A long time ago I knew a man and woman who decided that their relationships would be based on total honesty. This, they decided, would manifest itself in all aspects of their lives together. When she would ask, “How does my hair look?” he would tell her, “I think it makes your face look fat.” If she didn’t like his shirt, she would say so. When one would look momentarily hurt, the other would say, “But we agreed to tell each other the truth all the time. How can we be truthful about the big things if we can’t be truthful about things that don’t even matter?”
I don’t know if they ever were truthful about the so-called big things; I was never privy to those sorts of conversations. Anyway the relationship struggled on for about a year with the “honest” moments becoming more frequent and the silences between longer. Finally they broke up.
But had their honesty been a failure or had it, in fact, never existed? Is telling the truth about everything – irrespective of its effect on the loved one – really an honest manifestation of the relationship’s basic premise of mutual respect and care? Or does the promise of truthfulness only represent the ultimate rationale for the exercise of power and meanness in the guise of honesty?
I guess it raises bigger questions of the nature of relationships themselves. One of the hardest lessons we learn from the failure of a relationship is that there were aspects of it that were the product of sheer illusion. We create in those we love impossible ideals that we think are necessary to sustain our love. We recover much more quickly from the incidents that disabuse us of our illusion (e.g. a betrayal, a beating) than we do from the fact that our illusion is shattered.
And, to a certain extent, maybe an affair is an attempt to rebuild illusions in our life; not just about a significant other but also about ourselves. Especially when this has become impossible in a long-term relationship where everything has become known and predictable.
We invent ourselves in a manner to attract love.
We recreate our partners in an image that we can love.
If these are the lies that form the foundation of most relationships, then even assurances of openness and honesty will always be just another deception.