Have you ever challenged the veracity of someone's claim and had that person defensively ask, "Are you calling me a liar?" (It's the equivalent of "So now I'm stupid?" after you've pointed out someone's dumb comment.) If a lie is merely an isolated incident, it's just a lie. If it's one in a series, part of a pattern, then put on the shoe because it fits perfectly: You're a liar. In truth, though, we're all liars to a certain degree. Everybody lies sometimes, even if it's just a little white one intended to spare someone's feelings, or make someone feel better.
Most of my friends might regard me as being brutally honest (which is not to be confused with the Honest Abe form of truthfulness) because I generally tell it like it is. Only I don't. I bend the truth to massage delicate egos as much as the next wimp. That might not be the same as lying to a grand jury on the witness stand, but all lies aren't created equal.
Despite the variations in size, there are ways to spot a not-so-good lie. Here are 6 of them that don't involve body language because let's face it: Body language can be misleading. I'm fidgety by nature, and some people will avoid eye contact even when they're saying hello. And that's no lie!
1. An alibi is too watertight. Every time I read a memoir, I'm shocked by the close attention authors pay to their own lives. All of that exacting minutiae -- I can barely be bothered to catch the name of someone who's just been introduced to me. Surely some of those precise recollections are as enhanced as a cover image on a fashion magazine, right? That's allowed under the terms of the creative license.
Alibis, on the other hand, are required by law to be the truth and nothing but. Therefore simple is always more convincing. If you know every single detail of what you were doing last night at 10.30, right down to the shadows on the wall and the angle at which your legs were crossed, you were probably doing something else, standing up... or lying down.
2. Those perfectly detailed facts are always the same. Cops are trained to listen to subtle changes in a person's testimony over time, but in reality, who tells a true story exactly the same way twice? We dress it up for dramatic effect and alter details depending on what our memory is telling us at any given moment, for memory is largely subjective, more so as time goes by. I notice this every time I write about something twice and later compare the details of both versions. There is always a slight shift in some of the particulars.
If a story is precisely the same every single time, it's likely that it's being told not from memory but from memorization. That goes double for matching testimonies. We've seen enough he said/she said/they said on TV and in movies to know that no two people ever experience the same experience in the exact same way - unless they're dropping acid on the terrace in the middle of the Tuesday night.
3. The pregnant pause before someone answers gives birth to triplets. Drama reigns supreme in daytime TV, so when one soap character asks another a loaded question -- Abigail Devereaux to EJ DiMera on Days of Our Lives: "Did you kill Nick Fallon?" -- it's necessary for the accused to delay his or her response long enough to cue the soapy music and cut to a commercial break. But in real life, questions that demand a simple yes or no answer require no careful consideration and certainly not 10 seconds of dramatic silence. A pause equals guilty as charged.
4. Their dog ate the homework. Fact is actually seldom stranger than fiction. The mundane reality is that life is fairly mundane. So the more unlikely a story, the more likely it isn't true. A coworker from my high-school days when I worked as a host at Red Lobster once got out of work by telling our boss that her uncle had been shot in the neck in Vero Beach. The neck?!
I couldn't believe she got away with it -- but not for long. By the end of the week, the jig -- and her gig -- was up. She skipped work without calling in, and that time, nobody bought her sequel to the first lie in which she was tending to her recuperating uncle in Vero Beach. Months later, I asked her how her uncle in Vero Beach felt about being part of such a big lie. Her response: "Oh, I don't even have an uncle." How considerate, I thought. At least she designed her lie so that it wouldn't damn anyone with bad karma.
5. They refuse to answer the question. People who are telling the truth aren't afraid to tell it. Consider the celebrity who is accused of being gay (as if that's some kind of a crime). There's no inherent homophobia in admitting you are straight, and certainly not anything to be ashamed of. So if an A-list celebrity's response is anything along the lines of "I don't comment on my personal life," when asked about his or her sexuality, the state of his or her marriage, or his or her extra-marital activities, then, well, there's your answer. He or she is probably lying to someone.
6. They answer your question by answering a different question or by using elaborate wordplay. Call it the "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" ploy. A "yes" or "no" question (Do you like my tight sweater? Are you on the road to loving me again? Do you love as good as you look?) deserves a "yes" or "no" answer. If someone is setting you up on a blind date and you ask if the other person is hot, beware of adjectives like "attractive," "distinguished," "interesting," "funny" and "exotic," while Cupid is shaking his or her head up and down.
Anything in lieu of a simple spoken "Yes" or "Yes, he/she is hot" (or "gorgeous," "beautiful," "handsome" or some other equivalent adjective used to denote physical superiority) is tantamount to "No." Remember No. 1 (Keep it simple!) and come up with a lie of your own to get out of it. You're staying home tonight.
6 Great Lying Songs (And that's the truth!)
"Liar" Three Dog Night
"He's a Liar" Bee Gees
"I Lie" Loretta Lynn
"Miserable Lie" The Smiths
"Lying" Peter Frampton
"You Lie" Reba McEntire