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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Honesty is such a lonely word.

The night of my wedding (ten years ago last Thursday...awww...), a lot of our guests went to Pavlov's, which was across the street from where we were staying. One of those guests was my sister, who didn't quite meet the age requirement. I wasn't there, nor was my husband*. One of our town's finest approached her and, ready for his big moment, asked for her i.d. At eighteen, my sister looked sixteen, maybe. The cop knew there was no way she was old enough to legally drink the beer she was holding. Knowing she was busted, my sister saw no reason to lie.

"Okay," she grinned, winsomely I'm sure, "You can see my i.d., but I'm not 21!"

I love her for that. I love her for other stuff, too, but that answer was the pinnacle of cool. She managed to take the fun out of it for her accuser. She maintained some level of dignity and all she ended up with was a ticket, which I believe has since been expunged. Or maybe not, but who cares? By accepting that the jig was up, she also saved herself several moments of heart-pounding stress and a little embarrassment. Most importantly, she stole the cop's thunder. All she had to do was look him in the eye and tell the truth. As they say at the X-Man's school, "easy peasy, lemon squeezy."

Honesty is simple and relaxing, but it takes practice. I'm kind of a slacker and I have ADD. That combination has made me less reliable than I should have been at times. I regularly handed in papers late in college, so I got pretty good at it. I learned early that honesty and minimalism were the least infuriating to my professors. Instead of offering elaborate excuses for my tardiness, I would say,

"I'm sorry this paper is late. I hope you can still accept it."

If at all possible, I tried to drop it in their mailbox with a note rather than handing it to them. That way, they could save face, too; they never had to discuss the lateness. I never even got marked down for being late, because I made it easy for them. Excuses are only good for humorous effect, by the way. One time, I was over a month late turning in a paper, for a lecture I had attended maybe three times. I slunk into the department office, planning to drop and run. I should have done it during the class, when I knew he wouldn't be there. Instead, I walked into the office, paper in hand, only to be greeted by all of the teaching assistants and my professor. They were having a meeting about the class. Someone asked me who I was looking for. I answered, as breezily as possible,

"I'm dropping off a paper for Professor So-and-So."

Someone looked up and said,

"I'm Professor So-and-So."

We didn't recognize each other, which should tell you something. I apologized and admitted that I didn't really have an excuse. I asked if it would help my grade if I made one up. He graciously said,

"No, but we might find it entertaining, so give it your best effort."

I reeled off every excuse I could think of, from "My dog had cancer" to "There was a sale at the Gap that I couldn't miss." At the end, I asked if it would help my grade if I cried a bit. The kindly professor said,

"Maybe, but you don't have to actually do it, I'll just mark here that you did."

And he made a very official notation on my cover sheet. I think I got an A-.

Telling the truth was much easier than trying to lie. I'm not a good liar and I suspect that most teachers know when students are lying and find it either infuriating or boring. And being bored when you have other things to do, like grade papers or drink beer, is infuriating.

Most of us lie when we're embarrassed by the truth, usually if we believe we're at fault. While I'm not proud of the fact that I'm less organized than I should be, I don't think it's a major character flaw, either. We also lie when we're trying to be tactful, which I endorse. Nobody likes people who insist on being brutally honest, at all times. I can usually avoid that sort of lying, too, because it's easy enough to just not offer an opinion. When someone asks for my opinion outright, I'll try to say it nicely, but I'll tell the truth, vaguely if I have to.

There's one time I'm pretty sure you should lie, but I'm not sure how. Thanks to my hapless husband, I don't have to deal with this one any more. How is a young woman supposed to turn someone down, without hurting their feelings and without opening the door to more invitations? Not that I was all that sought after, but there were times when someone asked me out and I liked them. Just not that way. Certainly it's important to give everyone a chance, because you never know how it'll turn out, but what if you're sure? There's always the, "I'm on the other team" option, but no one wants to start that rumor about themselves in a small town like this, because it might deter other suitors. There's the "Sorry, I'm seeing someone," but the possibility of getting busted is middle to high. When the goal is not to hurt someone's feelings, you need an ironclad excuse. "I'm just not that into you" can lead to, "Why don't you give me a try?" The only response to that is, "No, seriously, I'm not into you at all." Not so nice.

In a perfect world, people read ever-so-subtle signals and understand that the answer is "no" before they ask the question, but dating is hard and you have to ask a lot of frogs out before you find the right one. I hated the sinking feeling I would get when someone was about to ask me out and I knew I'd have to say no. I'd try to change the subject. If that didn't work, I'd try to pretend I didn't understand the question, so they could save face.

"What am I doing Friday night? This Friday? Oh, same old, same old, hanging out with friends, just like always! We like the Art Bar. Do you ever go there? Sometimes we go other places. I bet you hang out with your friends on Fridays, too. Aren't Fridays fun? We can all hang out with our own friends."

I admit, it wasn't a great technique and it never rarely worked. Even though I don't need the information, y'all know I love to give advice, so hit me with your best line. Email Me or, if you wish to remain totally anonymous, make an anonymous comment. If you aren't anonymous, and submit the best response, I'll give you a prize, à la one of my favorite bloggers. These are the requirements:

  • It must be brief.
  • It must indicate to the potential suitor that he or she must never speak of a potential date again.
  • It must not hurt feelings.
  • It must not be humiliating to the speaker.
Good luck and namasté, y'all!

* I would have been there. I was lying in the hotel room debating whether or not I should go without my new husband. He was passed out upstairs (must have been the multiple bottles of champagne excitement of a noon wedding...) and I was downstairs, mad at him, hungry and getting over it very quickly, because Sixteen Candles was on television and I had a jalapeño and pineapple pizza on the way from the Village Idiot, which I planned to pay for with one of "our" checks, which I found in my brand new husband's discarded pants pocket.


Lizzie said...

I'm leaving for Moscow tomorrow.

Anne Wolfe Postic said...

That is an excellent excuse, but is not true for most people, which would be easy to find out, so it would hurt feelings. It may have been true for you, but that was just luck and good timing.

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