I’m such a liar. Seriously, I am. That’s the truth.

But don’t worry. I lie only when necessary, and almost exclusively to make myself look better. I prefer to think of myself as an unreliable narrator, just like Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” but I’m O.K. with calling myself a liar.

We all lie, don’t we? Some profess to tell only the truth, but those insufferable suck-ups are probably the biggest liars of us all. Besides, lying is fun and can get you out of sticky situations. In short, honesty is grossly overrated.

My first conscious lie was at age five or six, when my parents were having the kitchen floor redone. At the end of the afternoon, there was a glossy coat of something that looked like molasses spread on the floor. The area was also roped off with caution tape so that we’d know not to walk on the floor when it was still drying. I knew that walking on the floor was forbidden. How could I not have known? Though I was a somewhat stupid child, I could, after all, see the caution tape.

But perched by the edge of the boundary of the kitchen floor, gazing onto the perfectly smooth, shiny, floor—and, I might add, with my sister by my side egging me on—it was too perfect to resist. I had to know what it felt like to walk on that glorious floor. So I climbed over the tape and stepped on it, and then began to make my way across the kitchen. It was sticky but not debilitatingly so. Somewhere in the distance a door slammed shut, and I scurried back to safety, sure that I’d be caught and possibly summarily executed.

But it wasn’t until the next afternoon, while my friends and I chased and bit each other in the park at my sister’s birthday party, that my father, stopping by the house to make some more sandwiches, noticed the little footprints that marched carefully into half of the kitchen and then swiveled back as quickly as they had come. He stormed to the park, a few squashed sandwiches in tow, seething. Smoke poured out of his ears. The instant I saw him, I knew I was done for.

So I lied.

“Oh my God, I am SO sorry,” I gushed (or whatever the five-year-old equivalent of effusive regret is). My mother, who is trusting to a fault, backed me up, and though my father was dubious, he believed the lie—that I hadn’t known I wasn’t supposed to walk on the floor—until my sister told him otherwise. But it was nice while it lasted: Lying was the perfect way to get off the hook, to retroactively turn guilt to innocence. I knew I’d done something bad, anyway, and didn’t plan to repeat the action. I knew what it was like to walk across the floor, and it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. No need to tell the truth.

These days, I dabble mostly in white lies: telling people that they look nice when they don’t and that I like them even if I despise them—that sort of thing. There are gray lies, too, which Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, the psychologists who wrote “Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People,” assert are “shaped more by the desire to spare one’s own feelings than by the intention to spare someone else’s” (telling a homeless person that you have no change when, in fact, you do, but do not care to give money, but also do not want to appear hostile or heartless, for example).

I tell a lot of white and gray lies, mostly for my own benefit. Even telling a friend that she looks good in her new pants when in fact I think they’re unflattering is as much for my benefit as it is hers: It’s not to preserve her sensitive ego; it’s because I’d feel guilty and mean for saying, “Those are gross.”

I’m comforted by the fact that there is evolutionary reason to lie. Banaji and Greenwald call “red lies” those lies that are meant to be in service of perpetuating a genetic line. For example, Banaji and Greenwald say this about a potential red liar: “One obvious example of this skill in action is the person who deceptively declares ‘I love you’ to a potential sex partner and who might therefore succeed better at passing on his or her genes than someone who claims only to want sex.”

That’s a pretty convincing case against transparency. Imagine if we all said what we were really thinking and feeling all the time (assuming that we ourselves are an authority on what we’re actually thinking and feeling, which is not a given). The human genetic line would be over in a flash.

Imagine if we presented ourselves as we actually are. I would bet that few, if any, more babies would be made. Most people would be ostracized, some exiled to remote islands. Some things are simply not meant to be shared. We tell white lies to save our and others’ feelings; we tell red lies to make sure our genes are perpetuated. Lying is O.K., as long as nobody’s life is in danger.

When has honesty taken on such a noble and important role in our society, anyway? “Truth” is a complete lie. Everything is subjective, after all, and though truth is often heralded as some objective standard, it isn’t that at all. Nobody knows anything for sure, as we speak from our perspectives only; besides, what is “true” in one moment is totally false in the next. And if truth is so evasive and fleeting, why get attached to it at all? Honesty is only a virtue because we’ve made it one. It might be smarter and more exciting to lie more. So lie. And love it. The truth really does hurt.

Davis is a member of the class of 2017.

  • k.d. lang’s mangina

    Jenny is #1 liar in all of NESCAC! Go Jenny!

    • Jenny

      thank you so much for your unwavering support!!! – jenny

      • k.d. lang’s mangina


        If you ever need a campaign manager, hit up the k.d. I’m one of New England’s preeminent manginas… I mean, managers.

      • Jenny

        how generous! i will definitely keep this in mind. k.d. lang’s mangina, who are you?!

      • k.d. lang’s mangina



        I mean…


        …k.d. lang’s mangina…

        …from Parts Unknown, USA.

      • Jenny

        cool. what do you do when you’re not commenting on my articles? what are some of your hobbies? did you know that k.d. lang is canadian? write back!!

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        I like to eat lemon pound cake like it’s my job. I also enjoy learning to cook bouillabaisse, reading trashy novels, and listening to 70’s prog rock.

        I did know that! k.d. is canadian, just like Mike Myers (the actor, not the Halloween murderer). Damn, now I need to go watch Wayne’s World! Party on, Jenny!

      • Jenny

        i have a lot of follow-up questions. is the lemon pound cake vegan? do you have a job aside from eating lemon pound cake?

        also, which trashy novels do you like? have you ever read “the bachelorette party” by karen mccullah lutz? i think you’d love it.

        i just googled “prog rock” and learned that it means “progressive rock.”

        finally, why do you read the wesleyan argus?

        party on, k.d. lang’s mangina!

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        Sorry for the delayed response! I was eating pound cake and listening to King Crimson!

        1.) The pound cake is not vegan–it’s made with lots of yummy butter. Butter is awesome. And yes, I do have a job besides eating pound cake. But I wish I didn’t!

        2.) I like to read Louis L’Amour westerns and dime store mystery/thrillers. I should check out The Bachelorette Party.

        3.) Phil Collins.

        4.) I read the Argus because I am an alumnus of yore. And because I am a masochist.

        Question(s) for you, Jenny: Why do you write for the Argus? Relatedly, why did you choose Wesleyan?


        k.d. lang’s mangina

      • Jenny

        it’s quite all right! that sounds like a good use of time, except i really do wish the pound cake were vegan. you’re right that butter is delicious, but the dairy industry is exceptionally cruel to cows. here’s some info: http://dairy.mercyforanimals.org.

        why does reading the argus make you a masochist? is it really that painful? or do you use it to give yourself paper cuts?

        i write for the argus because i like asking people questions and writing. and i chose wesleyan because it seemed funny and intellectual. what about you? and how long ago did you graduate?

        jenny f. davis

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        The dairy industry actually isn’t cruel to cows. I rebut this not with a link attached or some other article for you to read, but because I have first hand experience working on farms and with the animals. Dairy management has come a long way, and most farmers care about their animals more than any banner-waving, bucket-of-paint-throwing activist ever will.

        I give myself paper cuts. I literally print out articles and cut myself with them. Because I like the way it feels.

        I attended Wes almost a decade ago. I decided on Wes because of its educational reputation (which, after graduating and being in the real world for awhile, is heavily overstated; most people you meet and work with will have never heard of Wesleyan).


        k.d. lang’s mangina

      • Jenny

        I believe you when you say that you have had experience working with cows in good conditions. I think it would be hard to dispute the overwhelming evidence of animal suffering on industrialized dairy farms. I’ve never been on one, so articles are all I have! (I find that reading is a good substitute for experience.)

        I also believe that farmers can care about their animals. The issue is that the vast majority of dairy produced in this country is produced not by “farmers” in the traditional sense, but by workers in factory-like dairies, as described in this article: http://www.alternet.org/story/145378/got_milk_a_disturbing_look_at_the_dairy_industry

        Besides, I fundamentally believe that milk is for calves, not humans (and not just because of the environmental and health consequences of large-scale dairy operations). But I respect your right to choose whatever you want to eat.

        I sense that you’re bitter about Wesleyan’s poor name recognition. If you attended almost a decade ago, that would make you about 30. In my head, I pictured you as closer to 60. Do you feel that you have an old soul?

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        Perhaps I’m a bit of an old soul, and maybe I’m a bit bitter. I’ve done ok for myself, so I can’t complain. I’m just wary of the direction Wesleyan appears to be moving. I hope that irreparable damage is not done to Wesleyan, because it is the students and the alumni that will be most harmed.

        Eccentricity and open-mindedness are wonderful things, and are two of the primary drivers that moved Wesleyan and its peer institutions to the forefront of higher education. I fear the current trend in higher ed. will squash these virtues, and the schools that champion these actions will suffer greatly in the court of public opinion (and subsequently, in the job market).

      • Jenny

        What do you mean by “the direction Wesleyan appears to be moving”? Do you mean that people are becoming more politically correct? Is this really hugely different than when you were a student here?

        I’ve also been meaning to ask–where did you get the name “k.d. lang’s mangina”? I love the all-lowercase thing. It’s a great stylistic choice.

        Who is your best friend?

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        The direction I speak of is a combination of the school’s general public profile (drug arrests, protests, and other less-than-glamorous events that put the school squarely in the national media’s spotlight of ridicule; these occurrences are causing lots of damage to the school’s reputation as a highly regarded university for bright and engaged students) and the school’s current attack on “fun” and the erosion of traditional Wesleyan social fixtures–the new rules regarding parties/functions, the closing of fraternities (and subsequent loss of social space) and the regulation of other social spaces–that is making a large portion of the alumni base quite angry (and making them not nearly as willing to make charitable donations to the school’s endowment fund). These are big deals.

        This combination is slowly eating away at the school’s reputation as a freethinking, robust community with academic rigor and prestige, and is making the school a much less attractive destination for top students in comparison to its peers (Amherst, Williams, Tufts, Bowdoin, Vassar, Reed, etc). This is a problem–not just for current students and alumni, but for potential future students, who will more likely choose these more attractive peer schools. Watering down the Wesleyan education and experience will be ugly for everyone.

        A hobo named Lobo gave me this name. Lobo had great style, so it’s no surprise that this name is so stylish.

        Lobo is a good friend. Maybe not my best friend, but a good one.

      • Jenny

        Well, that’s certainly bleak!! Yeah, the drug stuff is a shame. But the attack on “fun” is kind of sensationalist, at least from a student perspective (I can’t speak for the alumni, obvs). After all, what’s more fun than knitting along to the gentle doo-wop tunes of the 1950s in a rocking chair in a darkened room save for the glow of a single bejeweled dog nightlight?

        Why do you talk of Lobo in the past tense when you first refer to him? Can you describe Lobo’s style? And are you talking about dictional style or clothing style?

        How did you two meet?

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        Diction and fashion. Lobo’s style was boundless.

        However, Lobo lost his style about three years ago when he gave up panhandling and got a job. Shame. Comfort and security has a way of rounding off the edges.

        I met Lobo on the street. He asked for money and I gave him a hotdog instead. He was pissed at first, but it was a Ballpark frank, so he couldn’t stay mad for too long.

        Doo-wop and knitting does not a fun time make.

      • Jenny

        Do you wish that Lobo had remained homeless and maintained his edge? Do you think that’s at all selfish of you?

        How did you go from being on-the-street acquaintances to bona fide friends? What city was this?

        I’m sorry you feel that doo-wop and knitting aren’t fun, but you’re simply wrong. Listen to “The Book of Love” (by the Monotones) and get back to me.

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        The selfish part of me wanted Lobo on the streets, maintaining his edge and art. Dude’s a genius. But it is very good for him to be off those streets. Pimpin’ ain’t–and ain’t ever been–easy.

        Lobo and I became friends in Bridgeport. Thug life. I once prevented a tweaker from stabbing Lobo with a broken bottle neck, and Lobo once kept a fellow street hustler from shanking me in the kidneys. We grew close over these things.

        I listened to “The Book of Love” by the Monotones. It made me want to fall on a knife.

      • Jenny

        What is/was Lobo’s art? What do you mean by “[p]impin'”? Do you mean to say that Lobo was a literal pimp?

        In addition, what is a tweaker?

        Wow, it seems as though you and Lobo really have each other’s best interests at heart. It was brave of him to intervene when it looked like you were about to get shanked. Is Lobo big and burly?

        I’m sorry you feel that way about “The Book of Love,” although I can’t imagine why. Listen to “Love is Strange,” by Buddy Holly. Did you know that Buddy Holly proposed to his wife 5 hours into their first date?

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        Sorry. I can’t respond appropriately at the moment. Still recovering from the self-inflicted puncture wound from falling on the knife. I’m afraid if I piled on and listened to Buddy Holly doo-wop I would feel the need to fall on an even bigger knife.

      • Jenny

        I’ll ignore the hyperbole and wait patiently for you to reply to my questions about Lobo.

      • k.d. lang’s mangina

        I just got discharged from the hospital. The knife punctured my lung when I fell on it, but I survived. Sorry for the delay.

        Lobo was a literal pimp, and he is indeed big and burly. Probably 240-250 lbs. Very strong pimp hand.

        A tweaker is an individual under the influence of strong, amphetamine-based narcotics (drugs that oftentimes have dissociative or deliriant effects on users).