I've always considered myself an honest person. Generally, that is. But all too often, a little white lie slips out without prior planning. Sometimes I go back and fix it; sometimes it would be too complicated to explain. But as far as blatant, premeditated lying, I try to avoid it. Except in cases involving Christmas. Or birthdays. Or anniversaries. Or Easter. Or giving gifts for no reason whatsoever.
Years ago, I told my stepkids, Zelda and Mario, that I would always tell them the truth, unless it was one of the previously mentioned occasions. When they were little, it was easy to be sneaky; not much lying was involved. But as the kids grew older, my creativity grew with them, along with my wooden nose. And an attempt to surprise Flash merits full-blown don’t-sit-next-to-me-because-lightning-will-strike-any-minute lying.
Lying – it’s such a harsh word. When I was 13, I casually mentioned to Dad that someone I knew was a liar. “Oh honey,” he responded, “they’re not lying, they’re just fibbing.” Up until then, I didn’t know that using a nicer word lessens the offense. According to Dad’s definitions, “Don’t like very much” was better than “hate,” and “borrowing for an indefinite time period” was more polite than “grand larceny.”
So holidays and gift giving are valid reasons to skirt the truth (Dad would love that euphemism). But in marriage, the number of reasons to lie multiplies faster than rabbits with no cable TV. Hundreds of books explain that openness and complete honesty are crucial to a healthy marriage. Perhaps those authors aren’t married. Or maybe they were at one time, until truthfulness did its dirty work.
The concept of complete honesty is hogwash. It’s right up there with Erich Segal’s “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” (Love Story). Umm, no. Love does not mean that. Love means repeatedly groveling with, “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” “I will make this up to you for the rest of my life,” and “Here, honey, go buy whatever you want with my Visa card.”
After Flash and I had been married a few years, I told him the key to his success as a husband: I was a woman with two brains. My mature brain wanted him to be frank with me, but my survival brain would scream at me, “You can’t handle the truth!” For a long time, I tried to drown out the louder of the two voices. Finally, I chose the loud brain regularly.
“Do you think I need to lose weight?”
I watched Flash’s face for cues. When a man takes longer than 1/16 of a second to answer, you know he’s lying.
“What do you mean?” He used this stalling tactic quite often.
“I mean, do you think I need to be skinnier?”
“No. You look great.”
“No, really. You can tell me the truth; I won’t get my feelings hurt.”
“I think you look good, but if you want to lose weight, then lose weight. You look fine.”
“Fine” - the final nail in the coffin of a compliment. “Fine” should be reserved for china and ballpoint pens.
He could have said “perfect,” “sexy,” “Twiggy.” But he didn’t. For weeks, I obsessed on my thighs and refused to go out in public without a muumuu on.
Flash rarely asks questions regarding his wardrobe, so I can’t get revenge in the truth department. He doesn’t care and never asks things such as, “How do I look with my t-shirt tucked into my elastic-band shorts?” I am all too ready to answer him. Finally, I told him the truth.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked Flash one night around 10 p.m.
“To bed? Like that? You’ve got a shirt tucked into your shorts, your hair is perfectly combed, and your socks are on. All you’re missing is your tennis shoes. Who goes to bed like that?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Have you looked in the mirror to see what your stomach looks like when you tuck your shirt in?”
“Who’s gonna see it?”
“Well, I am. And some men want to look good for their wives at bed time.”
He looked down at his belly.
“Can’t you untuck your shirt?”
“I tuck it in so I don’t get a draft up my back at night.”
“A draft? We have a heated waterbed.”
Still, he remained tucked. My attempt at honesty made no difference in his boudoir attire.
So, after too many rounds of To Tell the Truth and Flash’s unacceptable answers, I changed my game.
“Babe, when I ask you how a dress looks on me, just lie.”
Flash looked at me and laughed. This is a trap, I heard him think.
“No, I’m serious. It’s better if you lie. Just make sure you look convincing; I can tell when you’re lying.”
He gave it his best shot, forcing himself to look me in the eyes, and said, “You look great” before we went out to a party one night. I pretended he meant it, and we floated on a cloud of wedded bliss.
Years went by with no hurt feelings regarding appearance. We were happy in our Land of Falsehood. Then, out of the blue, The Truth reared its ugly head.
“Cowboy is going to a friend’s house tomorrow while I get a haircut. I might get my hair colored again, too. I’m not sure.”
I was fishing for Flash’s input, but he wasn’t biting. I needed better bait.
“I’m not sure what to do. I like it this light in the summer, but the gray hair has a mind of its own. It’s more manageable when I color it. What do you think of it like this?”
Flash’s best deadpan look was plastered across his face. Years of practice had made him slow to answer.
“It looks good…”
The end of his statement lingered. I could see it hanging in the air over us. It didn’t have a strong period at the end, like a statement someone means; it just trailed into silence.
“Oh, that was convincing,” I replied.
The ringing in his ears started, his nostrils flared, and in his head echoed, May day! May day! Get the wheels down – we’re going in for a crash landing. Repeat, May day! I’m sure he would have fled the premises had we not been soaking in our hot tub with Cowboy at the time; Flash was held captive in the bubbles.
“Tell me the truth; it won’t hurt my feelings. Just tell me what you prefer.” I had forgotten the lying game and had regressed to yesteryear. I wanted to yell, “Stop,” but before I could, Flash answered honestly. After years of playing the game with me, he fell from grace with one sentence.
“I like it when you color it.” The earth moved under my feet and the yellow sun turned to a medium brunette.
“You like it when I color it? What do you mean you like it when I color it? Do I look like an old lady when it’s not colored? You don’t want to be seen with the old lady? I like your salt and pepper hair and your white beard, Santa Claus.”
The conversation volleyed for a while. “I only notice the gray when we’re outside; I guess it’s the sunlight making it show up,” he tried to make it better.
“Well I guess I could be a cave dweller, and I would always look 20 or 30 or 40 or 46 ½ years old.”
“I miss the red highlights in your hair that are there after it’s been dyed. I like those.”
“There is no red dye put on my hair.” This was a lovely revelation to me; not only did sun accentuate the gray, all the red had fled.
I went to have my hair colored the next day, knowing that after two afternoons in the sun it would return to its gray-blonde-light-brown-crazy-hair state. The luscious shade of young brunette would fade quickly.
As I get older and the gray hairs abound, the brunette dye I have my hairdresser use appears darker than it used to. This time, it was quite a bit darker, a significant change. I also had a couple of inches cut off all the way around.
Three days later, Flash and I were sitting in the living room.
“Well, what do you think?”
“About what?” he answered.
“It looks good. Why?”
“Does it look different?”
“I guess. Why?”
“Oh my gosh.”
“Yesterday, I wondered if you did something to it.”
“Uh, yeah, three days ago. It doesn’t look darker?”
“Flash, are you serious? I got it colored.”
“I didn’t notice. It’s a different color than usual; she did it wrong.”
“She used the same color she’d been using for years.”
We had another conversation about the AWOL red hair, then I went to examine my hair in the bathroom mirror. I was seeing red, so to speak.
I returned to the living room, held out a section of my hair for Flash to look at closely, and said, “Okay, buster, look at this! There’s still some red in there! Can you see it now, Grandpa?”
“Oh yeah,” he answered entirely too nonchalantly, “I see it. I guess the lighting was wrong before.”
The lighting. All along, it had been the lighting. I decided to believe that theory, as I sighed with relief.
“Ah, thank you, honey,” I told my handsome groom. “And you look mighty fine tonight wearing your argyle socks with your moccasins.”
We smiled, knowing that we had returned to a state of marital harmony. It’s all about being open with each other, dear reader.