"Sorry I’m late. Was stuck in traffic." "No, you definitely don’t look fat in that." "I’m sorry I couldn’t call, my phone was out of charge." "Sure, she isn’t wearing very much, but no one could look hotter than you." Does any of this sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you’re either the straightest person in the whole world – or a more accomplished liar than anyone thought. Because these are just some of the little white lies we often tell the people we love and like. Not to deceive them, but to keep them happy. But lying? To someone we care for? Isn’t that the first ‘don’t’ on the list of any relationship’s 10 commandments?
What a stretch
Yes, say experts. Lying in a relationship is a massive don’t. But white lies do not really qualify as lies. Most relationship experts define white lies as ‘often trivial, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruths’, and because they’re so minor and mean so well, white lies can’t really be called deceptions.
White lies come naturally to us, says psychologist Seema Hingorrany. “Little, inconsequential untruths that do not cause any harm are natural,” she says. “In fact they protect us or our friends and relations against hurt and so they merit the status of being healthy and completely acceptable in most cases.”
White lies pop up in any relationship you have – man-woman, parent-child, sibling-sibling, friend, teacher-student, boss-subordinate – you name it. “These tiny little lies seem so harmless that every single person has at one or another time stretched a truth or covered an almost innocent action with a band-aid known as a little white lie,” says psychologist Rohit Verma.
So far so good, but before you begin putting together more white lies for what you think is the good of your relationship, it’s best to introspect a little. Why do you need white lies anyway? Why do you need to deceive anyone?
It could be simply because you don’t want to hurt someone. “I sometimes lie to my wife about how the food she’s cooked tastes, or how she looks in a new sari,” says architect Rahul Bajaj. “There have been times when I have hated the food she’s cooked or the outfit she’s worn but I have never had the guts to tell her so. That’s because I care about her. I don’t want to hurt her with unnecessary criticism. So if she asks, I just say it’s good.”
So concern for the partner could be one reason for a white lie here or there. Or you could want to avoid a confrontation, or be afraid of being accused of something you didn’t mean to do. Or else a white lie could just be your means of escape from a situation you don’t want to be in, as theatre actor Mihir Mishra says his white lies are about.
“I sometimes lie to my girlfriend when she asks too many questions,” says Mishra. “It’s nothing serious – I just want my own space and though my girlfriend is loving and caring, she doesn’t understand that sometimes I need to do my own thing. She wants me to spend every free hour with her. So when I want to go out with my friends or just be alone, I tell her I have a late drama practice or there is a script reading session.”
Legal consultant Anjana Soni has a similar problem with her husband. She loves going out, he doesn’t. “He thinks it’s a waste of money and time. He prefers to get straight home after work, eat and sleep,” she says. “I enjoy that too, but sometimes I would like to go out with friends or colleagues for shopping or a movie and dinner. I don’t want to hurt him, so I just tell him I’ll be working late. If I have to switch off my phone for a movie, I tell him I’ll be in a meeting. I am not cheating on him or anything, but this way I don’t make him feel bad and neither do I ruin my fun.”
If the intention is good, then the white lie isn’t harmful. But you may want to think about why you feel the need to lie in the first place. Experts feel a constraining relationship is usually the cause of any game of hide and seek. “Often, there are too many questions in a relationship, and that is a problem,” says Hingorrany. “People tend to become very nagging and have way too many ‘whys’ when in a relationship. They fail to give their partner space. And if the person is extra possessive, there can be issues. Simple statements like ‘I went shopping with my friends’ or ‘I want to go for a stag party after work’ are often met with arguments and emotional outbursts. It is to avoid these that people do not tell the ‘entire’ truth.”
White lies are seen in the professional arena very often as well, simply because relationships at work are also often constrained. We often lie about not feeling well, so we can take a day off, or describe terrible traffic jams when we’re late. “Even little children lie about not feeling well to teachers or parents when their homework’s not done,” laughs Rohit Verma. So the desire to avoid confrontation is obviously a lifelong thing.
Still, says Hingorrany, backed up by Verma, it’s best not to make white lies a habit. “It is very important to take stock of the situation and keep the lies to the minimum,” says Verma. “If you’re caught, the lies you came up with are capable of causing hurt and embarrassment.” Even if your intentions are good, white lies are still a form of deception, and experts feel you must have as transparent a relationship as possible.
“While it is good to be sensitive to another person’s emotions, it is always a better idea to talk through and explain situations and likes and dislikes in a positive frame of mind, than to hide behind a white lie,” says Hingorrany.