He was only lying when his lips were moving. (Photo from hoi palloi, Flickr)
Lie #1, the white lie: "You may be the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
The first thing he ever said to me. I truly believe that he didn't know it was a lie; I also know that in that moment, I believed him. What I've come to know about liars, though, is that they tell the biggest lies to themselves, and those are the hardest lies to spot, because they don't even see them.
That's not to say I don't think I'm beautiful; I have my moments. The compliment is not the problem. The problem was the bold declarations, false intimacy. I didn't know it was false, it didn't feel that way. It felt like being swept off my feet, or surrendering to something natural; but "I love you" came too soon.
When I started dating Rooster, I was in a really, really good place. I knew exactly what I wanted: to fuck a lot of dudes, and enjoy my life. I wanted to live purposely and artfully, with eyes (and legs) open.
Lie #1 was a sucker punch, because I wasn't looking, after having been looking too eagerly for way too long. Love happens when you're busy making other plans, they say. Lies happen when you're busy taking compliments.
And so I fell in love with Rooster, too quickly, roaming around in the mountains of West Virginia coal mine towns. He was the most classically handsome man I had ever been with, and he seemed to have an unlimited supply of affection and attention to give, which can be quite pleasant -- at first.
In the honeymoon stage, it's nice to forget all priorities: to flake on friends for a couple of weeks, not get nearly enough sleep, make irrational, declarative statements about your possible future with this person. The truth is, though, that honeymoon period is usually carefully curated by both parties -- for a short while, it's easy to hide your bad parts, the parts you're missing.
There were a lot more of these kind of lies, smaller ones:
“I'm good with money.”
“I love alone time.”
“I am confident.”
“I have learned a lot from my childhood.”
These lies all have one thing in common: a lack of self-awareness. Months later, once trust had been broken and I entered my too-long period of attempting to fix it from inside of it, Rooster would sometimes be able to admit (with lots of prompting) that these things were the things he wanted to be, not the things he was. Other times he would insist that he was those things, and so the fleeting nature of the insight began to feel more like an act.
Most relationships I've been in have ended the same way: I want more things than him, and so I become unsatisfied, while he is happy just to be. With me. Ugh. I then develop a power complex where I lose respect for him, because he appears to not have any interests or opinions, and eventually when I find a boundary that he won’t cross, I have a reason to leave and cross it alone.
So when I met Rooster, I was at a point where I was ready to break that cycle. I was brutally honest: I don't want to be someone's world. I don't want to talk to you all day, I want to tell you what happened at the end of it. I want you to follow your passions, even If it makes it hard to find time for each other sometimes, because that is attractive to me. I want to date someone confident.
Lesson learned: Liars are excellent shapeshifters. When you're honest with a liar about what you want, you give them all of the information they need to pretend to be the answer to your every wish. Rooster created that man for me in himself --even when I exposed the first corner of the truth, months later, he wasn't able to come clean.
Once the first lies were exposed, I started doing a whole lot of this.
Rooster isn't his real name, but you know that. It's the name he told me was his high school nickname, because of Rooster Cogburn, John Wayne’s character in "True Grit." Later, in a moment of desperate truth spewing as a final attempt to regain trust, he admitted that he had given the name to himself.
Suddenly the cowboy shirts, the love of old country crooners, the slight twang when he called me darlin’ -- those things became transparent enough for me to see that there was something else underneath. What was scariest was that, like a creature you meet in the dark, I couldn't make out its form; only its intimidating size, massive weight, sharp tongue.
My attempts to disarm him into revealing his true self were futile -- he didn’t know what was under that layer, either.
Lie #2, the ancient lie: "This terrible thing happened to me, and I want to tell you about it, because I trust you."
Out of respect, I will give no more detail than that, but this was the lie that began a revelation. All of the other lies have one thing in common: They were childish. They were told to avoid trouble, to inflate Rooster into someone bigger and better, to skip developmental steps that he didn't have faith that he could reach on his own.
Lie #3 was not childish, it was childlike. It was a lie he had been telling since he was a child, back when it is completely normal for children with no concept of trauma to invent reasons for the sadness they feel.
I know this because I did it: I remember being 7 and telling a friend that I had a physically abusive father -- it was much less complex than attempting to explain the empty sadness I felt; my inability to understand the severing of my parents’ marriage, my father's disappearance, my mother’s grief and exhaustion from supporting us.
I was filled with such shame about that lie that I avoided that friend for the rest of the year. At 7, I knew somewhere inside of me that compassion was not a bargaining tool; that intimacy could not exist without honesty.
Rooster never got there, and so he held that lie as his truth -- he used it as a way to explain his struggles, failures, to appear strong and elicit love. Eventually, he said that he felt trapped in it, even believed it. For a while after I got him to admit the truth, I felt compassion, because I saw myself in that -- but I also questioned his character for the first time.
The problem is, once you learn a lesson, you can never truly go back to that lower level of understanding. We were suddenly standing on two different planes, and all I saw was the top of his head. From there, he looked like a stranger. Even more complicated was that he knew me, and couldn't comprehend that I didn't know him.
Here's what's hard about walking away from a relationship with a liar: They are most often not sociopaths, though it would be much easier to pin them as such. They are mostly good-hearted, childish people who desire happiness and love and have no idea how to get there without faking it.
Rooster never stopped being loving and generous, many times to his own detriment. Daily foot and backrubs were the usual. He cooked dinner every night, and asked me how my day was. He was thoughtful and attentive, and an excellent romantic. The sex was awesome. (Except that, while I’m usually up for pretty much anything, when he tied me up I had a panic attack -- hellooooo, subconscious!)
On paper, he was the perfect boyfriend, because that’s what he was trying to be. In reality, neither of us knew who he was.
Through all of my reassurance that I wanted to know him, all of his amazing and ugly parts, even through my own open revealing of my own, he chose not to evolve.
Still, when I left, it was because I forced the wheels into motion. I waited for the trust to come back for a long time, and it just didn’t. He was trying to fix a problem with no tools, and asking me to be patient.
There comes a point where you’ve been patient at the expense of your own happiness. Suddenly you open your eyes and you’re almost 29, living in a tiny, frozen town that you hate; a town that you moved to because you were lied to and promised things that you wanted. You’re far away from your friends and family, and everything in your gut is telling you to take care of you. You realize you don’t need anybody else to be happy, because you see exactly how to be happy, and exactly who is in your way. As I said before, once you realize that, there’s no going back, try as you might.
So I left. It took me two tries for the breakup to stick -- since leaving, I have received (am still receiving) a slew of emails, texts and even 6-minute-long videos pleading for me to open back up. The range of emotions in these messages is the scariest part -- they go from remorse to extreme anger and spite. When I found myself sitting on the front steps of my building on the phone with a women’s crisis hotline, I realized that no amount of compassion excused the way I was living.
“I feel like a battered wife,” I explained to my best friend, when he asked why I was responding at all.
“You are acting like one,” was his exasperated response. He was right. That day I cut it off, for good.
I don't pretend to be very wise, but I thought I knew what I was doing. This one had me fooled, and so I guess I’m a little insulted. I always thought it wasn't possible to love someone you didn't trust -- I imagined a vital artery flowing between the two concepts. I still don’t understand why I feel love for him even now.
I’m mourning, I guess. Nights are the worst. Memories of silent, sleepy, contented happiness are yoked to nighttime, and so I'll roll over and hug a pillow as if grasping a cliff at the end of the world and ache my way to sleep.
I've been here before. It gets easier. In moving back to my home city, I created my own safety net; I am surrounded by love and friends and family --I’m never alone if I don’t want to be, and to be honest, I fucking love being alone most times. I am constantly naked; it rules.
The bottom line is this: I owe it to myself to be honest to myself: I want honesty more than I want Rooster in my life. It’s important to know that you deserve the things you want.
Of course, the romantic part of me is a liability sometimes, and that part secretly hopes that someday he shows back up in my life, with his slain beast slung over one shoulder. I’m no idiot, though, and this is not my first rodeo. I know that the more likely scenario is that the pattern continues -- that he will find another woman to do for him what I did. I try not to think about that too much, because it’s not my problem anymore.
If you’re looking for more information on dating a liar, I highly recommend this website. Don’t stick around long enough to lose your ability to trust in general. Some people do deserve to be trusted, and trust is a powerful, amazing gift we give the people in our lives.
Most importantly, never forget that your partner’s remorse does not transfer any responsibility onto you to be able to trust them again. That would have been the worst lie he ever told me, if I had believed it.