Friday, July 22, 2011

Just Be Upfront and Don't Lie

I have seen variations of the two statements in several blog posts and comments sections over the past few days. A lot of folks are outraged, and/or are lamenting how much people seem to lie, or withhold parts of the truth in the dating world. It also frustrates me as well, however, I find some of the conversation around "truth telling" to be unrealistic, and way too black and white.

If you are just meeting someone, or even have only been dating someone for a short period of time, there are usually some natural elements missing.

Such as:


knowledge of the other person's way of being and acting in the world

love (beyond something like "I love all people or the world" kind of love)

shared history

To the degree that these elements are in place in a relationship, it will be more likely that someone will be able to be more honest and truthful about all aspects of their lives with another.

Now, in writing that, I'm not saying it's ok for someone to lie to you about being married, or having a partner, for example. It's more about questioning the idea that relative strangers should tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth when you spend time together.

When first getting to know someone, most of us pick and choose what to reveal about ourselves. We may be totally honest about the things we are talking about, but we might not bring up that drunken one stand we had ten years ago, or the intimate details of the break up of our last long term relationship. In fact, it's often viewed as a red flag when someone brings those kinds of things into a conversation with a date so early on.

When someone says "Just be up front," I take that to mean "tell me what you're looking for and tell me anything that might be a deal breaker." It seems straight forward enough, right? These are some basic questions that I usually hope to have answered early on.

Are you married, or seeing anyone seriously? Are you a drug user? Are you socially/politically conservative? If you have children, is the relationship with the father healthy or at least not likely to have lots of drama attached to it? Is your aim to find someone to be in a long term relationship with, or are you just hoping for some fun and casual connections?

There are some others, but that's a decent example of the kinds of questions I feel are reasonable to work with in the early stages. Questions like this are trying to establish if there is enough shared ground to develop a relationship on.

Of course, during any given date, if the conversation is actually moving, there will be lots of questions. Everything from the mundane to perhaps deeply personal, intimate questions about various aspects of your lives. And that's great. If you're actually in a place where both people are asking lots of questions and listening to each others' answers, something is probably going right.

But you know, it's often the case that you'll hit questions that are too early in the process for complete, honest answers. Sometimes, people aren't very socially adept, and simply ask way too intimate of questions on first or second dates. And sometimes, a level of intimacy develops between two people almost right away, creating a sense of trust and security that actually isn't developed.

Let's consider a few dicey questions:

1. Have you ever cheated on anyone?

Now, I'm on the fence as to whether this question is ok early on or not. I can see where it might be a great way to weed out people who are obviously not able or willing to commit to their partners. On the other hand, cheating is a slippery term that can mean many things to many people. Some people consider looking at porn. Some people consider spending a lot of time with a close friend of the opposite sex (or same sex among GLBTQ couples) alone to be cheating. Perhaps what someone has done in past relationships wasn't considered cheating between them, but those same behaviors you might consider cheating. Which gets at a problem with the question itself. By asking it, are you wanting to weed out anyone who has ever cheated in any form? Or are you wanting to weed out people with underlying patterns only? Or what? And what do you mean by "cheating" anyway?

2. Are you financially stable?

Finding out about a potential partner's finances is tricky. And I firmly believe it's a process that unfolds, rather than a once and for all declaration. You'll see how a person handles money. Or what they talk about when it comes to finances. I have been asked a variation of this question a few times on first or second dates, and it's always felt a bit off. What do you mean by "stable"? If you mean can I pay my bills and have money left over to enjoy myself, then I can say yes. If you mean, do you have a well paying job, then I'd say no right now. But like the first question, this isn't necessarily are helpful question. Someone can have a decently paying job, but be an absolutely terribly money manager. I have had experience with that, dating women who actually made more than I did, but always seemed to be broke or in debt. And someone can have a poorly paying job or even without a job, but be a great financial manager who can figure out ways have a good life regardless of the amount of income coming in. (This fairly accurately describes me, as well as at least two of my good friends.)

There are plenty of other questions that could be added to this list, but one of the main points is that it's unrealistic to expect people to be 100% up front and truthful about ever last thing you might ask them in the early stages of dating. I tend to subscribe to the view that I aim to live in the spirit of truthfulness, openness, and being genuine in a relationship, and that is what I'm looking for in a partner as well. However, there might be times when I don't fully answer a question I'm asked, or where I might say something like "Maybe we can talk about that more if we're together for awhile." This actually doesn't happen too often for me, since I am a pretty open and expressive person. But I used to be more shy and reserved, and so I was more given to sharing less, or figuring out a way to return the conversation to the other person. Shyness plays a role in all of this, and I think that sometimes people mistake shyness and being reserved with having a pattern of lying and deception.

What are your thoughts on all of this?


  1. Well, I've expressed a number of my thoughts about this elsewhere, but since some of your readers might not have seen them, I thought I'd summarize:

    "Don't lie" and "Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth" are not synonymous. I'm a strict adherent of the former, but believe the latter is strictly contextual.

    Say, for example, the conversation about financial stability. Let's assume that on a first date, we're having a conversation about credit ratings. You don't know this about me yet, but despite my high income, I have a low credit rating. All I know about you is that you seem to be a financially responsible person of moderate means looking for someone who is also financially stable.

    A lie would be "I check my credit rating every year, and recently it was 775." (I don't check it every year, and it's not 775.) A truthful open answer would be "Due to my divorce, it's not what it should be, but I'm working to improve it." A truthful MYOB answer would be "that's not something I like to talk about until I know someone a little better."

    The whole truth would be (and I'm making something up here because I wouldn't put my credit score on a public forum) "I checked it a couple of years ago and it was below 600, so when you hear all that talk about subprime customers, that's me."

    Now you probably wouldn't be too impressed by the latter, and I might scare you away on a first date. You would be impressed by my lie, but if the relationship developed and we were going to move in together, but I was rejected for a lease on our dream apartment, you'd feel pretty betrayed. The two other versions of the truth are probably about right for a first date, depending on how the conversation has been going and how comfortable you feel.

    Not everybody lies. But not lying doesn't mean telling the whole truth. And you can do a lot less lying if you recognize there are many situation in which the whole truth is inappropriate, and have strategies for responding that don't require lying, but also set appropriate boundaries.

  2. "But not lying doesn't mean telling the whole truth. And you can do a lot less lying if you recognize there are many situation in which the whole truth is inappropriate, and have strategies for responding that don't require lying, but also set appropriate boundaries."

    Yep, I agree with this, and your financial example also makes a lot of sense.

  3. Good...I had been thinking you considered me one of the soapbox ones.

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