Today I walked into the Corelle store just down the hill from my parent's house to buy a frying pan. The woman working at the store asked me if I needed help with anything, and I said I was just looking around because of [total falsehood]. After selecting the frying pan, and checking out, she asked me why I was in Corning, and I told her that [outright lie]. It wasn't until I was walking out the door that I asked myself: "Why on earth did you just do that?"
For most of my life I've felt like an extremely honest person. I'm beginning to fear, though, that when it comes answering any kind of question about myself to a stranger, I've become a pathological liar.
Let me explain.
For the first 25 years of my life, I could say that I didn't think I'd I've ever told a lie to anyone. That was until I moved to the Middle East, where it became a matter of legal necessity. The very first sentence that I uttered to the immigration officer was a bold-faced lie—a lie that then needed to be true for the next 22 months. And it felt terrible.
At least, in the beginning it felt terrible. I would do almost anything to avert conversations from topics that I knew I would have to answer untruthfully about. When it inevitably did come up, I think it made the people who asked it sorry that they had, simply because of how visibly uncomfortable I became.
Over time, though, it got easier. Eventually to the point that I would do it not because it was necessary, but just because it was convenient. And awhile after that, because it was fun.
Over those couple years, I went from not being able to bend the truth slightly without my voice breaking to being able to look anyone steadily in the eyes and tell them the most outlandish nonsense
"I'd love to give you a decision right now, but if I don't talk about it with my wife it'll be a problem. Know what I mean?
"Of course I work here."
"He must have misunderstood me. I said I'm working hard—on Arabic, of course—not 'working here.'"
"I don't know if my girlfriend would be comfortable with this."
"That's interesting. Maybe I'll put it in my thesis."
"I'll talk to my friends and see if they're up for it."
"Yeah, I can't believe you guessed that! Little village right outside of Berlin."
"I have friends there."
"Don't worry, my partner is the same way."
"I'm with the Church."
"Doing some volunteering."
"Love to, but I'm getting lunch with someone."
"A Scandinavian NGO, but they only hire Americans, and they don't have a website."
"Of course I'm a spy, all the foreigners are!"
"You know even if that were true I couldn't tell you."
I had a reality for neighbors, a reality for landlords, a reality for taxi drivers, a reality for people I met out, a reality for people I knew would assume I was lying, a reality for classmates, a reality for the secret police, and lots of others that I eventually got good at making up on the fly for people I was fairly certain I'd never see again.
And it was fun. But the incident at the Corelle store makes me think I may be in need of rehab.