I Quit Lying

I've always had a love-hate relationship with truth. As an only child with a vivid imagination, lying came easy. By junior high, I was an expert forger, using carbon paper and an old typewriter to change report card grades and signing permission slips as if they were faux Van Goghs and Renoirs. I was also a social liar, crafting intricate tales of my fictional relationships with David Hasselhoff and some redheaded Mouseketeer I'd been dating in-between the commercial shoots I claimed to attend on weekends.

At the pinnacle of my serial dishonesty, I was accused of spreading rumors about one of my friends and promptly kicked out of the prom limo we were sharing. I was actually telling the truth that time, but by then, no one believed me. I was the girl who cried wolf, and missing my senior prom was my penance.

So in my sophomore year of college, I made a New Year's resolution to stop lying for good. Not one to do things halfway, I took it as a black-and-white decree to come clean about everything, regardless of the consequences:

Mom, I'm not Catholic anymore.

It's not me; it's you.

That dress makes you look like a cheap hooker.

I became a truth junkie. No more wracking my brain for just the right response to a question, no more sneaking around behind my parents'/friends'/boyfriend's back. It was liberating. My major that year was brutal honesty — with the emphasis on brutal. Needless to say, I lost a few friendships.

The first was a girlfriend who got engaged a few weeks into the semester. I didn't approve of her druggie boyfriend, but she was my friend and, hey, I was excited about the bridesmaid dress. Three weeks before the big day, Suzanne asked what I thought of her fiancé. I tactlessly blurted out, "He's a strung-out loser, Sue. You can do so much better."

You're probably guessing I wasn't a communications major. The result? I ended up minus one good friend and plus one $250 frilly hot pink taffeta gown with matching — and equally awful, in retrospect — pink sequin headband.

Then there was my boyfriend of nine months, a snarky math geek with a big appetite and a bigger heart. Not only did I dump James on our anniversary, I told him that I couldn't stand the sight of his pudgy naked body. (I got my comeuppance when I gained 50 pounds of flab after graduation, which I've never lost. Hooray for karma!) I can still remember the tears in his puppy-dog eyes, the way his plump lower lip trembled as I coldly listed all his physical and mental flaws. I was so high on the truth that I didn't realize what an asshole I'd become.

That was the point at which I quit my New Year's resolution. I'd made it through three-quarters of the year, and had lost nearly every friend I had.

Years later, I sent James a heartfelt letter apologizing for the rude breakup. I was a recovering truthaholic, and this was Step 9 — seeking forgiveness from those I'd wronged. It worked, as James eventually accepted my apology and we rekindled our friendship. My new, but not official, resolve to temper truth with tact was tested when James confided that he was considering getting a penis enlargement and wanted my opinion. (No joke, this really happened.)

I considered telling James about Dr. Oz's assertion on Oprah Winfrey that obese men gain one inch of penis for every 50 pounds they lose but held my tongue. Medical fact or no, I was on this road to recovery because I'd been so insensitive about his weight in the first place. And I wasn't falling off the tact wagon for anything — not even highly inappropriate dick questions. I opted for plan B: Ask lots of medical questions and encourage James to do whatever made him happy.

Today, I still err on the side of honesty, but with definite shades of gray. I base my responses on the level of truth the recipient actually wants, and can handle. There'll always be the co-worker who can take a little ribbing about her laziness and the best friend who really does want to know how her miniskirt looks and if her online sweetie's a creepy stalker dude. For everyone else, your girlfriend/boyfriend seems really nice, you do a great job at work and, no, you don't look fat in that dress.