How to lie to your wife (without getting your bunny boiled)

Honesty - without it, what have you got? Perhaps a relationship that can really work, says Tim Lott

There is a moment in my novel White City Blue when the female protagonist, Veronica Tree, is asked by a friend what she thinks is the most important thing in a relationship. She immediately replies that it is honesty, since without this nothing else can work.

Like the spiteful god that an author always is, I have arranged for Veronica, within minutes of uttering this, both to meet and fall in love with a man who is so committed to lying both in principle and practice that he not only pursues a successful career in estate agency, but also has borne since childhood the nickname Frankie the Fib. Thereafter the destiny of their relationship hinges on the resolution of the following conundrum: when, if ever, is it right to lie to someone you love?

I suspect that Veronica's view that honesty is the key to a successful relationship is one shared by many of her gender. And although I hope that few men are as prolific with the porkies as my Frankie, I also suspect that the collective male view of honesty within a relationship is, to say the least, more negotiable. Which is not to say that men are liars and women are truthful. Far from it.

Women pay more lip service to honesty - while finding far more subtle ways of circumnavigating it. It's simply that each camp tends to take a different official view about what makes a relationship successful. Veronica's conviction about the importance of honesty is as much a ritual proclamation as a thought-out conclusion based on the facts. On some level, she understands that too much honesty, like too much falsehood, can be poison. But it takes Frankie and his easy, guiltless forays into serial mendacity to make this understanding explicit to her. For the point about honesty and dishonesty is not to abolish one or the other, but to achieve an elegant and workable balance between the two without the corrosion of guilt or self-hatred.

Now if you are of a puritan sensibility, or a politician, you might declaim the amorality of this statement and insist that truth is sacred, in a relationship as in every other sphere of life. And you would in a sense be right, but - particularly if you were a politician - the thing you might fail to understand is that it is telling the truth to yourself that should be sacred; misleading other people can frequently be both practical and moral.

I would assert that that there is only one possible answer to "does my bum look big in this?" and that it might well be different from the answer that is formally correct. Likewise, "who's the sexiest person you've ever been to bed with?". Similarly, most men would prefer something considerably more diluted than the purest honesty in response to a heartfelt enquiry to their partner about the sufficiency of the dimensions of their wedding tackle.

So far so obvious. Everyone knows about little white lies. It is nevertheless worth pointing out that they are not occasional eruptions on a pure landscape of truth, but part of the daily business of living - not only in one's romantic attachments but in every other kind of relationship.

To move on one step, however, to murkier ground. Frankie would undoubtedly suggest that the problem with the principle of truth-telling is that it posits a rational listener. And, he might add, while it may be true to say that women are as rational as men, that is not saying very much.

Let's say, for example, that you have an attractive friend of the opposite sex whom you have known, purely platonically, for 20 years. She is currently single. You meet up now and then. Your partner feels uncomfortable about you going out on your own with someone single and gorgeous. Let us assume that this partner is prepared to admit neither her jealousy, nor the lack of faith in you that it implies. They accept the morality of your position in wanting to see your friend - but only rationally and publicly.

Irrationally, and privately, there is a different solution scenario: covert punishment. Long silences. Awkward atmospheres. No amount of pleading for a direct confrontation of the question leads to an honest conversation about it. What should you do? Abandon your friend of 20 years' standing just because your partner is paranoid? Endure the constant guerrilla warfare? Or would you just not mention anymore when you met the friend?

There is one important caveat: you can't get caught. Because lies are like sub-atomic particles - their nature is transformed when they are observed. The moment the lie becomes exposed, trust takes a tumble. But if you never get caught, all your problems are solved. So is it right or is it wrong? Frankie would say it depends on whether you get caught or not. It's right only if you don't. And so long as you don't sleep with the attractive friend, of course.

When else is lying justified? There is the famous scenario where one of you goes away - say on a business trip. One night, you meet a local of the opposite sex. Overcome by drink, you have, for the first and only time during your long and faithful relationship, a one-night stand. The next day, with no chance of ever seeing the subject of your tryst again, you fly back home to a relationship you value and treasure. But a moment of all too human weakness, if revealed, will threaten it with oblivion. You are consumed with guilt. What do you do?

Well, I imagine Frankie would say that it was an act of consummate irresponsibility to be honest and to unload your guilt. You messed up, and you will have to bear the burden of your unfaithfulness alone. To hurt your partner so that you can feel better about yourself through a search for their forgiveness is something he would find ludicrous.

You may be beginning to suspect that I am hiding my own sentiments behind the smoke screen of one of my characters. And I have absolutely no comment to make to that. Because the important thing - Frankie would say - is that while you're lying, you must keep the illusion of truth intact. If you're not a good liar, don't lie at all. And in the event of any future partner of mine reading this article, I want to make it clear that it is not a manifesto. I haven't got Frankie's talent for it.

Which may or may not be a shame. Because every relationship has to believe that it is truthful, while simultaneously acknowledging on another level that it cannot be so. It is a trick with mirrors. You cannot have perfect honesty, because it is selfish and it does not take into account human weakness. But you must have trust, because without it a relationship loses its most essential glue. It's just one of those paradoxes.

To speak personally - at last - I believe very strongly in honesty in a relationship while never quite hitherto succeeding in achieving it. I certainly know that my attempts to be honest have sometimes cost me dearly. Being honest means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. If you show your cards and your partner is participating in a different game, then you can be played for a sucker, which is why we all begin lying in the first place.

Perhaps it all starts in the playground when you reveal something intimate to your best friend, who at that age acts as a proto-partner. I remember times in my childhood when I would reveal something painful to someone I considered my close confidant, only to find it later the subject of derision all over the school.

Being honest gives people power over you; the same principle applies in marriage. Until you can overcome that childhood fear of betrayal, then you will never be honest in an adult relationship. Thus it is that lying isn't usually a failure of morality. It's almost always a failure of courage.

Tim Lott. 'White City Blue' is published by Viking, price pounds 9.99.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital