Last night, George dreamed that he got away with murder. In his dream, he was a 9-year-old prodigy who'd killed someone and buried the body in the back yard. In order to stay one step ahead of the feds, he went through "a continual process of digging up, moving and re-burying the bones."
"But," he says, "I had the utmost confidence in my own ability to get away with it."
George is a 26-year-old art director who believes in 100 percent honesty in a relationship. "If you're willing to make any form of commitment to another person, then honesty becomes crucial. It's the only thing that keeps two people together," he says. But he doesn't mean honesty like you and I mean honesty. He's talking about 100 percent absolute honesty. No white lies. No tactful deceptions. No saying what someone wants to hear. And if someone doesn't really want to know whether they look fat in those pants, they'd better not ask.
George has friends who are married or almost married who believe a relationship is about compromise, not rocking the boat. For George, though, a relationship is about . . . honesty. And when he says the word, there's an urgency and intensity about it. This is no casual discussion of philosophy. For George, it's life and death.
"From an early age, I learned that the only effective way to communicate with my parents was to lie to them because we had such a different understanding of everything. Even if they would stress, 'George, you can tell us anything you want,' it became clear that if I did, it was going to upset them. So, in fact, they were essentially lying to me, though not in a malicious or premeditated way."
For young George, honesty was a trap, so instead of being honest, he learned "to sculpt a persona for [his parents] that would fit exactly what they wanted me to be in order to eliminate them prying into my life or not accepting me or reprimanding me. It got to the point where I thought I was making things better by not telling them certain things, and then I would spend most of my time trying to live up to those lies or having trouble keeping track of what I'd told them."
George also began lying to his friends to make himself seem more interesting. He lied about everything, from the number of women he'd slept with to what he did at his job to what he'd studied in school. He tailored his personality to whatever environment he found himself in. At times, he likened himself to Santa Claus. "You know—I knew what people wanted," he says, "and I gave it to them."
It's a desolate Sunday night, and we're at the Little Knight, where George has agreed to talk with me about all this. Though we've talked about it casually a number of times before, tonight's different. The minute I start asking questions, he freezes. A big portion of the problem seems to be the tape recorder. "Is it running?" he asks, nervously eyeing it. "Yes, but forget about it—forget it's there," I instruct him. He picks it up from the spot where it's resting between us and holds it in his hands, and then he shuts it off because he's thinking. "You can just let it run," I say. "You don't have to turn it off. It's—" I look at George, but he's not listening. Instead he's staring intently into some spot in the air about four feet in front of him, looking as if he's concentrating so hard he might break. Something's going on with him. If he were to stand up and walk out right now, it wouldn't shock me. "I need a drink," he says finally, standing up and slipping the tape recorder into his pocket, where it stays for the rest of the interview. While he's at the bar, I think about something he said earlier: "I realized I could control how people saw me based on what I'd tell them."
George returns and I begin taking notes on a note pad, which George periodically double-checks over my shoulder. He talks about how all the lying made him feel reclusive, depressed, misunderstood, sorry for himself and bitter.
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And that's when he decided to eliminate the behavior that was causing such stress in his life and be completely honest. At the beginning, he "wanted to be so honest that it shocked people and they might not like me, but it was kind of a filter. If I could be honest, and they were still attracted to me, then we were on the same frequency."
And suddenly I'm wondering if the whole thing for George is about unconditional love and acceptance, finding that one person who will accept him no matter what horrendous thing he tells them. And so I ask if his "honesty" might not actually be a series of tests for others.
"'Tests' has a negative connotation for me," he says, pressing his fingers against his temples, which is something he does when he's stressed. "It's like setting someone up to fail." George sighs. "I don't know. All these theories and beliefs—it's a process of refinement on something that's broken." He's referring to himself when he says "something that's broken," of course.
Here's something interesting about George that you might not realize: he's an incredibly charming guy. You would like him if you met him. He would make sure of it. Because it's important to him. Extremely important.