Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lies I Tell

Sometimes, writing a personal essay can be like trying to make a pecan pie and ending up with fried chicken. I don't get what I want, but what I need.

I called a friend yesterday, intending to do some research on self-reliance. We both come from a long line of independent-minded southerners, and I wanted to get her take on things. But in the middle of the conversation, I caught her in a lie that she had been telling for years without realizing. Although it wasn't that important in the larger scheme of things, it struck a cord in me. And after I hung up the phone, I found myself pointing a disapproving finger at her.

Why would she tell herself and others such a lie for so long? How could she be in such denial? I spent a while fuming and ruminating and wasting perfectly good writing time, until it eventually dawned on me that if I was this aggravated with somebody else's lie-telling, I probably needed to look at myself.

I didn't particularly like the idea, but I knew I had to consider the possibility that maybe I was spotting in her what I had not come to terms with in myself. Had I ever told myself lies I was unaware of? After some resistance, a thought eventually came crawling to the surface of my conscience. It was a lie I'd been telling about another friend of mine.

And it was then I knew that this particular essay was not going to be about self-reliance anymore.

I had never honestly admitted that this old friend and I were not really compatible. In all of the years I had known her, I had enjoyed hearing her stories about the people she knew, the parties she attended and the trips she took. At heart, I am a homebody. My days are spent in front of a computer and my idea of a party is a few close friends around a dinner table. It was fun living vicariously through her and her exciting life.

But after a while, I began to come away from our get-togethers with an empty sort of feeling. I longed for a deeper, more intimate friendship, yet ours seemed to hover forever at the surface. When I would share personal things about myself, I noticed she would not reciprocate, and sometimes it made me feel as if there was something wrong with me--as if I was wearing only my underwear in public.

But what had really gnawed at me--and I had chosen to ignore--was that I had become the only one who initiated our getting together anymore. If I didn't call her, I didn't hear from her.

Until this moment I had denied the significance of this--and it's logical meaning: That maybe my friend had also noticed we had very little in common. It was as if we had both silently agreed to ignore and not mention how different we were.

When I would not hear from her for six months or more, I would tell myself, She's just busy. Or traveling. Or sick. I wasn't ready to face the possibility that maybe our friendship had run its course.

Now that I was facing it, I couldn't exactly say she was doing something hurtful. She had every right not to call me if she didn't want to. And besides, by my always calling her, I had enabled her to not have to do the initiating.

She also had every right not to share her intimate feelings. She was just being true to herself--as I was being true to myself. That's the best that any of us can do for one another.

Luckily I am blessed with other friends with whom I am probably more compatible. With them I don't feel like my underwear is showing, because theirs is showing, too. So I don't have to tell lies to myself to enable me to keep their friendships.

If I do hear from my old friend, I'll be glad to see her again. But if I don't, I'll know it means we're moving on.

To new friends and new lessons. And that's good, too.

QUESTION: Are you telling lies to yourself and, if so, what are they and why?

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