I’ll never forget when I caught my first boyfriend holding another woman’s hand. This was not a friendly handhold, but rather one of warm and loving tenderness. I was 23 years old, and we were supposed to meet for a late-night concert at a local bar. He worked midnights at Ford Motor Company, so I knew to expect him at a very specific time. He never showed, and, after waiting for an hour by myself at the bar, I drove to the plant to find him. It wasn’t hard to do; at that late hour, his truck was one of only several left in the parking lot. As I approached it, I saw another car parked beside his. Inside that vehicle was a beautiful young woman in the driver’s seat. My boyfriend sat in the passenger seat, and because it was summer, they both had their windows down. And I could clearly see the loving gaze he bestowed upon her as he held her hand.
Of course, he denied it. He swore to me that he wasn’t holding her hand. I felt like I was in a bad scene in a worse movie. I drove home, feeling dazed and slightly sick, and we broke up shortly thereafter, but not before he told me an elaborate story of how she had arthritis in her hand, and he was massaging it to ease the pain. As he said this, I could see that he himself believed the nonsense coming out of his mouth. We both knew it wasn’t true, but he relayed it with such forthright fervor that he convinced himself.
Since that time, I have encountered other people who lie with the same sincerity. My sister and I had a mutual friend who claimed he was a professional cage fighter and made $160,000 per year from his boxing bouts. The truth, however, was that he worked seasonally in roofing. Another friend of mine said she was engaged to a model from New York. The only problem was that this guy was already married and had been for more than a year.
Selling the Drama
Many people fabricate lies in order to get out of trouble, excuse their behaviors, or just plump up their lives because they’re not happy with who they are. But in the instances I described here, the people believed what they said. This moves out of the arena of lying and into something else entirely: Living a fantasy.
Perhaps the worst case of this I ever encountered was when my ex-husband had his first extramarital affair. His mistress called me and told me of their relationship six months after I already knew that he'd been unfaithful. I’d found the phone records, he hadn’t come home on several different occasions, and he made unbelievable excuses to be gone on Friday and Saturday nights. (He once told me he had a work-enrichment class in Detroit on a Saturday night and wouldn’t be home until the following day – we lived just 30 minutes from the city.)
His stories were generally hard to believe, but the whopper he told at the end was impossible. After I hung up the phone from his mistress, he swore to me they had only been friends, although she had wanted something more, and that was why he had ended their “friendship” - because he was married and in love with me. Of course he’d had an affair with her, otherwise the woman never would have called me, but he believed his own ridiculous tale, and, four years later, he continues to believe it.
I don’t know why people who lie like this accept their concoctions as truth. It’s a phenomenon I’ll never understand. What I do know is this: You can’t maintain relationships with these people, because you come to question every word they utter. Simply put, once that trust is broken, it’s very difficult to rebuild.