How can I repair my past mistakes without losing my close friends in the process?
February 13, 2008 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I've been lying about parts of my life to my close friends. I want to come clean, but I'm scared.

For the last 7 years or so, I've been lying about my level of sexual experience to my friends. I've led people to think I'm a player, but I'm actually still a virgin. I've also told others that I was once engaged, when in fact, I never was.

At the time I began telling people these lies, I was insecure and fat. I thought it would make me look cool to my buddies and friends in law school. I've since gotten over some of this insecurity, and have decided that people should accept me for who I am.

I'm afraid of coming clean to my friends, though. I don't want to lose them. I figure I only hurt myself with these fabrications, but it would really hurt if one of my close friends who told me they no longer wanted to talk to me. I already was forced to come clean with one friend when an ex-girlfriend of mine told her.

Is there any way to come clean while minimizing the damage to my existing friendships?
posted by stedman15 to Human Relations (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Since you lied about something that is none of their business to know the truth about, anyway, I'm not sure you have any obligation to correct the misinformation.

Why not just stop talking about your level of sexual experience around these people. If they ask you about it, just tell them that you are now older and have decided that it's a personal topic you shouldn't have discussed so freely in the past.
posted by OilPull at 7:50 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

Well, you could just stop bringing up the subject, and avoid it when other people bring it up.
posted by Good Brain at 7:51 AM on February 13, 2008

If this is the only thing you've lied to your friends about, then I would just tell them. Perhaps in one-on-one situations rather than in a group, just to avoid the additional attention and awkwardness. I imagine that despite your best actions, quite a few of them will not have been fooled, and will just say, "yeah man, I know."

Seriously. If a friend of mine told me something like that, I'd shake my head, wondering why he was so silly as to think I cared. I'd still love him as a friend, and be supportive. It wasn't a harmful lie.

Really, the only thing you'll have to do is steel yourself against the embarrassment you'll feel and be ready for some friendly ribbing. You're not going to lose real friends over this, and real friends will keep the jokes friendly rather than using this to further embarrass you. We've all done stupid things in our youth.
posted by explosion at 7:52 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think this is something that requires a huge confession. Pretty much everyone lies about their level of sexual experience at one point or another. Chances are that your more savvy friends already suspect that you have been telling tall tales. The next time it comes up, just casually mention that you were making stuff up to seem more experienced, but that you have since come to the realization that being inexperienced is no big deal.
posted by sid at 7:54 AM on February 13, 2008

I think that's an awesome thing to be able to come clean about actually. You'd be surprised at the number of people who have been a little too loose with their dangly bits who wish they could reel it all in and start over fresh.

You might be surprised at just how much cooler your friends think you are if you can put it forth as a deliberate choice out of respect for yourself. That's damn cool of you, I think.
posted by cashman at 7:54 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I were you I wouldn't come clean. Its a lose lose situation. You might not lose your friends but you WILL lose some of their respect and trust.

Even though the lies are rather harmless, it will just put you in a bad spot and nothing good can come out of it.

Like you stated yourself, you were insecure. People have different ways of dealing with insecurities. What you did is pretty normal and many people brag and make up stuff to make themselves feel better.

Get on with your life and just be stronger from now on. If a topic that is sensitive to you comes up, stay objective and handle it with maturity.
posted by iceman7 at 7:59 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Let me clarify:

These lies were over several years, and involved me concocting fairly involved and detailed stories. Do you all think my pals might feel duped?
posted by stedman15 at 8:00 AM on February 13, 2008

Are you sure your friends don't already know? When I was younger, I definitely had friends who purported to be players, but were generally known not to be. I applaud you for wanting to come clean--honesty is, after all, the best policy--but if it were me, I would just stop lying about it, rather than making ado about the lies in the past.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:03 AM on February 13, 2008

Really, this is not a big deal. If you really want to come clean, just tell your closest friends on a one-on-one basis. They will probably not be surprised. If they kick up a big fuss about it, they are being immature. You know all your most experienced friends with the craziest sex stories? They're probably all made up too.
posted by sid at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2008

I'm a bit wary of this sentence:

"At the time I began telling people these lies, I was insecure and fat."

Possibly, I'm wrong - but if you mean that because you are now thinner - and therefore not so insecure, are you sure you aren't suddenly asking your friends for too much validation?

Friendships can bear a very great deal of reality - that's what makes them so brilliant - but be careful of doing a Sally Field - demanding people show "you like me/you really like me!".

Maybe you are jumping the gun a little on your new feelings of security? (Since you are, in fact, demanding extra evidence of enduring friendship?)

(And what explosion said: we've all done and said stupid things - even to friends!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:07 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it matters a LOT whether the stories you made up were about specific people or not. In high school, I had people telling untrue "I got so far with her..." stories about me. Those things spread like wildfire and have very real repercussions about the people they're told about in name-written-on-bathroom-wall style. It's icky. I'd think about who else was involved and whether there's some way you coming clean might actually do some good in that way.

If this was a "victimless crime" sort of thing where you were just mostly making things up about yourself, I think it's up to you as much as you want it to be. It might be that a good tack would be, the next time this topic comes up, to just say something like "Yeah I may have exaggerated for effect about some of my proclivities back in the day" and don't go into details, don't say "I lied to you guys" and just move forward being a little more truthful or, if you prefer, just a little less forthcoming generally. You may take some ribbing about it but unless you were REALLY over the top about it I think people expect a little boasting and a little insecurity about inexperience and my guess is they'll be okay about it in a general sense and you'll feel a LOT better.
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

This really depends on how old you are and whether you plan to soon change your personal situation and lose your virginity. If you are planning to lose it, then no explanation is necessary, you simply start the conversation by saying "nothing was like last night! It was like when I lost my virginity! It was crazy! I didn't know people could do shit like that!"
posted by parmanparman at 8:14 AM on February 13, 2008

I want to come clean, but I'm scared.

Nice pun.

I think, really, that OilPull nailed it in the very first answer. Like it or not, you're talking about a private subject that EVERYONE lies about anyway. It's so socially acceptable and common that I'm not even sure it's "lying" anymore.

Because of the pervasive fictionalization of the topic among, well, billions of people, it's pretty likely that some or most of your friends assumed you were in the land of truthiness all along.

Turning it into a big, formal "honesty" discussion doesn't seem wise to me, since it'll be ridiculously awkward and put pressure on your friends that they probably don't need, want or deserve. You hurt nobody, and the odds are high that they've been "lying" to you about the same topic for years too (perhaps less elaborately, but hey, you're creative, right?) and they might end up feeling that you're trying to trap them in the "coming clean" room with you, or judging their own "fish stories" as horrible, horrible lies.

Relax and just enjoy your new life.
posted by rokusan at 8:25 AM on February 13, 2008

Just don't.

I mean, seriously... which is worse: the feeling that you've lied to your friends or the fear that you're going to loose those friends when you "come clean?"

Your friends probably don't care and have probably figured that all along you've been shooting them an embellished line of shit.

The important thing is that you've come to recognize that you used to do this. Moving forward in life there is no reason why you can't be completely honest with your current and new friends.

If it does come up... say one of friends says something like, "Hey, wait a minute, I thought you were a big player?" Then you have a chance to say, "Umm, yeah... I was probably embellishing some of that. Sorry." Until then don't worry about it.
posted by wfrgms at 8:36 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: I'm surprised by many of these answers. To me, this seems like less of an issue about what the friends will think and more about how to deal with the clash between your new, wiser, more grown-up self and the the old, lying, faker version. The friends get factored into this process, and not telling them would seem to go against the whole point of trying to be more honest. Don't trade your elaborate tales for lying by omission. Have one-on-one discussions with your friends, explain where you're at in life, and that you'd like to keep them as friends as long as you will be honest with them moving forward. Apologize. You want to keep the friends that care about your lying, are hurt, but willing to work it out with you. Those are the ones who'll develop MORE respect for you from your forthrightness. The others you may lose, but not because you came clean...because you spent years lying to them and they can't deal with it.

And for those that said something akin to "don't care because that was none of my business". He made it their business by asking them to buy a bullshit story. That's what friends do. There's some caché in the sharing of the intimate details and some of the shit you probably shouldn't know about. It's comforting to know you're not alone in all your happies and embarrassing moments...that's what friends are for. Sure, some things are private and kept that way, but if you've told me your world and then you stop telling me, I'm going to think there's some reason having to do with ME as to why you are distancing yourself. Our friendships will weaken, because the perceived closeness has been preemptively reduced.

Good luck stedman. Talk to your friends, apologize, and let everything happen. It's a journey, not a destination. You're trying on a new, more honest self. That takes balls that most don't have.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:44 AM on February 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

What good is "coming clean" really going to accomplish? It's really none of anyone else's business, anyway. It doesn't need to be discussed, and if you don't bring it up or encourage anybody else to, I can't see why anybody would even care. All discussing this will do is bring attention to the fact you have been lying, and make everybody uncomfortable as well, both due the nature of the topic and because i'm sure they've all embellished as well. All you need to do is stop making up stories.

What's happened in the past, whether real or fictional (when it comes to sexual conquests, anyway) is just that: in the past. Old news.

Just let it go man, let it go.
posted by cgg at 8:49 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: How big of a deal this is depends to some extent upon how old you are and the dynamic within your circle of friends. It also depends upon on the level of detail and how much a part of the friends-bonding-experience your stories were.

Here's the worst case scenario from the point of view of your friends: We feel like fools when we think back to the times that we had that hilarious/profound/involved/interesting conversation about x with you, just to find out that you were pulling it out of your ass. We wonder whether you were secretly laughing at us for believing the stories. I had a friend once who was quite possibly a pathological liar. We found out (he didn't 'fess up) that most of the details of his life and experiences were not true/didn't happen. It was pretty bad. But we were in our early twenties. The same situation now that I'm in my mid-thirties would not be nearly as big of a deal.

The good news: if you confess instead of letting them discover it, this goes a long way. If you approach this humbly, they'll get over it pretty quickly and your friendships will endure just fine. Don't make it a play for yet more attention. If you can take your lumps and manage to not get hot under the collar when you get ribbed about it for the next year or two, that'd be perfect. Needless to say, don't make up shit anymore.

The fact that the subject of the misrepresentation was your sex life means that they probably suspect that there was at the very least some massive exaggeration going on, unless they are all also very sexually inexperienced.
posted by desuetude at 9:01 AM on February 13, 2008

Do not bring it up, just let it go, and the lies will fade into history along with whatever made you lie in the first place.

...this is not true of all lies, mind you, but the ones you seem to be discussing here are prime candidates for fading.
posted by aramaic at 9:01 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: @desuetude,

We are all pretty sexually inexperienced. At least one of these friends has gotten tons of advice from me about girls based on the thought that I'm a big time player.
posted by stedman15 at 9:03 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: In agreeance with iamkimiam. Your conscience is prodding you to engage in honesty, and to set the record straight with people. You are in a position to do so. This idea "It's really none of anyone else's business" is missing the point.

There is a reason why Catholic confession, AA's Fifth Step, and virtually all modern psychotherapy involve talking about your "sins" with another person and then making amends when possible. Getting out of yourself, and shedding light onto your transgressions (which are real to you or you wouldn't be feeling this way), frees us from the former power they had over us.

Talk to you friends. The real friends will respect you for it.
posted by Roach at 9:05 AM on February 13, 2008

These lies were over several years, and involved me concocting fairly involved and detailed stories. Do you all think my pals might feel duped?

If they really are close friends, they probably already know that you're a big liar unless you're the greatest actor in the world. And if you are, being a lawyer is not your callling in life.
posted by Stynxno at 9:06 AM on February 13, 2008

I wouldn't come clean if no one asks. However, I also wouldn't continue to lie if it comes up.
posted by gfrobe at 9:06 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: I used to lie a lot, and about everything, from where I had lunch to where I was born. Everything. For about a decade. Then just over seven years ago, hit my rock bottom and turned my life around. In my case, I used programs of recovery and one-on-one therapy. (I'm not suggesting you need these, just explaining where I am coming from.)

The time came, about six months into my recovery, where I had to sit down with each one of my friends individually and tell them everything - that I had been lying, what the truth was, and what I was doing about it.

It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. I couldn't see any motivation for why my friends would want to stay friends. But I knew that I needed to do it, first because I they deserved an apology, and second, because I knew it was vital to rebuilding my life.

Everyone I told responded with, "What can I do to help?" I couldn't believe it. These people really cared about me. Of course they already knew about my lying - I was delusional thinking they didn't. But they were just universally happy for me that I was starting to work through it.

Again, I'm not saying you are in this same position. It sounds like you just lied about a few things and it snowballed and now you don't see a graceful way out.

There is one, and it's telling the truth. Your friends will appreciate it and my guess is they will feel honored that you care enough about them to want to repair this part of your past with them.

It's scary, but it's worth it.

Good luck.
posted by ochenk at 9:10 AM on February 13, 2008 [5 favorites]

You're trying to soothe your conscience. Just let it drop....

Unless there's someone in this social circle you're trying to sleep with....Is there? And if there is, do you feel that this will somehow gain her trust?

Just let it drop. Nobody is keeping stats on your prowess.
posted by filmgeek at 9:15 AM on February 13, 2008

Don't tell them; it will create more problems than it solves. But, obviously, don't make up stories to pump yourself up in the future, whether sexual or not.

Actually, I'll take it one step farther: don't brag about yourself to impress people, ever, EVEN IF IT'S TRUE. Makes you look like a tool, pisses your friends off, and is real unattractive to the ladies -- it's saying "I'm insecure at my core, but check out my accomplishments/money/possessions/experiences. I'm worthy of your attention! PLEASE LOVE ME!!!" Ugh.

Be an awesome person, and your friends will do your bragging for you.

Oh, and feel free to brag on your awesome friends -- makes them look good, and you look good by having awesome friends.
posted by LordSludge at 9:20 AM on February 13, 2008

These lies were over several years, and involved me concocting fairly involved and detailed stories. Do you all think my pals might feel duped?


Rereading your clarification (above), I feel even more wary about what you're asking.

Because - yes - you duped your pals.

It's not a question, then, of whether they feel that's what you did - because making them understand exactly what you did is surely the point of your brave new candor?

Being brave about this also involves facing the possibility that one or two of them might feel your old stories were too complex, went on too long - and they're not sure they can trust the new you.

(Which is why it is so hard to be truly brave about these things).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:24 AM on February 13, 2008

You could possibly test the waters. Next time the situation presents itself, ask one friend (alone) if they believe all your stories. Odds are, they've assumed most of your stories were exaggerated for dramatic effect. Lots of circles of friends have "the one guy who tells tall tales" in my circle it was a girl, and the tall tales weren't usually about sex, but you get the picture.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:24 AM on February 13, 2008

Forgive yourself. And let it go. We all say and do dumb things. I am sure your friends haven't told the truth. Be proud of where you are now.
posted by greenchile at 9:26 AM on February 13, 2008

I'm not sure the confession is worth it if only because I honestly cannot imagine any of your friends have spent more than one second contemplating your sexual history, dishonest or not. I understand the feeling of wanting to unburden yourself from a series of lies, but if I'm trying to put myself in your friends shoes, I have to admit I'd think it was kind of weird if someone felt the need to confess something like this to me that I never placed any importance on in the first place.

Also, as a data point, whenever I've met anyone who claimed to have a wild, plentiful and exciting sexual past, yet oddly enough I have never actually seen that person with a member of the opposite sex in a coupled way, I generally assume the person is lying (such as those guys in college who could never get laid in the dorms, but insisted they got plenty of sex back "at home"). Assuming I'm not totally unique in this, chances are you would only be confessing something your friends already suspect to begin with.
posted by The Gooch at 10:07 AM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

you might come clean about the engagement, but there's no point in discussing your virginity, imho. maybe to your very best friend, someone you'd discuss sex issues with, but nobody else knows. or cares, i'm sure.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:14 AM on February 13, 2008

No one here can predict the reactions your friends will give, but I assure you, it will be better if you tell them sooner rather than later. Think about when you do lose your virginity with (hopefully) a girl you are crazy about. How can you share that with them without lying more? When you get engaged for the first time? What are you going to do? Downplay it? You get a point for not lying to your ex-girlfriend though.

At least one of these friends has gotten tons of advice from me about girls based on the thought that I'm a big time player.

WTF? Don't be surprised if you lose this friend. Also, you probably already know this but don't give out advice about how to ask a girl to marry you or any engagement advice.

I get the fear of not wanting to lose your friends but it's not your choice. Your choice is to tell them (consequence: unknown) or not tell them (consequence: never really being able to let your guard down about the lies you have previously told and continue to tell therefore never knowing what real friendship is like because you're not willing to be open with others about your faults along with the positives).
posted by spec80 at 11:02 AM on February 13, 2008

I wouldn't make a big announcement, personally. I would also absolutely stop telling new lies or repeating old lies.

If someone asks for your advice, or refers to your fabu untrue situation, just casually set the record a little closer to straight -- something like, "Well, you know I'm mostly talk ... I'm not really as much of an expert as I'd like to be." If someone asks you, say that you might have exaggerated somewhat. And if they push you on it, be honest. These are your friends, not your enemies, and they will probably like you anyway.
posted by Hey, Cupcake! at 12:34 PM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that the person you advised heavily might be an exception to them being cool with your past lies.
posted by Hey, Cupcake! at 12:43 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I won't be announcing this to a group. I wanted to sit down with each friend and let them know individually. It's more painful, but I think it's ultimately more respectful of them.
posted by stedman15 at 12:54 PM on February 13, 2008

Stop beating yourself up. Don't say a word and let it go. They were probably onto you anyway. And it's probably not as big a deal as you think it is.

You didn't hurt anyone.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 1:16 PM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: My absolute very best friend fell into this trap a bit several years ago in high school and post high school. Almost from the instant it started, my other bud and I knew he was feeding us a line - there were holes in his stories and his sexual exploits just never seemed to be very viable. But we both realized that to actually say the words and live as if that small aspect of his life was a reality gave him a lot of confidence and I feel it normalized, or equalized, our group that much more.

To be completely honest with you, I never thought even a little bit less of him for it. We all - without exception - have our harmless, victimless white lies. By allowing others the luxury of fortifying the weaker parts of their lives with those white lies, we justify that same, necessary behavior in ourselves. Hopefully, that temporary buoying up of our weaknesses can be just that - temporary. Whether consciously or not, I think we all recognize this truth.

I'd be willing to wager that if you told your buds in a very coy, sheepish and humor-full way over a round of beers, that the experience could actually turn into one you all will cherish fondly years down the road.
posted by Detuned Radio at 2:09 PM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree that the person you advised heavily might be an exception to them being cool with your past lies.

I disagree. I think that your desire to come clean is really admirable, and I think you will actually strengthen your friendships by telling them. In particular, as to the guy you advised heavily, if your friend has any sense of humor at all, he will find it uproariously funny that you were advising this dude on killer sexual positions, premised on your own long, colorful sexual history that turned out to be complete fiction.

Who would not find it charming and admirable for you to finally be honest? Who could be angry, and not amused, by this revelation?

If your friends are worth keeping, they will stick with you after you tell them the truth.
posted by jayder at 3:17 PM on February 13, 2008

i'm not really sure why this is something you need to come clean about. everyone lies about their sexual experience. everyone. i understand that you were lying for many years, but still. if you're old enough to be in law school, you're old enough to not be talking about your sex life anymore. that's what college kids do.

so. just stop talking about it. don't bring up your past again. if someone else brings it up, say you don't want to talk about that type of stuff anymore because it's private stuff.

as for when you finally have sex for the first time? well, good for you. there's no need to tell everyone about it whether it's the first time or the thousandth time.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:50 PM on February 13, 2008

I wanted to sit down with each friend and let them know individually.

Please don't do this. I would be mortified if someone made this sort of confession to me in any serious manner.

Despite the majority of the responders assuring you that this is not a big deal, you seem determined to make it a big deal, and you're going to go ahead anyway. But, really, if you genuinely feel you must "come clean," be casual about it, and just bring it up without any kind of "sitting down with." A passing comment in a normal conversation will be more than clear, and your buddies can pick it up from there if they so desire.

Now, if you're trying to repair gossip that you made up about someone, or trying to be upfront with a potential mate, that's admirable. But otherwise, please believe that your friends are not keeping a tally of what your sexual escapades may or may not have been, and it is not a large slice of their priority pie that you set the record exactly straight.
posted by sageleaf at 10:16 PM on February 13, 2008

And as to your giving advice without really knowing what you were talking about...this is AskMe. We're probably all just as guilty.
posted by sageleaf at 10:29 PM on February 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

i say don't announce it. just stop talking about your sex life & the past engagement.

when you do get into a relationship, obviously, tell your partner the truth (that you're a virgin), and ask her to be discreet about the fact that they are your first.

if any of your friends ever asks, say you decided to stop talking so openly about your romantic life.

if anyone flat-out calls you on lying, admit it in as small a group as possible, in a way that shows you've moved on. "yeah, i guess i made some stuff up a few years back- i was kind of a douchebag, you know? i'm older and wiser now."
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:49 PM on February 13, 2008

oops, sorry, i meant to remove the "hers" in favour of gender neutral pronouns, didn't meant to be assumptive.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:50 PM on February 13, 2008

i think it's all about you, isn't it? You made up big stories and your friends tolerated it, and now you want big confessions and deep and meaningfuls over said big stories, and you want your friends to tolerate that too. Look at me. Look at me. Oh that sounds harsh, I'm sorry, but I think it needs to be considered.

Seriously, I think you need to be certain about what you hope to achieve by a public confession. You need to be aware that some people will be hurt (this is why some marriage counsellors recommend that one off one night stand not be confessed. It hurts the wronged partner enormously, in order to relieve the guilty one).

Your sex life is nobody's business but yours. Secondly, confessing to a lie will make you appear untrustworthy as a friend. Let your actions stand for themselves. Resolve not to tell lies in the future, and answer truthfully if asked about that time, but nobody likes to have been made a fool of.

So lastly, what's your motivation? Is this for your benefit, or your friends benefit? I guess if your primary desire is to relieve guilt, tell them. If you want to be a better friend, don't.
posted by b33j at 1:03 PM on February 20, 2008

My sincere apologies, I read your questions in the wrong order.
posted by b33j at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2008

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