Lying by Omission
I had a nightmare about my situation with Frank. He and I were together and I kept asking, “Who is Amy?” He would change the topic immediately. I woke up so frustrated that I immediately wrote to him and said, “You need to tell me who Amy is. Please don’t ignore me anymore.”
Here’s what he said. “Amy and I were married. She has moved back to New York. We were together for 9 years.”
Seriously!!! I wanted to scream. Not about the fact that he had been married before, but over the fact that he lied to me. When I asked him why it had taken four times of me asking over a period of one month for him to reply he initially said that he was too busy and tired every evening that he didn’t have the energy to write me about it. When pressed about the lie he said, “Being divorced is not something I am proud of. I didn’t mention it, because I don’t want people to hold it against me. I don’t bring it up as a part of conversation, but I do talk about it if I am asked about it.”
He’s playing a game that I like to call “lying by omission.” I know we had talked about our past relationships. I remember him telling me that he was with someone for nine years when he was living in New York and that they had been engaged. But what he’s telling me is that because I never directly asked him, “Were you married?” or “Are you divorced?” that he felt it wasn’t an important thing to share in our relationship. Basically he lied to me because I didn’t ask him the right question. Oy!
Hmm. I would have to disagree with his philosophy. When a new couple is sitting around talking about past relationships, I would think that if they were serious about each other that there is a mutual moral obligation to share that type of information.
n the next email he clarified his lying by omission behavior. “I don’t recall you asking me if I had been married vs. are you married. I am afraid my memory is not great, however, if you asked me if I had been divorced I would have told you. I am not proud of it, but it doesn’t shame me either.” It’s amazing how the simple crafting of a question can result in so much deceit and angst. Would he never have told me about his marriage/divorce if I hadn’t asked the “right” question? It starts the spinning of a web of lies. The old saying applies, “The truth can set you free.”
I actually saw this behavior playing out in my parent’s marriage last weekend. My mother had asked my father a question, but hadn’t worded in just the right way to get the information she was seeking. Knowing that he could avoid a confrontation my father dodged a conflict by not answering the question that he knew she wanted the answer to. I was appalled by their behavior and lack of respect for one-another. Lying by omission allows the liar to manipulate the situation to their advantage – not revealing the truth because they weren’t asked a question directly pertaining to the “truth.”
Then I found myself in a situation where lying by omission worked to my advantage. How the tables can turn! I was speaking at a conference for work and after my session a very handsome man came up to me to talk about presentation. About half-way through the conversation, out of left-field, he asked, “Are you married?” Momentarily stunned I responded, “No.” He proceeded to ask me to get a drink with him. Extremely flattered by the attention, I was quick to agree by telling him that it would be great to talk over cocktails about how our organizations could work together.
In the moment of this conversation I was completely aware of what I was doing. He asked if I was married, obviously the answer to that question is “no,” but he didn’t clearly ask me if I was in a relationship, to which the answer would be “yes.” Of course that’s what he wanted to know. He wanted to know how much flirting he could do and how far he might get with me by knowing what sort of boundaries he was dealing with. The phrase “lying by omission” flashed in my head as I told him I wasn’t married, but neglected to say anything about being in a relationship.
I was conscious of the fact that I wanted the attention of this attractive man, but knowing that he wouldn’t give it if he knew I was in a relationship. I knew that nothing would come of it on my side as long as I kept things about business. So during drinks when he would ask personal questions, I would change the conversation back to business.
Did I feel bad about what I was doing? Yes. Was I being selfish and dishonest? Yes and yes. Does that put my lie by omission in the same category as Frank’s? I don’t think so.
I knew that I would probably never see the conference man again, so why not be flattered by a little harmless flirting. As per Frank’s lie, he and I are in a relationship. Honesty is something I prize in relationships, which I had told him on many occasions. I know many readers probably don’t see any distinctions between the two types of lies – mine and his. Maybe I’m lying to myself. Needless to say, when Frank returns from Afghanistan we’re going to have a long conversation about honesty. I’ll be careful to craft my questions about his former marriage in a way that will get at exactly the things I want to know.
Photo by Ed Yourdon, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Nickerson, K. (2011). Lying by Omission. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 27, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/yfactor/2011/07/lying-by-omission/