We know it’s wrong; a pathology. And yet… it’s so hot right now.

Big Little Lies was arguably one of the best shows on television last year and Pretty Little Liars made being bad girls good TV for many seasons on the CW. Even the term “little white lies” (LWL) itself makes lying seem demure and feminine.

So even though we know lying is bad, is there a case to be made where it is also okay?

First, let’s understand the meaning of a lie. Simply put, lying is defined as “not telling the truth.”

But what if not telling the truth is simply a way to protect someone else from getting hurt? Or moreover, what if it’s a way to protect ourselves from getting hurt?

In Big Little Lies, Nicole Kidman’s character lies to her friends, family, therapist, and, most importantly, herself about being in a violently abusive marriage. Not uncommon among women, this is a lie we would certainly never chastise anyone for — but it is also the very definition of lying.  

This takes us to those cute LWL’s. I can remember being told during my primitive years to not fear the LWL, that it was actually a practical method of not necessarily doing something wrong, but rather painting a picture that was accurate enough (along with a clever and careful addition or subtraction of a few key details).  

It seemed legit as a teenager. How many times did you tell your parents you were at a friend’s studying when you were really out with a guy? Or at a party? Or that your jacket smelled of smoke because “everyone else was smoking?”

No one is going to jail for those lies. Dad really didn’t need to know you were sucking face with a college-aged guy who worked in the high school theater department at 16. (Sorry Dad!) An LWL is the lie you tell when the truth would cause more of an issue than need be. No one gets hurt, no one is the wiser.

Then there are the little every day lies we tell each other. The polite niceties when we say “Hello, how are you?” and respond with the automatic “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” There are also the giving and accepting of compliments that we don’t really mean, the accepting of plans when we would rather stay home, and of course, calling in sick when we just need a day off.  

There are the “snowball effect” lies — the ones that start little and white, and turn into giant avalanches that bury us in the end. When I was 29 I started dating a guy I wasn’t that into, but, at the time, being with Mr. Right Now was easier than being honest with myself and patiently waiting for Mr. Right. Before I knew it, I was living with him. And a few months after that he was proposing on a beach in Cuba, and I heard myself saying yes even though every fiber of my being was screaming “NO!” on the inside. Ultimately, the wedding never happened, but it took over two years of living a lie before I was able to finally get the truth out.

Maybe it’s a career path that started out as a small job “just to pay the rent.” Or maybe you’re someone who always says yes, only to end up feeling drained with no life of your own to speak of.

As women, we tend to be pleasers. And being pleasing often means lying to some extent.

Today we’re entering into the “Radical Honesty” movement. Started by Dr. Brad Blanton, it basically means speaking your truth; always bluntly, often brutally without fear of consequence. The objective is to bring people closer together with a high level of open communication.

But are we really ready for such raw levels of honesty in our daily interactions?

Being able to speak your truth with no fear, shame, or guilt, and being totally honest about your opinions, feelings, and desires to everyone, at all times, sounds pretty utopic… but also a bit unrealistic.

I can appreciate how a couple might benefit from this practice, but I have a hard time believing that if my partner really told me every time my ass looked fat I would still be able to feel good about myself.

Maybe though, this has more to do with how we really feel about ourselves, which is exactly the crux of why we lie… to make ourselves feel better. At times we may think it’s about making someone else feel better, but doesn’t that ultimately come back to us?

In the end, it is hard to imagine navigating the social intricacies of daily life without occasionally fudging the truth here and there. Perhaps there is a happy medium between the pretty lie and the radical honesty… and that medium may just be our own LWL.

Illustration credit: Juliet Romano.

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