So, is my reputation tarnished forever?
June 15, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

If I lie (a very big lie), can I ever redeem myself?

I grew up in a very value-driven family. My dad would have his moral code tattooed into his skin, if tattoos didn't go against his belief system. One of his biggest values is academics (his favourite niece in the entire world has a phD, so I hope you have an idea now) <- this will be relevant a few sentences down. While I have carried many of the principles I have learnt into my own life (never backbite about people, steal or cheat them for money, respect your elders, etc.) - all was well until these three things aligned: truth, fear and pride. From my earlier posts, you probably know that I was kicked out of school. I then learnt that my brother *also* kicked out - but he was quick about telling my parents. I wasn't. And so began a very long fabrication process where I pretended that I was still in school (i.e. taking college courses for academic upgrading so I could get in at least!) et al. Since I have never communicated with our parents, and I was too afraid about their reaction/had too much pride to admit that I had failed, everything has culminated into one big time bomb. I've basically been going around, literally quite lying to everybody's face, "yeah I'm graduating." "No, I don't know what I want to do yet." (I do know, but it isn't in the context of my post-degree opportunities of course).

The thing that scares me though, is when people do find out the truth (and they will. We know enough horror stories to realize at least this fundamental principle of life) all I will look like is this gutless weakling liar... a piss-poor personality that couldn't own up to the truth. Which is 100% true (I wouldn't be in the same situation if I had no fear). My parents will think it (and yell it out loud). Anyone else I lied to will think it. This is where I wish I didn't play the part of the Boy Who Cries Wolf, you know? I'm glad I didn't made up a lie to intentionally hurt someone else, which would have been far worse, but all the emotional guilt of that is all there. I did intentionally hurt people by getting their hopes up, especially my own parents. Now it just feels like no one will ever like me, or trust me, again. That's what you get when fear and pride rule you.

Is there really any way I can make up for what I have done?
posted by raintree to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"a piss-poor personality that couldn't own up to the truth. Which is 100% true"

With an internal monologue like that, who needs overbearing parents? Take it easy on yourself.
posted by ian1977 at 2:02 PM on June 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

You redeem yourself by telling the truth. Nobody here will be able to tell you how long the other people around you will take to forgive you, but you have to start with yourself. And you can't do that if you keep up the lie.
posted by fearnothing at 2:03 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had a friend who lied about going to college for three years. The truth did eventually come out, and his girlfriend did dump him for it (among other reasons). However, pretty much all his friends were like, well, that was really dumb. We wish you felt like you could have told us the truth, but we understand what drove you to act that way, and we are still your friends. No one blacklisted him or refused to answer his calls. His life didn't end. He picked up the pieces and started over.

I think you're being too hard on yourself. Own up and begin the rebuilding process. It IS embarrassing, but there's a serenity and calm in owning what you did and being strong enough to move on.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Yes, by telling the truth, asserting to your parents that though they deserve to be disappointed their emphasis on academics made you uncomfortable, and by getting therapy because you're using passive aggressive and juvenile techniques to gain access to a life that's yours and not theirs.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:06 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

...all I will look like is this gutless weakling liar... a piss-poor personality that couldn't own up to the truth.

Or, you'll look like a human being who made an error in judgement, as we all do. So far, the only person who has disparaged you is yourself. This is, coincidentally, the last person who should be disparaging you.

Okay, so you lied. I don't want to get all moral-relative-y, but you didn't lie about killing anyone. You did not lie about stealing the crown jewels. You did not lie about sleeping with someone's spouse. Your lie, when it's exposed -- when you choose to expose it -- will not utterly ruin someone's life. Your parents will get over it, eventually (assuming one of the values your family holds is some variation on "love the sinner, hate the sin.") Take agency and tell them what you did. That takes strength of character, and that's clearly something you want to develop.

Your parents will be mad. They have been mad at you before. They will be mad at you again. Apologize. Explain -- which is different than making up excuses -- why you thought you had to lie to them. What happens after that is what you have to deal with, and you will deal with it.

As far as other people? I'm not even sure how "I told people I was doing okay in school when I had actually been kicked out" comes up in conversation. The people in your peer group you already told? The reaction that statement will probably be concern rather than anger.
posted by griphus at 2:08 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

1. The truth will out.

2. You fear and anticipate one reaction but how people will actually react could very well be entirely different.

3. This lying is not making you happy (obviously). Getting out, consequences be damned might help make it alright. Even if it doesn't help in the short term, you have to always bear in mind number 1, "the truth _will_ out."
posted by From Bklyn at 2:15 PM on June 15, 2012

You erred. The only thing to do is to recognize the error (done already) address it (tell your parents and whoever else you feel should know the truth) and go on. You just go on. I agree with fearnothing. (appropriate username too)

Have you heard the old story, supposedly included in one of Abe Lincoln's speeches?
"It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"
posted by Wretch729 at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You aren't the only person to have done this. You aren't even the only person on Metafilter!

I think the bigger problem here is that you seem to be putting a lot of energy into creating this lie and sustaining it while also pursuing an education that you are neither interested in nor suited for. You sound like someone who would benefit a lot from being away from your family and working for a while in some kind of structured setting (like the military or a volunteer service program) and getting some mental health treatment.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:17 PM on June 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

There's a lot to unpack here, but I'm just going to drop one thought in hopes that it introduces a little perspective into what I think is an underlying issue: your dad values the academically successful, yet you and your brother both dropped out of college while he sings the praises of your cousin. This is highly, highly dysfunctional, emotionally harmful, and should at least let you relax a little bit in the knowledge that he's a failure in this way, and that it's hypocritical for him to upbraid you for this. It doesn't excuse the lying, but it helps explain it for sure.
posted by rhizome at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm going to be honest here and imagine that one of my good friends came to me and explained this.

"Hypotheticole, I need to talk to you about something. I dropped out of school and I've been lying about for [months, years] because I was scared shitless to tell anyone. It started out as a white lie and then it totally got away from me: I haven't been taking classes, I'm not on track to graduate. While I was panicking about people judging me for being a dropout, I became something much worse: a liar. It was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my life. The guilt is eating me up inside.

While I understand if you can't, I hope you can forgive me for lying to you because I could really use a friend right now. I'm making efforts to rectify this mistake as best I can."

If the person telling me this is someone I know pretty well? Someone I care about? Someone whom I wouldn't expect this of?

I'm not going to yell, not going to cut the person out of my life, not going to never trust the person again. I'm going to recognize that whatever I could say to emphasize how much you fucked up — you've already said it to yourself a thousand times over.

And then I'd give you a hug.

posted by hypotheticole at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2012 [17 favorites]

Is there really any way I can make up for what I have done?

Get healthy. Go to the doctor and talk about all of this stuff and see if they think medicine would help you focus better on whatever you're doing. Go live somewhere away from your parents. Let time pass. Focus on making yourself a dependable, honest person. Get a job or a volunteer thing and go there every day you are supposed to go there. Practice either telling your parents the truth or telling them, "I'm going to keep that private right now," for when you don't want to tell them the truth. Show up when you say you're going to show up, do things you say you're going to do, call when you say you're going to call. Don't promise something if you can't deliver, especially if you're just promising to avoid feeling uncomfortable, especially if the people you are promising are your parents. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

If you do all that, and your parents still don't have much faith in you, that is their problem, not yours. In the meantime, you will have built yourself a great life, and no one- not even your parents- will be able to take it away from you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:24 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Stop pretending. Next time the subject comes up, say you were kicked out for (whatever it was) and that now you want to be an occupational therapist if you can work out a way to get back into school. Stand up. Be big. You're on your own, so own your own.
posted by pracowity at 2:25 PM on June 15, 2012

I think you are being way too hard on yourself. You are by no means a person with a "piss poor personality," to be honest, I perceive you as someone that struggled emotionally because of the confines of family member's expectations which is why you felt like lying was the only way out.

But, you are an adult and you need to own up to your actions. You also need to face the reality that you might be doing/might have done something that your parents wouldn't have recommended.

But, you are an adult and you call the shots in your life. Don't be afraid to tell others the truth. There might be some harsh critics, but a lot of people will also come from a place of understanding.

Good luck with sorting everything out. I hope things work out well for you.
posted by livinglearning at 2:26 PM on June 15, 2012

Best answer: Looking at your previous questions, it seems like your family situation is pretty difficult. I come from a family that is very strict about certain things - my father too would totally get his beliefs tattooed....except that tattoos are crass, vulgar and attention-seeking, per family - and I've definitely hidden some things from them over the years, especially when I was younger/your age. I know what it's like to be afraid to have those conversations and to grow up in a home with a very strict moral code. So I personally don't think you've done anything terrible. You were put between a rock and a hard place - brought up to always obey parents and never challenge them, yet literally unable to obey them when you couldn't stay in school, so you lied because in the past conflict in your family has been so overwhelming for you.

Frankly, when people can't tell their parents about major life events, I think the issue lies with the parents. Being so strict that your children are too terrified of your anger and disapproval to tell you about important life events - that's not being moral, that's just being rigid and controlling.*

What you did was a bit foolish, yes, and it puts you in a tricky situation job and future-wise, but it really was not, morally, very bad. You'll have some seriously unfun conversations with your family, yes, true. But you don't need to beat yourself up a lot. You did a fool thing and only hurt yourself. If your parents are so wound up in concerns with morality and status that they cannot handle having a daughter who has had a setback, that's their problem, not yours.

Also, just because people are very angry does not mean that what you did was very wrong - people can be very angry about something that was only a little wrong, so to speak.

Here is the thing: if you're like me, you will put off as long as you can the final "I am my own person, mom and dad" moment, because that rupture is really scary and it goes against everything you have learned that good, obedient children do. You'll lie and conceal and fib and do things by half-measures and always feel vaguely worried and unhappy. But you can stand up for yourself and establish independent personhood. It will be hard and unpleasant in the moment, but in a year or so you'll be living a totally different life - maybe you'll have a job and be living as an adult on your own; maybe you'll be working and going to school. But it will be your life, not a half-life where you temporize with your parents' wishes.

You could view this event as a piece of luck - now you can't hide your needs and wishes anymore. You won't be doing this for ten years until you finally crack from some other pressure.

I bet that once you're not under so much family pressure, you'll be able to figure out the school thing, too. Maybe that won't be "now I will do a PhD!"; maybe it will be "I'm going to learn to be a vet tech" or something....but I bet that once you're living on your own you'll find the courage and resources to forge ahead.

Don't feel too bad about yourself - you've done a fool thing, but youth is the best time to do fool things because you can learn from them.

*In fairness to my parents, they have never been as strict as yours and I could have told them if I'd flunked out of school or something. And we've always had a loving home, even if things were pretty strict.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on June 15, 2012 [28 favorites]

And regarding your parents:

Whatever will happen when you tell your parents, it cannot possibly be as bad as the worst-case scenario that you are imagining. Seriously. From the tone of your question, I'm guessing that you have played out a thousand terrible scenarios in your head already. Telling them is not going to be fun, but it is also not going to be as bad as you fear.

Your guilt and fear of telling your parents will not just continue, but get worse, as long as you avoid it. The actual act of telling them will not be as bad as the ongoing guilt and fear.
posted by hypotheticole at 2:28 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go get a tattoo - the whole education thing won't seem so bad. :) seriously, these things are all about perspective, you need to take a couple steps back and realize that what will be remembered here is not what you have done so far but what you will do next.

Your parents should have this perspective as well, and they might - even if they don't show it when they find out. They will come around.

Tell them early and start making plans for your next step to success...start defining your own success and don't keep measuring yourself with other peoples yard sticks...
posted by NoDef at 2:39 PM on June 15, 2012

There's already a lot of damage that's been done here. But it's been done, so there's not a whole lot of point sweating about it now.

But you can take some steps to make sure you don't compound it. Getting caught in a lie is invariably worse than owning up to a lie. The former will leave people with nagging doubts as to your integrity. The latter is less likely to do so, because you've taken a concrete step towards integrity.

Remember that this isn't the worst thing you could have done. Dropping out of school isn't necessarily awesome, and lying about it doesn't help things, but you didn't, for example, shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

So 'fess up. Tear off that band-aid.
posted by valkyryn at 2:51 PM on June 15, 2012

Is there really any way I can make up for what I have done?

Please follow Frowner's excellent advice. Please also realise that disappointing your parents is not something you have to "make up for." Thinking otherwise is literally a lifelong recipe for indentured childhood.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:00 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with Frowner up top that your parents, to judge from the anecdata that you provide, may be rigid and controlling, or have some other unsavory elements to their personalities. I also feel that I understand your situation pretty well as I had a similar experience.

While taking courses at a state college I allowed myself to barely scrape by for a few semesters and finally ceased to attend classes at all. I told my parents fairly soon thereafter, but that was partially because I was accepting money from them under the pretense that I was a full-time student and therefore unable to provide for my own daily expenses. I don't know how much longer I would've waited to tell them if I were operating independently at the time, but I'm sure it wouldn't have been the same evening.

Anyway, they are a rather stern couple, my parents, and when I called them I was not looking forward to whatever reaction I was likely to get. Also, keep in mind that my relationship with them wasn't always the greatest, so phone calls in general weren't too enjoyable. So I told them, and told them that the primary reason was that I simply could not devote myself to the amount of studying required to study subjects that rarely interested me anyhow, and their initial reaction was an uncomfortable silence. And then they accepted it. I told them that I would seek employment at something that didn't require a college degree, which I did. I ended up working for a couple years and then went back to another branch of the system to finish out my bachelor's degree. My parents supported me in this.

Your parents will accept it, too. The only alternative to their accepting it is either to disown you entirely (and if this happens, I feel for you) or experience a psychotic break that causes them to lose their sanity altogether. Otherwise you guys just won't be able to have a relationship. It sounds kind of coy to say it, but that's what it comes down to.

DarlingBri just posted, so I second her as well, I guess. Or him. Whatever.
posted by mr. digits at 3:01 PM on June 15, 2012

As a long time offender of the embarrassing, and no I don't really feel like sharing, long term you will have personal moments of "what the hell was I..." but they will become brief. Dealing with others you can only try to get it over with as soon as possible, apologize clearly and briefly, try some restitution if possible and just continue to go on with your life.
posted by sammyo at 3:28 PM on June 15, 2012

It is not right to lie.

It is also not right to set overly rigid expectations for your children, and to make them feel that they can't be honest with you about reverses in their life if they want to keep even the bare minimum of your esteem.

You can tell the truth. Whether or not they can become more accepting is up to them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:29 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh man! I was there, to an extent! I got kicked out after my first semester (0.46 GPA what what!), and I had spent the bulk of that semester lying to my parents about classes and grades. They are also very education-oriented, and I thought for sure I'd kick ass at college since I was effortlessly amazing in high school. I was woefully unprepared for life in another state, and learned that the hard way. When I came back home, the ride in the minivan with my dad was excruciating. The first few nights of sleeping in my childhood bed were also terrible. Being around my family and friends was uncomfortable and embarrassing.

I was going to enroll in community college and take the "right" path, until my mom made me really think about it. She asked me point-blank if I was even interested in school, or would I just do the same thing all over again. I told her I didn't want to go to school and she said, "Fine, but you have to get a job."

That was 11 years ago. My parents and I are VERY close now. I never did go back to school, but I have a ton of amazing work experience which led me to my current (stressful but respected) job. My parents are proud of me and they still love me. My baby sister graduated college early, is now in the Peace Corps, and is planning on grad school. They love her too. But they don't compare us, and probably that took some time and thought on their parts.

You will be okay. One day you will laugh about it, like I do with my embarrassingly low GPA. Life is short, but it is also SO INCREDIBLY long, and I promise that one day this won't be at the forefront of your or your parents' minds. Figure out what you WANT to do and go for it! You'll feel better once you realize the "right" way isn't the ONLY way!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:53 PM on June 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look. I come from a similar background and my family values (graduate level) education above much else.

However, as a parent, I can tell you that the deep fears I harbor with regard to my children have nothing to do with this sort of thing. Deep parental fear is for stuff like... they will get cancer; get hit by a drunk driver; join a cult that estranges them from me; hook up with men who beat them; move to distant countries where I won't see them again; etc. Dropping out of school, I mean, it wouldn't be great, certainly. I'd be disappointed. But it's just not high on the loving parent trauma-o-meter. Go ahead and tell them. It won't be as bad as you think.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:56 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I will look like is this gutless weakling liar... a piss-poor personality that couldn't own up to the truth. Which is 100% true (I wouldn't be in the same situation if I had no fear). My parents will think it (and yell it out loud). Anyone else I lied to will think it.

Raintree, I personally don't think your lying about your college is that bad. You didn't harm anyone. If I were your friend and you lied to me about this and then I found out, I would NOT judge you about it in any way! I would not see you as some kind of gutless weakling liar! My first reaction would be guilt towards MYSELF, like "Oh man, I must have been giving off some kind of judgmental vibe if Raintree didn't think they could trust me with this. I need to figure out how I messed that up or people won't feel comfortable trusting me in the future." And my second reaction would be CONCERN for you, like if you are okay, if you want to go back to school but need help you're not getting, if you don't want to go back to school but are struggling to find a job, etc.

Just again, to be very clear, not everyone would see you as a pariah for this and I wouldn't AT ALL.

And about this:

My dad would have his moral code tattooed into his skin, if tattoos didn't go against his belief system.

There are a lot of people out there who seem like -- almost superhumanly perfect in this way. They seem like these perfect, utterly upstanding people who would NEVER mess up and NEVER do anything they could be judged for and NEVER have any skeletons in their closets.

The older I get and the more I see, I get more and more skeptical about this. I am pretty convinced that *everyone* has their own mistakes and failings and everyone has their own skeletons in their closets that would shock people if they were ever discovered. I've just been around long enough at this point to have witnessed some secrets of these seemingly perfect humans being revealed. You know, like you find out the crusading, corruption-fighting politician was caught with teenage prostitutes. You find out the star professor of your university was arrested and found not guilty by reason of insanity back in the '70s (that's one from my own life.)
You find out your mega-religious and judgmental grandparents were pregnant when they got married. Things like that. Just don't go through life assuming that your secret makes you some kind of inferior to others. Everyone has secrets.
posted by cairdeas at 4:18 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would also like you to read this comment by Pogo_Fuzzybutt.
posted by cairdeas at 4:32 PM on June 15, 2012

Therapy, therapy, therapy.

Therapy will help you realize that:
  • Your father's strict moral code is essentially arbitrary. It does not represent objective truth.
  • "gutless weakling liar..." are three labels and overgeneralizations that neither adequately describe your actions nor define you as a human being.
Let me just leave you with this not-particularly-therapy-like thought: What you did is in a large way your parents' fault and reflects more on the ridiculous pressure and inflexibility that they have or project more than it does on you.
posted by callmejay at 4:41 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's going to be awful.

Then it will pass.
posted by amtho at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2012

Response by poster: THANK YOU THANK THANK YOU ALL.

I finally got the guts to say the truth, after nearly 3 years. Will elaborate more on this later... when all the craziness has died down.
posted by raintree at 5:15 PM on June 15, 2012 [27 favorites]

Congratulations. Well done.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:17 PM on June 15, 2012

OP will surely deliver.

But, seriously, congratulations on having the strength to tell them. I don't know if I would be able to do it. You're a better man for it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:34 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

w00t! You are awesome! Good for you!
posted by small_ruminant at 5:35 PM on June 15, 2012

Oh crap, I meant better woman. You're a better person for it!
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:36 PM on June 15, 2012

I finally got the guts to say the truth, after nearly 3 years.

Now that's courage: intelligent, reasoned action for good in the face of real peril.

Remember - some people might not forgive you. But that's about them. You did the right thing, and you did it when it was the hardest thing to do. You're a good person.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:54 PM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bravo, raintree.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:02 PM on June 15, 2012

Well done you.

Now let's see whether your parents are up to their job. Are they going to love their kid, or just fake it and then lie about it?
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good job raintree!
posted by bardophile at 2:32 AM on June 16, 2012

posted by From Bklyn at 3:19 AM on June 16, 2012

Good for you. However crazy things are now, it was so much better to tell it yourself than to wait till caught.
posted by tomboko at 3:45 AM on June 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You lied, which is not a good thing. But you lied out of fear of disapproval. This is not a lie for personal gain, or a lie to hurt someone. Your parents may want to consider their ethical obligation to be kind, especially those in a relationship where the power in unequal, like parenting.

I hope things go well; clearing the air must have been hard, and took courage.
posted by theora55 at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the well wishes, everyone!
I am glad I told the truth... I have had many, many sleepless nights and stress-related illness because of this. Feels like a great weight off my shoulders.
Of course the journey will be quite hard. My mom is understandably frustrated (after both her kids have dropped out of school), and snaps quite often, so we might look into therapy to deal with our emotions better.
To anyone else going through a similar situation.. please know you are not alone, and that you will get through this. It will be worth it in the end.
posted by raintree at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

« Older My stomach don't work right and I don't know why.   |   Day travel ideas in New England? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.