Dilemmas: Should we ever `be honest'?

Dennis's girlfriend read a book on relationships, and they had an `honesty' session. He told of old affairs and said she was overweight; she said she was still a bit in love with her old boyfriend. This has driven them apart. How honest should you be in a relationship?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

It makes me squirm to think of Dennis and his girlfriend sitting down in all seriousness to be "honest" with each other. It might be less destructive if they just took it in turns to stab each other with sharp knives. I know they say that "sticks and stones can break your bones and words don't bother me", but the wounds from sticks and stones do heal up eventually, while the things that people say rankle for ever, however hard you try to forget them.

And anyway, what does "being honest" mean? Surely it doesn't mean being hurtful when there's no need to be? Or does it mean "not being dishonest" - a very different matter? And where do good manners and respect for your partner come in?

Is saying: "Well, yes, I suppose you could lose a couple of pounds" any less honest than saying: "You're fat"? What about: "Yes, you have been putting on weight, but I'll always love you whatever size you are." It's usually possible to be completely honest, but elegant and polite and kind at the same time. Rather than say: "How could you have been so rude to our host?" you could say: "I think you hurt our host quite a lot by what you said, although I'm sure you didn't mean to. It didn't do you justice."

Honesty is a bit like a lemon. Not very nice if it's forced, whole, down your throat all at once, but perfectly delicious if added to another dish. I have said the most frightful things to people, but added to a cream sauce as it were. Instead of telling me to get lost they have almost invariably said that they appreciated my honesty, and have taken it as a compliment.

Anyway, what is honest or not is often a question of mood. "You're fat and selfish" is something you can think on a Wednesday, but on Thursday, after he's spontaneously visited your old mother in a nursing-home and then taken you out to dinner, you might think: "You're generous, lovely and cuddly". Which is the "honest" view? I suppose you could do things the American self-help book way: "Today I am irritated by your weight problem and can only see your selfish side." But although it's an absolutely splendid way to talk in theory, I don't know a single soul who, though they endorse the idea behind it, can bring themselves to speak like that. Perhaps because it means you'd have to say the nice things that way, too. "I love you" would turn into: "Today I feel great love for you". Not very comforting. I mean, cripes, what about tomorrow?

In his diaries, James Lees-Milne wrote, having been asked by his wife whether he thought she had a sense of humour and replied that he didn't think she did: "People take it as the deadliest insult to be told they lack sense of humour; it is worse than being told their breath stinks. I shouldn't have said what I said. The truth is, one cannot be candid, or honest with one's dearest. One cannot be honest or truthful. Truth is not Beauty. It is something to be hidden in the deepest depths of one's inmost being. One must act all the time."

I don't think Dennis and his girlfriend should act all the time. They should be honest - but only when honesty is called for, and not as an end in itself. They must never, never, be "brutally" honest or, indeed, brutally anything. Honesty is no excuse for being rude, disrespectful, hurtful or unloving. Honesty is terribly important; but so is presentation.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

Honesty is the best policy

In a long-term relationship, anything less than honesty engenders mistrust and stores up a wealth of future problems. For the first three years of my current (very long-term) relationship, I did not allow my partner to see me without make-up - fearing that he would surely leave if he saw "the real me". However, I plucked up courage, braced myself and left it off one day. He didn't notice. He is three stone overweight and I would quite like him to lose some of this; however, it in no way diminishes my feelings for him, as he is well aware. One should invest only in a relationship that is true, underpinned by trust and love. Too many people accept romantic myths, self-delusion and empty flattery. The divorce courts are full of people who have bought and sold fairy tales about each other. These are cheap, come without guarantees and carry a high long-term cost, emotionally and financially.

BETTY B

Birkenhead, Merseyside

No such thing as a clean slate

Don't use a "getting-to-know-you" period as a confessional: there's nothing to be gained by trying to start a new relationship with a mythical clean slate because you both will have past experiences (unless you're very young) which you will undoubtedly wish to conceal. Past relationships will have helped you to mature, and made you what you are today. Be truthful, but I'd advise caution about being too inquisitive of each other. Each of you may have secrets that may upset the other if revealed.

You're being too introspective as a pair, maybe. Chuck the How-to-do- Relationships book away and join a tennis or squash club. You'll have far more fun and learn more about each other.

MARTYN LLOYD

Woodbridge, Suffolk

It's time to move on

Maybe telling you about it was an opportunity for her to let go of feelings for her old boyfriend. Sometimes I view the feelings within our hearts as having limited space to exist in.

Tell your girlfriend how much you love her now. The past is gone. Look to the future and enjoy your present.

ANNA GILLESPIE

Glasgow

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm 36 and recently realised that I desperately want children.

I've been going out with a man for three years but we keep splitting up. Now he's got broody, too, and wants children. Should I break with this man and try to find a more stable relationship? If so I'm afraid of never having children. Or should we just go for it and see what happens?

Yours sincerely, Wendy

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from . Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk, giving a postal address for a bouquet

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions