Here are some of the lies I’ve told in the past 10 weeks:
That I haven’t left the house. (I have.)
That I’ve worn a mask everywhere. (I haven’t.)
That I’m happy to have the privilege of being home rn. (I’m miserable, sometimes.)
I know what you’re thinking—you’ve lied too. Here are some of the lies I’ve been told in the past few weeks:
When I offered to pick up flowers for my parents’ garden since they weren’t leaving the house, my mom said okay…and then admitted my father had snuck out to the garden center already.
One friend confessed she let her kid have a playdate.
Another friend said she hadn’t seen anyone, then copped to hanging out with a friend. No, wait, it was two. Actually, three. Three separate friends.
Basically, lies are ev-er-y-where. From BS “I promises” about social distancing to full-on fake news to get out of yet another Zoom happy hour, shifting social norms in this post-, er, mid-COVID-19 reality are creating new pressures for people to conform to—or at least, *pretend* they are. (A lot of ’em are pretending.)
“Forget allergy season—it’s heightened lying season,” says celebrity life coach Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairwoman of Handel Group, an executive life coaching company based in New York City.
According to legit experts who actually study this, the average number of lies a person tells per day is 1.65. But that was pre-COVID-19. Lying hasn’t necessarily increased because of the pandemic, but “COVID-19 has just given humans a different variety box with new flavors of lies to sample,” Zander says. The fact that we’re dishing out—and on the receiving end of—a whole new slew of lies makes it feel starker, even more offensive.
We’re all hitting that lie buffet hard, basically. Take Melissa Litchfield, who lives in Savannah and works in digital advertising. Feeling overwhelmed with mounting work and without any childcare, Melissa texted their babysitter to come over to help. She just conveniently forgot to tell her husband. “Juggling the solo parenting thing and work is extremely hard and stressful,” she tells me over the phone. “I didn’t want to be shamed or judged for breaking the social distancing rules.”
She confessed when her husband called from work to check in on them. “He was upset that I didn’t tell him prior to asking her to come over. He said that I was at risk of exposing our family and her as well,” she explained. She apologized.
David N., a FinTech professional out of Boulder, Colorado, lied to get out of face-to-face meetings for work back when the pandemic was just starting to travel globally. “I was really nervous,” David tells me. “I found myself coming up with excuses because I didn’t want to be seen as an alarmist.” David, who had business meetings scheduled all over the country, knew that each trip would mean shaking hands with dozens of people, sometimes up to 100 a day, at conferences or trade shows and the risk felt too high.
“I’ve never been a germophobe in the past, but I feigned illness and travel conflicts in order to avoid several events,” he says. His immediate coworkers knew what he was doing so he didn’t have to lie to them, and while he may have lost some business in the process, “they probably would have gone cold in the chaos of the lockdown anyway,” he adds.
Lying in the context of a pandemic when your health or wellness is at stake feels at least somewhat more forgivable than, say, lying to get out of seeing your S.O.’s mom because you just don’t like her. “Sometimes in time of great stress, we search for simple answers or fixes to overly complex problems. It allows us to feel that we are in control when we are clearly not,” says Chicago-based psychiatrist Pavan Prasad, MD.
Other lies are just means to achieve small victories in the face of annoying new trends.
“I will lie to get out of any Zoom gathering to watch TV shows together,” admits Liz Welch, who works in nonprofit advocacy in Billings, Montana. Liz, who used the excuse that she didn’t watch trash TV to avoid a Zoom-and-cocktails viewing of RuPaul’s Drag Race, got busted when she let it slip that she watched the season finale of Survivor.
“I love the show, but it came at the end of a really long day where I had spent hours on Zoom calls. I just couldn’t do it,” she says. The sudden need for virtual face time with everyone was overwhelming, Liz says. Liz coughed up to her Zoom fatigue, “which is what I should have said in the first place.” Her friend made fun of her for getting caught, it was fine.
While these pandemic lies feel petty, even unnecessary, the fact that we’re rewriting all sorts of social guidelines as we go makes ’em also inevitable. “Typically, when a person lies, it is because they are afraid of the reaction that the truth will evoke,” California-based psychotherapist Jennifer Pepper explains. “In regards to the pandemic, there are an innumerable amount of new rules to follow, and sometimes those rules are not black-and-white.”
Not even mental health experts are immune to receiving lies during COVID-19. Judy Ho, a Los Angeles–based triple-board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist, has caught friends and even her own parents in lies, all about breaking social distancing rules. Her advice on how to confront those you catch in a lie?
“Take a deep breath, take emotionality out of it, and simply cite the behavior you observed and ask them why they did it,” she says. “Then let them explain without interjecting. Try to stay open-minded and really listen. From there, you can educate gently and ask them how you can help them change their behavior to a more proactive one.”
Then, you know, if you need to, I don’t know, lie about needing to “hop off the call” to walk your dog when you actually have a cat and just want to drink a White Claw in the tub while rewatching Friends episodes on your laptop, who am I to judge??
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