Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Can the Love Hormone Make a Liar Out of You?

It's the worst thing, being lied to by someone you love and who says they love you.

But we've all done it right?

And I like to think that, as science found, most of us do it not for ourselves but to protect the person we care about. Or at the very least to protect the relationship. And only under “extreme” lying conditions, when it would hurt or harm the other person.

But, when we hear studies like this, so many minds jump to cheating or stealing or stringing people along. And, I agree, those kinds of lies suck. They're usually told to save a relationship already pretty doomed to fail. Not always, but usually. Usually, these kinds of lies aren’t protecting anyone or anything; they’re preserving the illusion of what the relationship should’ve been like a weird emotional embalming fluid. If you’ve hit these types of lies, even if the couple stays together, the relationship you had before that lie is done. At that point, alone or together, you’ve got to pick up the pieces and move on to something new.

But—and maybe this is the fanciful theatre-geek turned story-telling word-nerd in me—not all lies are created equal.

I had someone ask me, about my story Overtime, why Peter isn’t just honest with Kat about how he feels about her posting risqué photos of herself online, if it really bothers him. That it made him feel dishonest or made her seem selfish, if she would have that much of a problem with his understandable discomfort.

And I can definitely see how it could be read that way.

But, I guess, I'm of the opinion that there are certain lies we tell each other—and sometimes ourselves—because it's how you know you care.

Think about it. You fake an orgasm to spare your partner's feelings because they're just trying so hard. You tell them that you're just as attracted to them today as you were when you first met because they're having an insecure day and you want to make them feel better. You fudge over exactly how much that extravagant item you just bought was because...well, because it was just too cool not to buy and...okay, that might not be the best example.

But you know what I mean. These are the kinds of lies that kinda make long-term relationships possible.

And, the more you love someone, the harder it is to tell them something that you know will hurt them and the more tempting it is to tell them the soothing lie that will balm over that hurt and doubt. And, while I certainly don’t approve of people lying over the big stuff—cheating, stealing, stringing people along—I think people in successful long-term relationships learn to weigh the costs of truths and lies. 

In Peter’s case, knowing his wife, if he told her that her online photos were making him uncomfortable, that would make her uncomfortable too and she’d definitely take them down. Without question or complaint. But then that, I like to think, would make Peter feel worse rather than better. Because he’d have taken these beautiful photos that his shy and inhibited wife was brave enough to take—something that she was really proud of and loved—and turn them into something to hide away. To be ashamed of. Which was never what he wanted.

It’d have been a truth that did more damage than a lie. 

I believe in honesty in relationships, I do. But I also think that humans are social animals who’ve evolved to be a little savvy about it. In the study, they said that when lies were self-interested—where it benefited the teller more than the told—the love hormone didn’t affect anything at all. We generally know when we’re lying to protect ourselves and when we’re doing it to protect someone else. 

If you’re lying to protect yourself, just tell the truth; chances are good you’ll feel better about it in the long-run. 

But, if you’re lying to protect someone you love… I don’t know, call me dishonest, but I think you've the right and the responsibility to game-out what the lie—and what the truth—really has to gain.

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