There are some things, even in this carefree, modern world, that a lady still keeps to herself. Exactly how much sex she’s having and to what standard, for example, how many times she really wears a pair of jeans before putting them in the wash, how late she is in paying her credit card bill, or how irrationally, but unstoppably invested she is already becoming in Kate Middleton’s choice of wedding dress.
Above all, however, one further truth must be protected – the precise limits of our social lives. A recent study found that over a quarter of people lie about what they did at the weekend, habitually claiming 48 hours of romantic meals, nights out filled with riotous merriment and Caligulan debauchery and rounded off with spontaneous Sunday night dinner parties that make medieval Tudor feasts look like a vegan retreat.
This should come as no surprise. By the time we reach adulthood, disguising the truth of what we get up to in our spare time has become a well-entrenched tradition. I’ve been doing it since I was first presented in primary school with that favourite tool of the dim/lazy/profoundly hungover teacher – the essay on What I Did At The Weekend. Deciding early on that “Sat on the sofa all morning eating Weetabix and watching Tiswas,” would only depress me and the teacher further, I engaged in a touch of image management. I went to the cinema, the beach or the zoo instead. Although it occurs to me now that my teacher may have seen through the pretence of the last one as instead of listing the exotic beasts that could be found at Chessington, I filled every imaginary cage and enclosure with that most glamorous of wild animals, the grey tabby cat.
In the teenage years, of course, you lie as easily as breathing. If we’d all grasped as many males’ members round the back of nightclubs as we claimed, we’d all have carpal tunnel syndrome by the time we hit sixth form. UCAS forms should burst into flames under the falsehoods therein, but of course it’s good practice for the CV-writing that is coming your way in a few years’ time. If there’s one thing I regret in my life it’s not having the courage to write “F*** all, mate,” in that dreaded ‘hobbies’ box. I think the sheer novelty of the approach might have landed me a semi-decent job somewhere, but I’ll never know.
We lie out of kindness to ourselves and others, rather than out of a desire to deceive them and elevate ourselves
But why do we lie now, at this age, and to our friends rather than people who hold the keys to our educational or career progression in their hands? Psychologist Corrine Sweethe, commenting on the survey, put it down to our need to create a smokescreen because of the pressure “to feel like an ‘Alpha’ male or female, with high status… so we pretend we’re having a wonderful time when we’re not” and this is undoubtedly part of it. However ostensibly grown-up you become, nobody ever wears the Nobby No-Mates badge with pride.
But I think the larger part of it is the need to create a smokescreen for yourself. I pretend I’ve gone out and done things at the weekend because I’m not yet quite ready to admit to myself that these days, if I go out for an evening, I need two days of quiet time to recover and restore my equilibrium.
I think we’re starting to lie out of kindness to ourselves and others, rather than out of a desire to deceive them and elevate ourselves. Just as we once protected the teacher from the insanely boring truth about our notably dull lives, we now spin yarns for each other about mini-breaks and boutique hotels and allow each other to live vicariously instead. Why multiply the boring bits of life by insisting on telling the truth? – “Why, thanks for asking, Emma. This weekend I wormed the cat and did two loads of laundry” – when you could re-tool a sexual adventure from three years ago and make the listener slightly less likely to want to shoot herself in the head instead? The truth is hard. Tales of weekend derring-do are the modern equivalent of stories round the campfire. Let’s keep warming ourselves.
Contact Lucy Mangan at email@example.com and on twitter.com/lucymangan