How To Lie To The People You Love (And Everyone Else, Too)
The trick to lying good from a rehabilitating compulsive liar.
By Izzy Snow
Tips To Save Your Life is a monthly column that offers fearless, silly, and delicious advice for how to survive the mosh pit we call life.
We’re all liars. One has to lie to themselves all the time to make it through the day without imploding from existential dread. Will our drinking water be safe in five years? Will AI, in the hands of greedy robber barons, transform the corporate workforce? Will the ashy, orange NYC air of early June be our standard air quality in the future? I don’t know, probably! But right now, I’ve got four unread Slack messages to worry about! Willful ignorance and thall-shalt-not lies may not exactly be the same thing, but in some sense, they are. They are both falsehoods we tell ourselves to endure, find relief, or lower our expectations.
I, like many people, desperately hope I am interesting but fear I am unpalatable. Many kids grow up with a dream house or a dream life, I grew up with a dream personality: that one day, I would be the person that everyone wants to talk to. At eight, I started to cultivate the dream. I plucked my most fascinating traits (I was a new kid, in a new town, for the third year in a row) and crafted a personal lore over the next decade that was so potent, it had to be woven with little fictional indulgences.
They were small lies that I thought transformed me into a cool girl worthy of Edgar Wright, but what they really did was smooth the ridges of an awkward conversation. To lie convincingly is to give others exactly what they want out of a conversation; make them believe they are equal parts captivated by you as they are captivating. Lies for anything else lose their sheen. Here is how to sell the most common lies to everyone in your life, including the people you love.
Lying to maintain relationships (anxious attachment fibs)
The goal of these lies is to ensure that people still like you. Knowing someone dislikes you is like walking around with bad breath; the fear of being off-putting haunts your choices. These lies are usually little white lies we say to preserve someone else’s feelings (“Yes, that was helpful, thank you,” “what a great play”); they are implied, or we deliver them by omission.
They may begin as white: I’m sorry I can’t make it, I’m not feeling well.
But sometimes, a white lie needs context to make it more believable. These details turn white lies pink: I’m sorry I can’t make it, I’m not feeling well. I think I might have food poisoning from the crunchy garlic knots I ate yesterday.
We source our pink lies from circumstances that actually happened and add a little more girly-pop-Barbie-slay- zest to fit the narrative.
Pro tip: Settle on every detail of your pink lie before you let it loose. You risk exposing your tell if you contradict yourself mid-lie. You’ll be surprised by who wants to wade through the weeds and expose your fibs!! Yikes!
In moments of desperation or ambivalence, we find ourselves exhaling red lies:
I’m sorry I can’t make it. I have a family emergency/my roommate broke her ankle/I am in Switzerland.
Red lies are the riskiest of them all—they carbonate in desperate moments when a legitimate excuse escapes us.
To avoid telling a lie you can't even begin to prove, stretch out the lying process for as long as you can. You are a storyteller, culture curator; enjoy it! Drop a few hints that suggest where your lie is headed to build suspense; then you'll have people asking for your lie. The most potent lies are ones they want to be true for the sake of a good story. Everyday situations rarely unfold as cleanly as fictional ones, so will the lie into being true for others.
In some ways, the lies we tell ourselves are the most harmful. They require consistent upkeep, and the slightest doubt cracks our whole perception of reality. Ew! To stay delusional, try: journaling, daydreaming, getting into a situationship with someone clearly not interested in you, learning an obscure fact about an artist you like and then acting like an expert on them, projecting your insecurities onto hotter and more successful people, polos, tennis skirts, developing deep parasocial relationships with celebrities, ignoring your finances, stealing things from other people, and having a Pinterest! To be safe, delulu fibs should never be that serious.
The biggest roadblock to delusion is other people (and the news). But if you have a bestie you think is normal, hold onto them for focus-grouping, because no one is truly sane; we're all just delusional in different ways. Diverse opinions are cute little dots for the pointillism piece of your delusion. Think of it as touching grass, but instead you’re rubbing someone’s brain wrinkles for good luck.
You are the game maker, the pawnbroker, the grand wizard. These gorgeous lies are most delicious when they’re saved for a special occasion—preferably for single-episode-guest-stars.
If you’re able to lie your way through shenanigans without bursting into giggles, use these powers for good. I had a friend once pretend she had a wealthy husband when she wanted a closer look at a painting for sale in a very trendy gallery. You could be an heiress, touring a fancy apartment you’ll never be able to afford; you could be circling Patagonia vests in Murray Hill, whispering in their ear that you were able to retire because of GameStop shares. These lies are a ticket to punching up, so lie for the right Robin Hood gimmick and you may end up a modern folk hero.
In my heyday, I lied constantly, but I lied naively. It felt as easy to me as telling the truth—with an extra shot of adrenaline. I lied to validate my black-and-white reactions to tension, escalating misunderstandings into rage battles between the hero (anyone wronged) and the villain (the hyperfixation frenemy). Intimacy was intimidating; lying kept me at a comfortable distance. I never lost any friendships from lies, but I did lose out on reliable, deep trust. After 20 years of trying, I realized I had told myself the biggest lie of all: that I needed a dream personality and years of deception for people to like me. It's kind of embarrassing how many lies I told—I thought I had to fight my way into convincing people to be my friends. But connections are nourished, not fed like beasts, and most profound bonds evolve naturally over time.
I'm not a devout truthteller, but I share one final wisdom as a rehabilitating liar: For every lie you tell, I recommend sharing a truth that is even more difficult than the lie you told to conceal an insecurity. Soon enough, you won't need lying at all. It will become a wet blanket on the beach, a condom in a circle jerk, desperate in its attempt to be useful but ultimately ephemeral and unnecessary.