I must confess, I’ve lied. I remember it like it was yesterday.
My Mom and Dad picked me up outside a pizza shop at a train station in a tiny little town back east. I was 16 years old and it was 11PM. While I thought everything was chill, my Dad, who had a front row seat to my bob and weave approach, did not.
What did you have to drink?
Pizza and Pepsi.
It’s hard to drink pizza. And I pronounced Pepsi as if it had six syllables. That was a tip-off to my intoxicated state, as was my meandering path to the car. What I really drank was my Dad’s Pinch whiskey out of my Mom’s Tupperware container.
I was told by my friend that plastic wouldn’t clink in my purse, hence the creative packaging.
That’s not the only time I’ve lied, but it stands out because the consequences were immediate. I knew right then and there that my greatest error was to lie in response to my Dad’s question. Had I told the truth I would have been sat down to have a conversation about the dangers of drinking alcohol, and the potential for legal consequences. Instead, I cut him to his core. His daughter looked right at him and told a lie. It was the deceit that disappointed them, not the drinking.
By this time my parents had raised seven other children, five of them boys. There really wasn’t much new ground I could cover. My siblings kept my parents busy with missed curfews, sneaking girls over, parties while they were away, one small forest fire in our backyard, a classic story that gets trotted out with the turkey every year. To say they had seen it all is inaccurate. They had seen it all, twice. At least. I wouldn’t be surprised if, when they dropped me off, they had a conversation on the way home that went something like this:
Do you think tonight’s the night she’s going to think she can drink and get away with it?
Tonight’s as good as any honey, my Dad would say.
While they were hurt by my lie, they weren’t surprised by either the drinking or the lie to cover it up. Those experiences are part of growing up, learning, realizing the consequences of our actions. By the time I got around to getting drunk at the train station, seven others had already been through the ritual. I’m hopeful that when my parents crawled into bed with each other that night they celebrated that I was safe and that it was the last time they would have to see one of their children drunk for the first time.
But I wonder if they also thought to themselves, How will I know if she is telling the truth in the future?
My lying was mostly restricted to the playground. My Mommy has this, when she didn’t. I have that, when I didn’t. I get to do this, when I didn’t. I was trying to establish myself in the world in the best position possible and must not have felt that I, exactly how I was at that time, was good enough to attain the position I desired.
I was never good at lying. My shoulders would droop. I would break eye contact. I’d be so distracted by the fact that I was lying that I would screw up the lie, which would make me feel more uncomfortable resulting in my saying something like,
Hey! Look! A chicken!
Lying was never my thing. Which is not to say I’m pure, because I’d be lying if I said that.
But by the time I got through my 20s I had constructed a pretty solid moral foundation that had been tested. I made mistakes, I made bad choices and I learned from them. Not unlike lots of other people. But through my job and my exposure to lots of different people at different stages in their lives, I was amassing quite a binder full of life lessons, from which I gleaned the importance of having established morals and ethics so that I could live honestly, consistently. I already knew lying was wrong, but I now understood why. It compromised my morals and ethics, and without those intact I would ricochet like an atom inside a star, colliding over and over with the same hard lessons to be learned, and not much joy to be found.
I was fortunate to date a man who was pretty fixated on principles during that time. That long-term relationship helped to mature my understanding of principles, how they help us to choose and establish our morals and ethics, and what it means to live by them consciously. I absolutely knew deep down that I could trust this man.
I also knew that I didn’t want to marry him.
We ended our romantic relationship, remained close friends and worked together for many years. Right when I met The Genius, we rekindled our romance a little. At the time I don’t know why, as I wasn’t prone to pondering much. Maybe because it was familiar, or safe, or fun. Then I shut it down when swept up in the heat of giddy love with the man who would be his antithesis.
The reason for the reigniting of that relationship is clear now. I created the perfect foil to The Genius. I just didn’t pay attention. It wasn’t designed to stop me from marrying him. Nothing was going to prevent that from happening. But it did provide me with a point of comparison (Only I didn’t have the tools to analyze the data.), as well as an ear down the road when The Genius first went all Mensa. And now, in hindsight, that relationship and all that I learned from him has come back to sooth and guide me at a time when I doubted I would ever be able to trust again.
Since the last post I have been pondering the role of integrity in relationships, in life. Integrity is kind of a moving target. It speaks to the consistency with which one lives out the moral and ethical components of their life. So, if a person believes that it’s morally acceptable to them to have an open marriage and they stand up and say it, I can only conclude that they are living with integrity while they bounce from bed to bed to backseat to office desk to swinger’s party.
At the age of 30, having a mature conversation about morals and ethics was pretty much restricted to my work life and the conversations I would have with my boy-friend at the time. I can say for sure I never had a real conversation about morals and ethics in relationships with The Genius. I figured I had a handle on being honest, a solid set of morals, and was developing a slate of personal ethics. Most of all, I knew I was a good person, so I didn’t much worry about whether or not these morals and ethics were in their best form – they were the best I had at the time and they would get better with age.
I assumed The Genius was just like me.
We all know how that turned out.
But had we engaged in dialogue about our morals and ethics, would he tell me the truth? I believe the better question is, Would he know the truth?
Maybe the best question is, Would I have known the right questions to ask? (Would you ever cheat on me is not an example of a productive question.)
Man, I was ill-equipped, even with a great upbringing, education and recent and prolonged exposure to Mr. Morality, to determine if The Genius and I were a match based on principles. And quite frankly, at the time I didn’t consciously care.
I care now.
A few months ago – oh, please – yesterday I would have had a hard time kicking off a conversation on morals and ethics with a man. Not today. Since the start of this very post, I have realized that I’m okay walking away early on if I have any doubts that we see heart to heart on these most important issues. I’ve become conscious of the need to discuss them, rather than let actions speak for themselves. Actions in the early stages of a relationship can obscure the fact that a potential partner hasn’t taken the time on their own to define their principles. They’re just doing what we’ve all been trained to do: be on our best behavior.
I’m glad I can laugh at this: I am a 46 year old woman and I’m just realizing the importance of discussing morals and ethics when my heart is on the line. So, I’m a late bloomer. I have no wishes for a do-over. I’m simply grateful that I’ve discovered a crucial thing I did not do then that I can do now.
I’ve gone from believing that it’s naive to expect integrity and honesty in this day and age, to learning that it’s naive to expect integrity and honesty if I haven’t first found out if it’s valued.
I’m going to get this all straight by the time I’m 90. I’m aiming high.