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Jeruba's avatar

How do I handle it when I think someone is probably, but not positively, lying to me?

Asked by Jeruba (47764points) August 26th, 2018

I have never known how to deal with lies. When someone lies to me deliberately, as opposed to a mistake or misunderstanding, and I catch on, I really don’t know how to handle it.

I’m not talking about great big terrible guilty lies, but minor things that are almost trivial in themselves. Almost, but not quite, because over time they harm the relationship.

For example, I have a friend who often wants to reschedule dates we’ve made. That’s not a big deal. There are plenty of times when I don’t feel like keeping a social obligation either, although I usually do anyway. If she just said, “I’m just not feeling up to going out today,” I’d understand.

But when she starts recycling excuses—like the second or third time when it’s “I have to take my sister to the doctor, and that’s the only time they could get her in” or “I have to have two teeth pulled tomorrow, so lunch is out” or “I have a migraine and it might not be gone by then”—I start thinking: (a) If she doesn’t want to keep our date, that’s fine, we can call it off; but why keep rescheduling and then breaking it? and (b) When the same excuse keeps cropping up, why must I pretend to be stupid enough to believe this story again and again?

That’s what really bugs me. Frequent changes of plans can be irritating, but that’s not the issue here. It’s that I see only two choices. Either I have to play dumb and act like I believe her or I have to confront her with what seems like a lie by the third or fourth time. How would I even do that? —Especially when I don’t know for sure, and it isn’t worth trying to prove anything.

I’ve had similar situations before with other people, situations where I can’t just ignore a harmless excuse because some response is required of me (change of plans, expression of sympathy or concern, finding a substitute, etc.). I object to being forced into a corner where I have to either call someone out or make believe they’re fooling me.

How do I say something back that lets them know I don’t buy it, without turning it into an unpleasant confrontation? I would like to have a smooth and preferably tactful solution to these situations that doesn’t leave me feeling insulted or used.

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21 Answers

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Even Aladdin lied. Princess Jasmine loves him anyway. Think twice about who you let in your inner circle from now on. I would brand your friend a liar and save you the drama trying to figure out your friends real motive is. If you feelup to it your can warn your friend that you won’t tolerate any more lies. .

Soubresaut's avatar

You can play with the wording, but maybe something like, “That’s fine, I understand. I’d even understand if you simply didn’t feel up to meeting up today. We’re friends. We can see each other another time.”

—That might be a bit on the nose, not sure, but I was thinking you add something to your response that opens the door for her simply saying she’s “not up for it that day” without calling her out on the particular fib? And maybe she’ll pick up on the hint, or at least pick up on the permission to share the presumably more honest reason rather than trying to find something else.

You might also consider using “I’m not feeling up to it today” as a reason yourself, if you feel sometime that you’d want to, and if you feel it’d be well enough received. Maybe if you model that honesty, she’ll see it as an option for herself without you having to confront her directly?

flutherother's avatar

If it has reached the point where it is a little upsetting or annoying you could call their bluff by being very sympathetic. How awful that you are having another two teeth removed, will you have enough left for lunch the following week? That may be too extreme but you could ask for just enough extra information on her sister’s ailments or your friend’s migraines to make her feel uncomfortable, or possibly to reassure you that she is genuine.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I suppose it must depend on how important you feel the issue to be. You can either ignore the ornamentation around “no” (which is what matters) or wade into the swamp of your friend’s psychological complications. You of course have the armory and can level your guns on her—“the dentist again? I’m surprised you have any teeth left”. But considering her vulnerability the tactic would be akin to bullying the disabled. Perhaps you might interrupt her (mid elaboration) with “ ‘no’ is sufficient”. You pull that one on her a few times, and perhaps she’ll drop the habit. And if not, you will understand that the flaw is so deeply rooted that it is integral to who she is. In the end, your friends aren’t your friends because they are perfect.

canidmajor's avatar

I agree that such things are annoying, but do consider that the person (for whom, I assume, you have some affection) may be emotionally incapable of feeling that she has a basic right to simply say that she’s “not feeling up to it.”

I come from a family that emotionally punishes you for such thing, and it’s very harsh conditioning for a child to learn that their simple desire to not do something is not only not valid, but worthy of anger. Excuses are often the refuge of people who feel the truth won’t be accepted.

I’m not saying you simply have to accept it, it can certainly erode a relationship, but maybe decide how important she is to you if she keeps doing this. I am guessing that she doesn’t even really realize that it is happening, as it’s so second nature.

Personally? I mostly just stop making plans with that person.

ETA, I just read @stanleybmanly’s post…yeah, that too.

JLeslie's avatar

I completely understand why this annoys you. A trait of bad liars is they talk and explain too much. My husband’s family does this, which means I’m around people like this more than my choosing.

One day my husband and I were driving by his sister’s house, and we called and asked her where she was, we were nearby, and her answer was, “I’m with Amy, she blah blah babble babble…” I hung up the phone and said to my husband, “she must be with Joe, they must be back together.” His reply to me was, “what? Where do you get that?” I was right. A few days later she told us. How did I know? I never asked her who she was with, but she had that big lie prepared as an answer, which she probably had told her mother and kids to get out of the house.

It’s the same with lies for cancelling a date. I don’t need to know why from a friend, I’m not that nosy, and I hate being lied to, because I often know the lie is happening.

What I do is, when I am with said person, and the opportunity is there in a conversation, I point out how another friend (who they don’t know) lies to cancel dates and it’s so frustrating. I give an example of another excuse, like the other friend says their kids are sick, or whatever. Maybe, just maybe, the friend I’m with rethinks how they handle it next time.

Or, I tell them point blank when they are lying, “oh no problem, it doesn’t matter why, let’s just reschedule.”

I think most people who give these made up excuses are insulted, offended, and angered easily, and so they make up excuses, because they would be angry if someone changed a date on them. I also see that people like this tend to say, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” a lot when they talk about their lies. All these people suck at the skill of communication. Their lives are soaked in misunderstandings and assumptions in my experience in much more serious aspects than little lies for cancelling a lunch.

LostInParadise's avatar

She is probably lying to avoid hurting your feelings. I go along with @Soubresaut ‘s approach.

janbb's avatar

If this is the pattern, I’d be inclined to confront it head on if you can. I wouldn’t tell her she is lying but might say, “Gee, you seem to frequently reschedule our lunch dates, is it really something each time or would you prefer that we not get together? I’m feeling like our friendship is not that important to you.”

That’s much easier to suggest that someone else say that than to do oneself, I know. I have a friend who is consistently late for our walks. I only confronted her once in 30 years and it was not a success.

Another approach is saying that she seems to have so many conflicts when she makes a date with you, that maybe you should just be spontaneous and she should call you in the morning when she knows she is free and see if you can meet her.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb Usually someone who makes up lies, because they think it will avoid conflict isn’t very good at being confronted. They aren’t direct and honest people. They don’t even understand the concept. They think what they are doing is nice, and being direct us rude. That’s my experience anyway. I still sometimes put them on the spot in my own frustration, but it doesn’t work well in my experience if you want to keep the relationship in good harmony.

kritiper's avatar

Take what they tell you with a grain of salt. In other words, be wary!

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m with @janb, simply because honest communication is best. ‘I feel…’ lets the person empathize and respond. Some people are emotionally stifled and need to be given a gentle push to actually communicate. Could be her own issues or something that she could share if she knew you really care for her.

Rohith's avatar

If you have a common friend whom you can trust check with them if they have observed such pattern and based on their experiences you can decide next course of action.

seawulf575's avatar

I guess you have a range of options from ignoring it all to direct confrontation, and those in-between the two. If this happens every time you try to make plans with this person, I would stop making plans with them. It would seem that this person doesn’t value your company and life is too short to try forcing it. Let them drift away. On the other hand, if it happens occasionally, but not every time, and you want to know if the excuses they are presenting are actual things, offer to go with her. You already had the time set aside to spend with this person, so your calendar is free. Remind them that you value their friendship and would rather sit in a doctor’s office with them than not see them.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Tell them to call you WHEN they would like to get together.( don’t call them, rather wait and or do something else in the meantime).

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Dutchess_III's avatar

Well…I’d quit making plans with that person!

Dutchess_III's avatar

But how would I handle it otherwise? I’d start asking questions as if I was genuinely interested, and if their story changed I’d say, “I thought you said XYZ,” and grin to myself as they try to scramble their way out.
If she’ll lie to you about that, especially so often, she’ll lie to you about other things.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My daughter tends to present conflicting stories, mostly in the name of drama. One time I asked her something about Facebook, and she made some slightly rude comment about how much I post on Facebook and she told me she sees it ALL. I was a little taken aback, so I actually set my settings up so she wouldn’t see my posts.
Not 3 weeks later she tells me she never even looks at Facebook, and has no idea what’s going on there.
I called her out on that. All she could do was shrug.

canidmajor's avatar

I am thinking that @Jeruba is more concerned about dealing with her friend gently and with concern, and perhaps finding a solution, than catching her out, embarrassing her, and making her feel uncomfortable.

DarknessWithin's avatar

Your annoyance is understandable.

The leading cause of this issue is that the honest explanation is unkind.
ex. A couple of months ago, a friend invited me to join her at a convention one weekend. The place was an hour and a half drive away and this friend is not the safest driver, she’s been in several accidents. I don’t feel safe as a passenger in her car for more than a few minutes.
(She also revealed that this was a dinky event not worth that distance).
This isn’t something you can just come out and tell someone, especially this girl. She has ADHD and a rageful temper.

I, however, do not lie, I am not comfortable doing so. Instead, I tell partial truths.
What I told this friend was that I’d spent as much as I’d like to until my next monthly payment.
100% TRUE.
I’d just spent about $45 on a PS3 memory card adaptor and over $60 on groceries (damn Pepcid, my groceries are usually much less but Pepcid is $20 a bottle). While I’m doing fairly well financially (for my situation anyway), I am frugal.

Can my half-truths be lame outs? Yeah, a lot of the time they are, such as not being comfortable busing on an unfamiliar route (again 100% true, I have a history of screwing up the first time especially without a visual to guide me).
The above was one of my best and my friends are the kind who will dispute them but I’m still honest nonetheless and I pride myself on that.

For me, it’s only certain activities and an infrequent occurrence and my faithfulness to plans I’ve already made is flawless.

Blatantly lying in persistent dodginess, however, is disrespectful. In such a case, the problem needs to be outed and discussed for a solution. Even if the solution is to end the relationship.

The way I see it, you can either confront this person, silently cut them out (ignore their phone calls, IMs, block their number or social media accounts etc) or ignore the problem and continue to put up with their behavior.

I opt for the first one.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Half truths, which usually sound like too much explaining, come across as lies. Your explanation about why you do it is a perfect example of people who think like you. I don’t mean that as a criticism, although I do admit, I find that type of behavior frustrating.

If you didn’t want to go to a convention with me all you have to say is, “I can’t, but thanks so much for inviting me.” I don’t care why you chose not to go. Especially, if we are good friends and far and few between I turn down an invite.

If it was reversed, do you need to know why I don’t want to go to the convention you invited me to? What if I say no thank you? Are you going to demand to know why? Does it matter why? Do you want me to tell you a half truth just to babble through some excuse? How does that feel to you when you can tell it’s probably not the whole truth? Doesn’t that happen to you. Someone tells you an excuse and you know there is some BS in it. Doesn’t it bother you? People know when it’s being done.

Is your friend actually going to be angry if you just admit you don’t want to do the long drive? Not that I think you have to tell her the reason at all, you can just decline.

I think especially for women it’s troublesome. Most of us have been lied to by men at one point in our lives. We know that feeling. The feeling is awful. The excuses and the explanations don’t quite line up, and we question ourselves, is he cheating? Maybe I’m wrong? What if he is? Can I trust my instincts? Am I crazy? Am I just being insecure? You saw it in the original post, the OP can’t be 100% sure, but she is fairly sure. Same head trip. Same yuck. Luckily, not quite the same awfulness as a cheating SO.

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