This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I have been friends with Liz for my entire adult life. We met over 20 years ago and have been friends since. She is a loyal friend and someone whom I have had the luxury of relying on when I’ve needed help, be it financial or emotional. I don’t take our relationship lightly and she knows how I feel about her. I know how she feels about me as well.
Early on in our relationship, I noticed that Liz would make up little “white lies” here and there. She’d tell her mother she was on an errand when really she was at a movie. As a married woman she might tell her husband that she was food shopping when really she was out with me. She’ll tell her children that she can’t babysit for a grandchild because she’s working, but really she isn’t working. That is one kind of lie she has told—the kind that in my mind is used as an excuse to get out of something she’d rather not do.
I am not writing to you about those lies. I’m writing to you about another kind of lie I have noticed, which is the following. Recently, I had a small surprise birthday party thrown by a group of girlfriends. Liz told the coordinator that she couldn’t come because she had to pick her daughter up from the airport. After the party was over, Liz apologized for not being able to make it but gave me a different reason for being unable to come. These things have been happening with more frequency lately.
I have brought it to her attention, but she denies lying. She says she never told the party coordinator that she had to pick her daughter up from the airport but rather that she had agreed to watch her granddaughter that night and couldn’t back out. Other women in our group are talking about Liz and her lies, and I can’t say that I don’t listen to the conversation. It provides me with the validation I am looking for.
Sometimes, with all of Liz’s white and not-so-white lies, I start to wonder if I am the crazy one. I don’t know what to do. I am certainly unwilling to let go of a two-decade friendship with a wonderful friend. When confronted, she falls further down her rabbit hole of lies, using more and more lies to get out of it. She looks so foolish that I feel bad for her and have been pretty much avoiding the issue altogether. It’s much easier for me to let her lie and to look the other way. I don’t understand why she is such a liar. Am I crazy to stay in this friendship?
Having a relationship with someone who is prone to lying is challenging. At odds with each other are your desire to pursue your friendship with the wonderful, warm, responsible person you have known for 20 years, and your sense of integrity, or possibly feelings of foolishness and anger that typically arise at the realization that Liz lies to you. You ask if you are crazy to stay in this friendship. I am sure the verdict is out on that one, with a chunk of readers feeling “Yes! Run, Rachel, run! Liz will stop at nothing, she cannot control herself, and you will eventually get hurt.” Then there is a good portion of readers feeling “No, you are not crazy. You have a 20-year friendship. You know Rachel has an issue with lying. It’s not about you; it’s her problem. As long as you are aware and adjust your expectations, keep this friendship of half a lifetime.”
Neither camp is wrong, and you are the one who must live with your decision to keep your friend or divorce her from your life. You clearly indicated your intention to keep your friendship with Liz, so I will proceed to address your question with some insight into her lying behavior, along with coping mechanisms and tools to manage this relationship.
There are many reasons why people lie. To some extent, lying is a normal phenomenon. We use it as a survival mechanism. For example, you might be late to meet a deadline because you are having trouble with an emotionally challenging child at home, so you tell your boss, “I’ve been so swamped at work; I apologize, but I will be missing the deadline.” This is what I would call a white lie and we do it because we don’t want our boss to know about our personal struggles at home. Even simpler, an acquaintance asks, “How are you?” and you answer “fine,” because you don’t want the whole world to know that you are actually separated from your husband. This is survival, and we all do it.
Some people with lying behaviors have learned to lie to be polite, respectful, or well liked, while others have learned to lie growing up in an abusive home where lying may have been the means to avoid an unspeakable truth, such as psychological, physical, or sexual abuse. I don’t know the first thing about Liz, but solely based on your e‑mail, it seems as though she may have a hard time saying “no.”
For some, saying no represents a perceived personal weakness, so this kind of liar may make up an excuse about picking up a daughter from the airport or telling her children she is working to avoid her perceived weakness. For others, saying no is unacceptable because that would potentially mean being unliked or unloved, which is intolerable for the person with lying behaviors. The mind tells this person, “You are worthy of love based on what you do. If you can’t do, you will not receive love.” At the heart of it, this kind of liar does not want to hurt others’ feelings or have her own feelings hurt.
In an effort to stay in this friendship, you could reframe your perspective of her from one of “How could she belittle me and our relationship by blatantly lying?” to “Liz is doing this from a place of weakness. She doesn’t realize she will be loved, warts and all. Poor Liz.”
The liar gets herself into further trouble by eventually being unable to keep track of her own lies. At that point a liar will avoid you, confront you, do nothing short of yell, kick, and scream. They often will go on the defensive. They will continue lying once confronted for one of two reasons: They don’t want to or can’t deal with the outcome of the truth being exposed; or they have started to believe their own lies.
You are writing in about Liz denying her lies. I think that if you choose to stay in this friendship with her, you are going to have to lower your expectations. Liz lies. She isn’t going to stop lying tomorrow. As painful as this may be, you are lying to yourself about who Liz is. In order to stay in this relationship, you are going to have to work hard (very hard) on accepting her as she is: a warm, wonderful, loyal friend with a lying problem (issue, habit, behavior, etc.). That is Liz’s truth. Whether or not she admits it, that is the person she presents to the world.
Some helpful tips: Keep a journal. Yes, it’s hard work, but friendship is work sometimes. The journal is not for her—it is for you, to preserve your sanity. If Liz tells you on Monday, “Rachel, I am going to the movies with my husband so I can’t let your grocery delivery in,” write it down, so that when she tells you later in the week she did nothing Monday night and is just bored, bored, bored, you can look in your journal and be comforted that you are not losing your mind.
If her lies are just driving you insane, and it’s too much to keep quiet about, gently and privately bring to her attention the two conflicting pieces of information presented to you. Don’t expect her to change her ways. You do not have the power to control whether she tells the truth or lies again. The only control you have in this relationship is what you do with Liz’s lies. You can ignore, you can confront with love and patience, or you can walk away. It is important to remember that you are not a victim of Liz’s lies. You get enough from this friendship that it is worth it to you to tolerate her weakness. Good luck!
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.