Sunday, March 23, 2008

Honesty Isn't Always the Best Policy

I watch Zoe turn to the guy standing next to her at the bar. "I'm from Zimbabwe," she says in response to his question. Except she says it with an accent: "I'm fraaaahm Zimbaaahbwe."

Zoe is not from Zimbabwe. Zoe is from Delaware.

I'm ordering drinks, and only vaguely listening to the conversation going on next to me. He must not be convinced -- perhaps the blond hair and blue eyes confuse him, perhaps he knows what a real Zimbabwe accent sounds like -- because he asks her what the capital of Zimbabwe is. Zoe smiles and looks vaguely nostalgic. She says, "Well, to me, in my heart, Zimbabwe will always be Rhodesia. So the capital will always be Mitsuki." Ah, Mistuki. This little bit of personal history seems to satisfy our new friend. He is convinced. Here, indeed, is a girl from Zimbabwe.

Mitsuki is the name of Zoe's dog.

Tall tales in the bar, lying on the Internet, exaggerating your career -- the dating world is just rife with dishonesty. And I tell you, I'm all for it. I know, I know, Mom always said to "just be yourself." And when it comes to the real world, real relationships, I agree, honesty is crucial. But when it comes to going out and mingling -- sometimes you're allowed to make stuff up. (My personal favorite: I tell people I'm writing an article for Teen Beat magazine analyzing the local nightlife -- may I interview them? I give you this line to use as your own. Try it.) More than just being fun, making stuff up gives you more confidence once you actually start telling the truth again.

You know how on Halloween -- dressed up with a new identity -- you're just bolder? Faking a persona gives you that same kind of boost. Daters get stuck in ruts too easily, whether it's because you're always the "friend" or you can't get over your last girlfriend or you're convinced that no one will ever understand the true you. Play a different person, and you get to experience what it's like to be out of that rut. Since you're lying you usually don't foresee ever dating this person in the future, which means you get to take risks you wouldn't normally take. All of which adds up to practice: practice being fearless, practice with different techniques, practice which you can apply to situations later when you're just being your good old normal self again.

There are, of course, problems. Zoe's having to fake an accent all night is just a mere annoyance compared to the things that can happen. Like when you suddenly decide you really like this person you've been hoodwinking and want to see them again. If that happens you have to come clean the very next time you're out. Don't make a big deal out of it. Make it light. Say something along the lines of "high ho, now that you mention it, Teen Beat will not be publishing that article about which bar you think makes the best Fuzzy Navels in town, because it turns out I'm actually an accountant." If they're not amused then they don't have a sense of humor and you probably don't want to date them anyway.

It's also not fair to take your charade too far. Long term affairs under false nationalities are just not a good idea. Zoe once had an overzealous young man mumbling to her about marriage -- except he thought she was a runway model from South Africa. Add in the fact that Zoe is whip smart and you can understand why he was smitten. Oh, I forgot, she also let "slip" one day on the phone that she was a virgin. The poor guy never stood a chance. Zoe's not proud of this. It's just that once she got into the situation she just couldn't figure a way out. That's a life lesson right there as a fledgling liar: you can't let it go on for too long.

So if you're going to indulge in tall tales, you need to understand the boundaries. I advocate the use of lying only sparingly -- in situations where playing a role isn't going to hurt anyone else. Start with very small lies if you want, not everyone can sustain a South African accent over the course of many dates after all.

But try it. Especially if you're shy. Try it in bars, or at parties. Playing a persona makes you take the whole dating situation a lot less seriously -- and that can do wonders to jump start your social life.

As for Zoe and the mess she got herself into, she finally did the honorable thing: she called the guy up to explain she'd fallen in love with a rugby player and was moving home to Johannesburg.

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