Thursday, January 17, 2008

Do You Tell Little White Lies? (Or do you lie about that too?)

Most people like to think of themselves and portray themselves as “an honest person.” As some of you know, in my novels, pop-psych books and self-help books the phenomena of honesty, dishonesty and deceit are frequently discussed and illustrated (as well of the many ramifications of them). When I perchance look at people’s self-written profiles on websites such as and, it is not uncommon to find statements such as, “One thing you can count on is that I am an honest person,” and “My friends all know me as an honest person.” What they are saying is that they are an honest person – they tell the truth and don’t lie (by design, omission or commission). And lets’ remember: A lie is a type of deception in the form of an untruthful statement with the intention to deceive, often with the further intention to maintain a secret or reputation, or to avoid punishment.

nterestingly, nonetheless, says, “Honest people are the best liars. A truism of the human condition. Everyone lies, even if it is unintentional. The true masters of the art are the honest ones; they can remember what they said to one person and make sure they don’t contradict themselves when talking to another. Their mind carefully ticks and tocks, maintaining a delicate equilibrium of deceit."

By now you’re probably thinking, “I hear you, Bill, but I AM an honest person.” Okay I believe you. But just between you and me, let me ask you: have you ever made any of the following statements and not really meant it?

"It's so nice to see you."

“Glad you called.”

“I’d love to chat but I’m late for a meeting.”

“My cell phone battery was down.”

“I’ve been so busy this week… we’re really slammed at work.”

“I’m working on it as we speak.”

“Jeez… I’d love to but I already have a previous commitment that day.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing you.”

“Oh this is delicious.”

“You know I’m always honest with you.”

(Or should I have asked, “When was the last time you made a statement like any of these?”)

In essence, statements like those above typically are considered “white lies.” According to, “A white lie would cause no discord if it were uncovered and offers some benefit to the liar or the hearer, or both. As a concept, it is largely defined by local custom and cannot be clearly separated from regular lies with any authority. As such the term may have differing meanings in different cultures. Lies which are harmless but told for no reason are generally not called white lies.”

Marc, of, posted what he considered the 15 most common white lies:

  1. It wasn’t me! – Because some things just aren’t worth taking credit for.
  2. The table will be ready in 5 minutes. – Because it sounds a lot better than 15 minutes.
  3. Oh, yeah. That makes sense. – Because option B involves admitting that I am clueless.
  4. Thank you so much! I just love it! – Because telling someone that their gift sucked would make me look like an insensitive jerk.
  5. Yeah, you look great in that dress. – Because it’s better than being slapped.
  6. Oh, things would have been different if I was there! – Because I’m Superman and I can always make a difference… or at least that’s how I want others to perceive of me.
  7. No, officer… I have no idea how fast I was going. – Because claiming ignorance is sometimes better than admitting to insubordination.
  8. I’m 29. – Because 29 is like 20 years younger than 30.
  9. Yeah, I’ll start working on that ASAP! – Because telling you I have 10 things to do first would just irritate you.
  10. Yes, John was with me last night. – Because that’s what friends do… we agree and ask questions later.
  11. My resume is 5 pages long for a good reason. – Because I’m darn good at bullsh….’!
  12. Man, that sucker was 10 feet long! – Because anything less would be boring.
  13. Yeah, I was a badass on my high school football team! – Because I want to be seen by others in an even stronger light than I see myself.
  14. I’m 21, 6’5, with a muscular build. – Because you can’t see me in this online chat room… ha ha!
  15. I thought I already sent that email out. I’m sure I did. – Because telling you that it was a low priority and I forgot would probably hurt our relationship.

As posted by, here are the first seven of their top ten white lies that men tell women (for some reason their numbers 8, 9 and 10 are missing from their site):

1. “Me? I graduated top of my class.”

2. “Of course I like your friends!”

3. “Honey, you’re the best.”

4. “No, I can’t call you. I don’t even know where I’ll be.”

5. “That dress isn’t too tight. It looks great!”

6. “They’re downsizing at work. But don’t worry. They won’t get me.”

7. “Sure, I’ll mow the lawn — as soon as this crick in my back goes away.” lists and discusses (in reverse order) the top 10 lies women tell men. Below is their list (with only the first line or two from each):

Number 10

Oh, come on, do you really believe that she wouldn’t change anything about you? Anything? Reality check: There are probably many things about you that she’d like to change.

Number 9

No matter how great your friends are, your girlfriend doesn’t want them around all the time. Even though she might have told you this little white lie when you first started dating, don’t expect it to last past the Super Bowl.

Number 8

Once again, this is a lie your girlfriend might tell you at the beginning of your relationship. She’ll say that she really doesn’t mind picking up the dirty dishes you leave lying around and that she just loves doing the laundry. I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t going to last either.

Number 7

If you’re lucky, your girlfriend may not be lying when she tells you that she loves spending time with your family. However, if she secretly despises them, she probably won’t tell you in order to spare your feelings.

Number 6

Ah, another first date classic. She may tell you that she just loves watching Monday Night football in order to prove that she’s not like all the other girls and that you have common interests. But unless you’re lucky enough to have found one of the rare true female sports fans out there, within a few weeks, she’ll probably be complaining every time you sit down to watch a game.

Number 5

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the better part of your adult life, you’ve probably figured out that this is a trap. No matter what you say, she will get angry. If you try to tell her that she looks great, she’ll accuse you of lying to make her feel better about her rhinoceros butt. On the other hand, if you tell her that she has, in fact, put on a couple of pounds, you’re likely to set off a war in your living room.

Number 4

Do your arguments with your girlfriend usually end up with her admitting that you’re right and that you know better than her? And you actually believe her? Even if she realizes she’s wrong, chances are slim to none that she’ll actually admit it. The fact is that many women will tell you that you’re right to shut you up, but what they’re really thinking is: “He’ll find out soon enough that I’m right.”

Number 3

Although she may say this at first to seem cool and open-minded, chances are that it secretly drives her nuts when you eyeball the hot redhead at the grocery store. It’s quite simple: She wants to feel like you only have eyes for her even though she may not look like Pamela Anderson’s long-lost twin.

Number 2

Although it isn’t true that all women care about is the size of a man’s bank account, most women want a guy who is financially stable and independent. No, they don’t all want a sugar daddy; they just want to know that their man is capable of taking care of a potential future family.

Number 1

Most men will have temporary erectile difficulties at some point in their lives and most women are aware of this fact. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t bother your girlfriend when you’re getting hot and heavy and suddenly there’s nothing happening down there. This lie is only one of the dozens of sex-related lies that women tell to spare their partner’s feelings, including the classics “size doesn’t matter” and “you’re the best I’ve ever had.”

I hope you enjoyed these above lists. I really do. Trust me!

Question: What do you do to avoid committing white lies?



Anonymous said...

I don't really do anything to prevent telling white lies. I admit it - I tell them. Most of the time I tell them in order to make the other person feel better. If a friend calls at a bad time but I haven't spoken to him in four months I'm not about to tell him I'm too busy to talk for a few minutes. The problem is when the truth sounds like a white lie. Sometimes I really am slammed at work, my cell battery is low, and I really am putting the foog on the table. The person on the other end of the phone may think I'm just saying that to get off the phone when in reality it is the truth.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Maconole,
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience with “white lies.” Firstly, I applaud you for being honest about it – I unfortunately know numerous individuals who would say they never tell a white lie and I can recall numerous times in the past when they have told white lies – to me. Secondly, I appreciate your sensitivity to the impact of any of your statements or responses on other people (e.g., why unnecessarily hurt someone’s feelings). And lastly, I can’t help but think of the extent to which telling white lies is a lifestyle for a person – for example, if I have a habit of telling white lies, chances are that people eventually will come to expect such from me (and react and/or respond cautiously or unbelievingly to anything I say). On the other hand, if I have a history of being upfront and honest and then occasionally tell a white lie, it will land on softer and more receptive ears.
As you can see, your Comment prompted numerous thoughts and considerations on my behalf – thank you!
‘til next time,

Anonymous said...

I hate having to tell white lies- I feel really dishonest and trapped. Trapped into saying something I KNOW I don't mean, but the only alternative is to hurt someone's feelings, or worse, for them to think I am a bitch. It feels really awkward and I try to avoid it whenever possible. I can think of two whoppers I just told within the last few days. Reflecting back, it's possible that telling the truth may have actually helped these people, at least in my mind it would have been honest feedback. But no, rather I would let them think there is "nothing wrong" and I really am "too busy". Which isn't so much of a lie if you really think about it, it means other things are taking priority in my life because they are more important to me and a much better use of my time. One final thought, semi unrelated: hubby and I have a pact: I don't ask him questions I really don't want an honest answer to. That way he never has to tell me I don't look fat.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Barb,
Thanks for visiting and sharing your experiences – you indeed gave me much food for thought.
I also hate to tell those white lies to which you refer. However, it is important to consider the nature of your relationship with the other person. For example, I never have told a white lie to a person I was seeing in therapy – why? I only had one goal: to help that individual. If he or she didn’t like what I was saying, in spite of my gentleness, I said what I thought he or she needed to hear, and if they didn’t like it, or me, that was okay. That was what they needed to hear (for their benefit). If on the other hand the individual is a friend, I have two goals: (1) to be helpful to the person (for their benefit); and (2) to maintain the friendship (for my benefit). To wit, for example, my neighbor is not my client – thus, the little white lies across the fence (“Oh your grass looks so nice.”).
Now regarding your “agreement” with your hubby… maybe it would be more accurate to say, “You don’t ask each other a question when you anticipate that his or her answer will either be what you don’t want to hear or it will be a white lie. Said another way, why ask the question if you already know the (his or her) answer. It also may be that in good adult living relationships we don’t pick each other’s emotional scabs (or ask each other to do so). Let’s also remember, from a perceptual viewpoint, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” – one person sees “you’re fat” and the other sees “you have deliciously rounded curves.”
If whatever you two are doing is working for you (e.g., occasionally saying a little white lie), don’t worry about it – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (Isn’t that the American way – “If it ain’t broke, fix it ’till it is”).
Thanks again – you obviously gave me pause to think.
I hope to see you again,