I’m a good liar. It’s a function of having overprotective, conservative, old-school, immigrant parents and wanting to have a social life outside the house. The thing that saves me from being one of the worst humans on the planet, though, is that I hate lying and liars, so I rarely tell lies. One of the most endearing moments of my parents’ marriage came when my sister wanted to surprise my dad with a visit home, which necessitated a switch in cars (which resulted in my dad wrecking my car). My mother paced back and forth between my room and her room, trying to find a way to explain why I needed the SUV that didn’t give away the surprise. I asked her why she was so nervous, and she said it was because she couldn’t lie to my dad. Not “wouldn’t,” but “couldn’t.” It underlined for me that they’re actively on the same team.
My dad’s been in town, and my sister arranged to come home for the weekend. As usual, because she loves both surprising and being surprised, she asked Mom and me to keep it a secret. On the day her flight left, she reiterated the need not to say anything to Dad, but I pointed out that he has a genius-level IQ and would probably notice something out of the ordinary was about to occur when we drove to the airport. She agreed, crestfallen. The disappointment loomed larger than life, and so I told Dad we had to run a quick, secret errand before we picked up a book for my mom and what time we needed to leave. Foolishly, I didn’t think through what my explanation for the errand to the airport would be before we left the house. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Dad: Why are we going to the airport?
CC: I dropped a credit card there and have to retrieve it.
Dad, after a couple of minutes: How did you pay for things on your trip without a credit card?
CC, lying in the moment: I dropped it yesterday when I got back.
Dad, after another minute: Why did you need to use your credit card on the way back?
CC, panicking internally: I was hungry, so I bought some nuts as a snack.
Dad: You were hungry??
CC, still panicking: Yeah. I ate dinner at 5pm Eastern time, so by the time I landed at 8pm Central time, I was kind of hungry again.
Dad, after a couple of minutes: How did you find out?
CC: They called me. [I panicked here again because how would they have my number???]
Dad: Where are you going to pick it up?
CC: At the kiosks – I can’t go inside security.
Dad: Oh, ok. You’re lucky they found your credit card.
Dad: You know, this reminds me of that time in high school when you lost three graphing calculators in a short amount of time. Do you remember?
CC: Well, since we talked about it at the time every day, and then you brought it up again at least once a year for the next five years, yes, I remember.
Dad: It looks like you haven’t outgrown losing things.
Effective lying requires some preparation so you can plant enough seeds of truth to make the lie believable. I did not prep, and so my dad was left suspicious. After my sister surprised him, it turns out he’d been suspicious from the beginning, but not for the reason I thought.
Dad: Jackie, your sister is a liar! Do you know what she told me?
Jackie: That she lost her credit card.
Dad: Yes. Did you know that she lost three graphing calculators within a month during high school?
Jackie: Whoa. That’s expensive.
CC: Hey. I had to bear all the responsibility of keeping your secret so you could surprise Dad, and I’m catching a lot of BS for it. Be on my side.
Jackie: Oh, ok. Good job, good job.
Dad: You know, when your sister first told me we had to run an errand to the airport, I thought we were going to meet her boyfriend.
CC: What??? What boyfriend?
Dad: I was hoping that you’d kept a boyfriend secret and that we were going to meet him at the airport, so before we left, I shaved and brushed my teeth.
CC: Oh, my God.
Dad: I’m very happy to see my other daughter, but I’m pretty disappointed there’s no boyfriend.
I’ve always known that nothing good comes of lying; sometimes the nothing good is better than what comes from telling the truth, and that’s when I’ll tell a lie. This little experience reminded me that lie prep is crucial, and that it’s better not to lie. Next time Jackie wants to surprise someone, she’s going to have to make all the arrangements herself.