’s stopping me? My reluctance would suggest that this flattering self-perception of honesty is a little ... well ... dishonest.
Here are a couple of things that are hard to write down.
Lie #1: I am recovered from my eating disorder. In actuality, I still do use food and exercise as a means of exerting control over my life. I still am afraid of weight gain, and I still have strange rules and rituals when it comes to my diet. Although I have been open about the fact that recovery is ambiguous and difficult to measure, I sometimes wonder if I hide behind the ambiguity.
Lie # 2: Alcohol has lost its appeal. If I’m being honest, I’m still jealous of the girls lined up outside bars or the couples sharing a bottle of wine over dinner. Part of me still wishes for mindlessness and - more problematically - part of me still believes this is achievable through alcohol. I have been upfront about triggering situations, but I sometimes communicate more recovery than I feel.
Lie #3: I am perfectly happy by myself. In reality, while I do feel content to be single, and I do love living alone, I feel a bit pathetic when I’m apart from my friends for too long. And I do wonder if I will ever find a partner who makes sense for me. (I will note that the alternative isn’t so bad: single women live longer statistically and have more cats anecdotally.)
One of my favorite thinkers, Esther Perel, wrote the following in her first book on relationships: Mating in Captivity.
“With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. Then there is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused — when two become one — connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. Thus separateness is a precondition for connection.”
In the same way that separateness is a precondition for connection, our lies set the stage for vulnerability. If I withhold pieces of myself out of self-preservation, I ultimately “come clean” for the same reasons. I crave connection. None of us walk the earth fully honest, but this truth makes way for an immeasurably brighter one: as long as there are lies to amend, there is space between us left to transcend.