Consider this situation. Unbeknownst to you, your main squeeze of 10 years has a 9-year-old child (and not with you). Would you rather know about this or remain in the dark? How about this: your best friend Hates (yes, with a capital H) your favorite cranky old jean jacket. Rather know or not? What about the sexual habits of your children? Though you fancy yourself a fine singer (artist, poet, etc.), most of your friends wish you’d find a new hobby. Want to know the truth or not? That, surprise! your spouse has a serious crush on someone else. That, yes, you look fat in that dress.
Tom Cruise to Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: I want to know the truth! Nicholson back: You can’t handle the truth!
That sums it up for me. I say I want the truth, but in reality the truth often stinks. My feelings will be hurt if friends tell me no, you really can’t sing. The result is of this truth? I’m likely to stop doing something I enjoy (and FYI, this is decidedly not a true story). It’s one thing if you know you’re a croaker rather than a crooner and your clear inability transforms into a strange kind of pride. But to be told something you’d rather not know, even in love and affection… that’s rough.
Earlier tonight, I watched a CSI NY rerun. This evening’s quasi-pathetic quasi-insane bad guy finds out – with 5 minutes to go – that his brother really did murder that bartender. After years of trying to prove his brother innocent, the evidence finally catches up with him and he crumbles to the floor. Who can blame him? Even if we suspect deep down that the worst might be true, knowing it is a whole different thing, a shifting of our internal tectonic plates.
So back to the 9-year-old kid. What good does it do to know that your lover/spouse/partner couldn’t keep his pants on a decade ago? Things are good between you, the child lives in another state. Do you really want the truth? How will you view your early relationship once this comes to light – and will this new truth feel like a theft of the old one, the one where you were crazy in love from Day 1? Which is the worse violation – thou shalt not covet or thou shalt not steal?
There are many advocates of honesty above all else. You should know – they would argue – the truth about the person you’re in love with. Why? So you can be empowered, make decisions. But we’re not talking about whether you look truly awful in a dress you can change in a matter of moments. We’re talking about something of a whole different magnitude: an unchangeable past and a forever altered future. You didn’t want to leave the relationship – quite the opposite – but now you don’t know if you can stay.
My long ex-husband cheated on me and more than one boyfriend did the same when I thought we had a pact otherwise. In retrospect, I’m glad for the truth about the former (though at the time it wasn’t pleasant), but have mixed feelings about the rest. Okay, it’s good to know that I wasn’t paranoid about the smell of unfamiliar perfume on his clothes, but really, I might have been just fine living with an expertly crafted and gently told lie. It’s unclear. Discretion has its place.
Gang, the truth might set us free, but it also may grieve us beyond imagination. Tonight, as I watched the credits roll on CSI, I wonder: is it so bad to live with a lie you don’t know is a lie?