Talking to Strangers: Honesty, Interrupted


Photo credit/ Carolyn Warcup

Amanda Duncklee, Community Editor

Hey, strangers. In my last piece, I wrote about how I lied to a bunch of people about my identity to see how they’d respond. If you haven’t read it, I don’t really care to summarize because you can just follow this convenient link, read my article and then come back once you’ve done so.

At the end of that piece, I promised I’d give honesty a shot and see how it went. I figured that I could go a few days being relentlessly truthful, the kind of honesty that makes people wish they never asked how I’m doing. This is how I envisioned the conversation would go:

Unsuspecting person: Hey, how’s it going?

Unabashedly honest me: Average; if not, below. These shoes really irritate my ingrown toenail. I’m concerned that a plant I’ve had for about a year now is going to die. I miss my ex-boyfriend and regret every decision I made that led to that relationship’s demise, and I’m smothered with the weight of approaching deadlines as well as my omnipresent existential dread. Oh, and I forgot to specify, I wanted iced coffee instead of hot, so now I’m stuck with this steaming cup of overly-sugared bean juice that will turn to lukewarm sludge before I finish it. How are you?

As usual, my expectations dramatically differed from reality. To be clear: I did not verbally assault people inquiring about my well-being with the unnecessary details of my life. But, I didn’t lie. For a couple days, I met every question with honesty… or at least I tried.

Look, being honest all the time is really hard. I lie to myself every single day when I say I’ll hop out of bed, ready to take on the day, but instead, I press snooze like it’s my job. I give the classic, “Great, how are you?” when people ask how I am. I smile and tell baristas it’s totally fine that they gave me hot coffee instead of iced (even though it’s not fine and it never will be).

The closest I got to unabashed honesty was when I, an adult aged 21 or older, went out to a local bar with a friend. The venue was crowded and we were attempting to find an open space to order our drinks. There were two gentlemen who already had their drinks, standing right in front of the bartender, and I was internally debating whether or not they’d move anytime soon or if my friend and I would have to move somewhere else to order. In the middle of my internal monologue, one of them turned to speak to us.

“Hey ladies, what are you up to?” he asked. I immediately replied, “Not much; I was internally debating whether or not you’d move anytime soon or if my friend and I would have to move somewhere else to order.” He blinked, mumbled an apology and walked away with his friend.

Mission accomplished, right? I was totally honest and even got what I wanted! But, did I really need to be so transparent? The person looked a little hurt when his innocuous question was met with what essentially translated to, “move.”

Upon reflection, I realized most of my lies are white lies or lies of omission meant to spare people’s feelings. Hurting people hurts me, so I’ll say that someone’s hideous shirt is lovely or that I’m not upset someone ruined my coffee. Basically, it’s just easier to say things are all right when they’re not so that way, no one gets hurt.

I wonder how many people do the same and which, if any, of my interactions are completely genuine. If other people share my mentality and sugarcoat everything they say, nothing is raw. The flavor of these lies may be sweet, but the words are unsubstantial for the growth of meaningful relationships.

I probably don’t have to share my thoughts like a James Joyce novel, but removing some filters could be beneficial, especially when it comes to friends and family. Building walls is good for preventing harm, but living behind stone gets pretty lonely.

So, strangers, this might be a touch hypocritical of me, but I challenge you to practice some honesty and see how it goes. Think before you answer others’ questions, be transparent about your wants and needs and don’t be afraid to be real. Tell me about it, if you’d like. I’d love to hear from you- honest.

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