My Kingdom for an Honest Man!
Photo credit by Express Monorail; creative commons license
I have developed a tremendous appreciation for honest men. Not honesty wielded as a weapon or as a shield but more like a cup of clear water for a thirsty woman.
Relationships are the best place to see honesty in action—and the different interpretations of honesty and the different rationales for deception. Abuse is never a good enough excuse to tell the truth, and saving your own ass by lying through your teeth is never the same as “for the greater good.” There’s no middle ground, and if there’s a bad feeling surrounding the honesty or the deception—for either party—then it’s nothing but poison.
Too often, I see people—both men and women—employ a “policy of truth” to justify being downright mean or verbally abusive. These are the “friends” who will joyously tell you that the “truth” about your hairstyle or your clothes or your home décor—the “truth” always being something that stings. Most of the time, ironically, it’s just opinion and sometimes that truth is fiction in the guise of a supportive friend who needs to feel superior.
Listen, any friend who is happy to tell you something that cuts you to the bone—whether it’s that you have chronic bad breath or spinach in your teeth after an interview or that your partner is cheating on you—is not a good friend. Truly compassionate friends may tell you, but they’ll have to struggle to do it.
I had a boyfriend once who wielded the “truth” like a weapon. Ultimately, it was his way of controlling me and putting me constantly on the defensive. Honesty became synonymous with negativity. I came to dread his honesty as much as I’ve ever dreaded a man’s lies.
He was quick to tell me if a skirt didn’t look good on me (in his opinion), that my hair didn’t flatter in that particular color (in his opinion), or that I needed to lose weight (in his opinion). He had gotten into trouble for lying and had decided to turn over a new leaf and tell the truth—about EVERYTHING. If he was unhappy, and he often was, he would feel compelled to tell me The Truth about whatever was on his mind. I never asked how he liked my outfit, hair, or weight, but he was quick to offer because, to him, he had to spew his brand of honesty. There was nothing off limits.
If I proudly showed him a cool poster I’d bought for my office, he reminded me that his best friend had a signed original of the artwork, that I had only a cheap knock-off, and that my possessions weren’t as worthy. If I proudly showed him my home, he quickly told me how unsophisticated he thought it was because I didn’t have a unifying theme of Early American or Mid-Century Modern throughout the entire house. When we were close to deciding to go our separate ways, almost the last thing he said to me was that he would never marry me because he hated my natural body scent and if he stuck around, I would have to find a way to change my body chemistry to his satisfaction.
(Thankfully, my partners since then have all loved all the things he hated that became his “truth” that he just had to tell me, and the more recent men in my life cheerfully volunteer that they like these things very much, thank you.)
By the time I said good-bye to him, I felt as though whenever he was around, I was being bludgeoned with verbal abuse that he politely excused as “I have to be honest.” Nothing he ever spewed as truth was indeed fact, which is the irony when I think back on the demise of our relationship.
I’ve also seen men (and women) use honesty as a shield to keep from allowing anyone, including me, to see them with their emotional walls down. I recall begging for emotional support for my creative passions only to be told that my art was terrible by people with no affinity for that kind of art or its genre. Even if they recognized that they held no expert status, they knew their honest dislike would force an emotional distance between us. I never came out and asked if they liked my art, even though I desperately wanted them to like it because it could have been a beautiful avenue for sharing. No, they shut down that avenue before our relationships ever got that far.
When it comes to honesty, there’s no middle ground, regardless of the supposed good reason for it. I’ve had boyfriends tell little white lies to me because they were sweet enough that they didn’t want to do anything to hurt me, but in the long run, I no longer could tell where the little lies turned into big ones. Yes, telling me his mom was a decade older than I am made me feel better about dating a younger man, but finding out she was oh-so-much-closer to my age was inevitable. A host of other little deceptions, so easily told for the nicest of reasons, slipped off his lips with the same deftness as far-reaching, heavy dishonesty that impacted many lives at once. He was trying to find middle ground where it was okay to lie, but it was never okay to lie to me. And never necessary.
There’s only a quick hop from being a man who will lie to make someone else feel good to becoming a man who will lie to save himself and consider it doing what he has to do or that he has no choice but to create huge deceptions. The little lies make it very easy to talk himself into major fictions.
While there’s not a middle ground for honesty, there is something better. I believe—and have experienced it several times recently—that you can be honest without being brutal. You can tell the truth without volunteering opinions as fact or offering up hurtful interpretations without being asked. You can find positive and truthful things to say, even if they’re opinions—rather than searching out a negative truth. You can gently lead a person through a horrible truth with love and kindness…and with great forethought.
The secret is compassion. Honest compassion and compassionate honesty. It’s refreshing and sweet, like that cup of clear water after so many previous chalices of cloudy poison. The need to be honest isn’t in the wake of all the possible bad things that can come between two people. It’s not even considered a need because it’s simply a way of life. And while the bad things are expressed with compassion, the honesty is more about sharing the good things, openly.