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White Lies

CECILIA BLOTTO, HOST: And now, a piece from our commentary series. We’ve all told them before. You pretend to be sick to avoid a night out. You say you loved that soggy lasagna your aunt made. You act like you really want to see that photo album of your coworker’s kids. These are the white lies we tell to preserve other people’s feelings. 

Claire Davenport talks about small lies and the big trouble they can get us into. 

CLAIRE DAVENPORT, BYLINE: The first white lie I remember telling was at the pool when I was six. That day, amid the splashing and underwater handstands, I saw my friend Molly and was HORRIFIED by her new haircut. Her bangs looked choppy and uneven, and I felt it was my civic duty to tell her. But first, I told my mom. 

“Molly’s hair looks TERRIBLE!” My mom pulled me out of the pool and scolded me. “You are going to go over there and tell Molly you like her hair. You are being RUDE.”

I had never considered that saying what was on my mind might be the wrong thing to do. That it could hurt people. This was my introduction to white lies, and as I grew up, I told them more and more. 

I laughed at everyone’s jokes. I tossed out fake compliments. I pretended to like everyone’s haircut. I told myself these are the good kind of lies. Not the bad kind - Lying with a capital L.

I kept on living this way into college. Once I even pretended to appreciate when a date mansplained  ENTIRE plot of a movie to me. At least, I didn’t have to make him feel bad. And that felt great.

That was how I felt until a dinner I had with my dad sophomore year. It was at a fancy restaurant – the kind that’s dimly lit with items like turtle soup on the menu. It was our waitress’s first night on the job, and you could tell she was nervous. While my dad was in the bathroom, she asked if I wanted wine. I didn’t want to give her a complicated order … so I just asked for water. 

But when I didn’t ask for wine, she gave me one of those knowing looks and said, “I was wondering.” Wondering what? Had she guessed I was below the legal drinking age? But before I had the chance to ask, she said.

“You’re pregnant!”

I wasn’t pregnant! But I panicked. I couldn’t make her feel bad about implying my lacey purple dress looked suspiciously tight. So I said yes. 

Then she wanted to know EVERYTHING about my fake baby. Was it a boy or a girl? A girl. How far along was I? First trimester. Had I picked a name? We’re working on it.

And right then, when I was starting to really get into it, nodding a lot, rubbing my belly, my dad came back from the bathroom and heard our conversation. He stared at me shocked, and then at her. And then, he pointed at me and said, “You must be confused. She’s not pregnant.”

I will never forget the way the waitress looked at me. It was one of the longest silences I’ve ever lived through. At first, she seemed confused, then hurt. I had no idea what to say. How could I explain that I had just made up a pregnancy to avoid embarrassing her? It felt so … crazy. 

 All I could say was “I’m sorry.” 

Today, I still think it’s important to be aware of other people’s feelings, and I definitely still tell white lies sometimes. But now, I tell people if I’m just too tired to go out. If I already know the movie plot. And even no, I’m not a fan of their new haircut. And under no circumstances do I  ever pretend to be pregnant.

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