20 White Lies We Tell Our Loved Ones Every Day
It's a wonder we're not all walking around with our pants on fire.
Everyone lies—and some do so way more than others. According to recent research, a solid 60 percent of us tell an average of two to three lies every ten minutes! But not all lies are created equal. In fact, one 2014 study out of Oxford University suggested that some lies could even improve a relationship. It really comes down to intent. Lying to manipulate somebody or get something from them is always a bad idea. A white lie to spare their feelings? Well, that might just be defendable.
“White lies are a socially acceptable way to avoid confrontation and discomfort,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, Ph.D. “We want to avoid hurting the feelings of others and the difference between a white lie and the truth can be minimal. However, habitually avoiding accountability by telling a lie, regardless of how small, can be a sign of a larger personality flaw.”
Here are 20 white lies we’ve all said, at one time or another, to somebody we love. Many are innocent, but, for some, you should maybe think twice before repeating.
In most cases, this is perfectly acceptable. Even if you’re not fine, we’re not obligated to delve into a deep discussion of life’s complication and worries just because somebody asked, “Everything okay?” But if you really are hiding something that the other needs to know, there will eventually come a time when you need to have that difficult discussion.
“You look skinny in that dress/suit/shirt.”
Even if it is a lie—hey, we don’t always have to think everybody looks great in everything they wear—telling it anyway might be helping them look at their bodies more realistically. A 2010 University College London study found that our brains are actually “massively distorted” when it comes to body image.
As Dr. Michael Longo, the neuroscientist who led the research, once told a reporter, “There may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is.” In some cases, most people see their bodies as two-thirds wider and a third shorter than what the rest of the world sees.
“My phone died.”
This is a white lie you can usually get away with, if only because we’ve all experienced a phone call cutting out, either because of lost signal or poor battery life. In many ways, it’s the perfect alibi, and nobody’s feelings get hurt. Just try not to overuse it. There are only so many times that a phone conversation can get suddenly cut short before the other party starts to suspect that you’re just using it as a convenient exit strategy.
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but you’re not fooling anyone. The person on the receiving end of this white lie “probably already knows that you’re not listening,” says April Masini, a relationship expert. A better idea would be to admit that, hey, maybe your attention lapsed, if only for a minute. “Say, ‘Could you repeat that?’ Or, ‘I want to make sure I got that, say it again, please,’” Masini advises.
“I’m busy that day.”
There’s no harm in a white lie like this, but it requires follow-through. If you turn down a social invitation by claiming you’ll be “busy,” you need to keep a low profile to make sure you don’t inadvertently expose yourself. The last thing you need is to be seen having fun out in the world at the exact moment you insisted that you’d be stuck at the office into the night.
“I totally forgot to do that thing you asked me to do.”
To be fair, sometimes it really is easy to forget. But it’s not always the case. Sometimes you didn’t do the thing your loved one asked you to do because you just didn’t feel like it. Thing is, saying such out loud can sound mean. “Sorry, but you’re not a priority.” This is definitely a white lie we can endorse—just use it sparingly. You can only “forget” your to-do lists so many times before your loved one will want to make an appointment for you with a neurologist.
“This is the best gift you’ve ever given me!”
This is a weird white lie, if only because it’s entirely unnecessary. Do we really think they’ll get upset if we just say, “Hey, thanks for the gift!” or something else as simple and easy as that? Why is it necessary to be over the top with a reaction, doing cartwheels about how much we loooove the gift?
“Most of us possess an innate desire to be liked,” says Dr. Jill Gross, a licensed psychologist. “What’s more, people are most attracted to individuals who make them feel good.” If your gift was handed to you by somebody you fancy and would like to know better, then sure, exaggerate your enthusiasm. But if it’s a loved one you’ve known for years—or decades, even—you might want to calm it down. They don’t need convincing to like you anymore.
“I’m five minutes away.”
What is it about “five minutes” that sounds like the perfect geographic lie? We’re not just down the block, but we’re not far enough away that the person being told this lie should get upset. There’s one thing we all know is true, however: If we get a call by somebody who’s late and they claim to be “five minutes away,” we all intrinsically know this isn’t true. Repeat this white lie if you must, but don’t think for a second (or for five minutes) that you’re being believed.
“The kids and I didn’t just watch TV the whole time you were gone.”
The reason some white lies fall apart is because of their specificity. If your partner returns from a trip and asks what you and the kids did over the weekend, and you respond, “Well, we didn’t eat so many chicken nuggets that we all got tummy aches, I’ll tell you that much,” it’s a pretty good bet that what you’re insisting didn’t happen is exactly what happened.
“That was my last piece of gum.”
Sometimes white lies aren’t just to protect other people’s feelings. Sometimes they exist to protect us from weird social expectations—like the social expectation that you have to share your gum. If you pull out a package of gum, anybody around you is well within their rights to ask, “You have gum! Can I have a piece?” It’s one of the only things in life we’re expected to share without question.
This makes no sense. You don’t take out your car keys only to fairly expect someone to say, “Oh, great, you have a car! Can I borrow it for a few hours?” But take out gum and suddenly everybody wants a piece for themselves. So go ahead and tell the white lie that you’ve just popped the last piece into your mouth. Your secret is safe with us.
“I’ve had ____ sex partners.”
Unless this is part of a more serious discussion about sexual health—you should never lie to a partner about your sexual past, especially if you might be putting their health in jeopardy—it’s otherwise fine to exaggerate or downsize the number of participants in your sexual past. Hey, it’s not like you’re giving them phone numbers.
“Your new haircut looks amazing.”
The best white lies are the ones that have a positive impact on the rest of a person’s day. Telling someone their haircut is flattering and attractive, even if it’s nothing of the kind, can do exactly that. According to one poll, feelings of low self-esteem about hair can send a person spiraling into depression. But if someone tells them their hair looks great, 56 percent will pay it forward, and be nicer and more pleasant to other people, while 67 percent will just generally have a better day overall. Who knew a haircut had so much power?
“I wasn’t checking him/her out.”
This is a white lie that can only make things worse, especially if it’s pretty obvious you’ve been caught in a fib. And not because it’s a clumsy attempt to deny our own behavior, but because it suggests we have something more to hide. If our gaze was briefly distracted by an attractive stranger, hey, it happens. It demonstrates that we still have a heartbeat. It’s also harmless. But protesting a bit too vehemently that we didn’t do something that we clearly did suggests that this sort of eyes-wandering isn’t a one-time occurrence.
“Your cooking is delicious.”
It’s not a white lie you’ll want to repeat often, especially if you’re saying it to someone who could be cooking for you regularly. But as an occasional thing—as an act of encouragement towards somebody who’s experimenting in the kitchen and seeing what they can do—telling them the cooking is delicious even if that couldn’t be further from the truth isn’t such a bad idea. Studies have shown that cooking and baking helps people feel more relaxed and happier in their lives. Even if they didn’t serve you a meal that made your taste buds sing, you’ve encouraged them to keep trying, and in a small way made their day a little better.
“Don’t worry, it’s okay.”
This is a tricky one. Sometimes it’s a white lie that a person needs to hear, if only because the truth will be too crushing. We all make mistakes, and some of us make many mistakes, so having a loved one who tells us “it’s okay” even when it’s very clearly not okay can be a gift. But don’t repeat this white lie too often.
Yes, letting somebody off the hook once in a while, even when everything in your head wants to scream at them for messing up so spectacularly, is a good instinct. But every now and then, mistakes shouldn’t be so quickly forgiven. It depends on the severity. You’ll know when it happens. Did they spill wine on your rug? Feel free to tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s okay.” Did they crashed their car into your yard? You’re under no obligation to play it cool.
“Tell me the truth, I won’t be mad.”
For a white lie to work, it can’t immediately be disproven a few minutes later. Go ahead and use this white lie if you must, but be prepared that it only works once. The moment the facade falls away and you reveal that, despite assurances to the contrary, there was always a possibility that you were going to get furious, you won’t be able to use this white lie again and have the same effect.
“I didn’t throw it away.”
Whether you’re talking about a birthday card from your grandma or a special piece of art drawn by a five-year-old, nobody can be expected to hold onto everything. But that doesn’t mean you should break their hearts by revealing that the thing they expected you to cherish forever might’ve ended up in the nearest trash can. Don’t ever admit this. Even if you’re caught in the act, or they find their masterpiece in the garbage, insist on your innocence. There are just some things in life where the truth makes everything worse.
“No, this isn’t a new [expensive purse, pair of shoes, outfit]. I’ve had it forever.”
If your family’s on a budget, getting caught splurging on yourself can be embarrassing. A white lie like this, as long as it’s about a purchase that doesn’t put you or your loved ones in financial jeopardy, is mostly innocent. It can also be pretty easy to get away with, as long as your partner doesn’t stumble upon some receipts that prove you’re being less than truthful. Sometimes when you’re caught in the act, the best thing to do is admit your mistake and move on.
So you said something hurtful and you realize too late that you may have inadvertently trampled on their emotions? A white lie like “just kidding” can be an effective way of backtracking, even if both of you know that it’s totally bunk. It’s essentially saying, “I know I messed up, so I’m going to pretend I meant it as a joke with the worst punchline of all time and I hope that you accept it in the apologetic way it was intended.”
“I didn’t do it.”
Ah, a classic in the white lies genre. You very clearly did something wrong, and everybody knows that you are the sole one responsible, but you’re hoping that a declaration of denial, if delivered with enough enthusiasm, will be enough to create just enough doubt to get you off the hook. Alas, it almost never works, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. And for more things you may not realize are hurting your loved ones, check out the 30 Unkind Things You’re Doing Without Even Realizing It.
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