Immature behavior

I finally found a man to love after a painful divorce, but I lied to him about my age.


Cary Tennis
June 18, 2004 11:48PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

A year and a half ago, my husband left me for another woman. We had been having problems, but he wouldn't go to counseling. As he withdrew, I became depressed, lost my center, started living my life reacting to his words and behaviors rather than taking a stand for myself.

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I've learned through therapy that "losing myself" in this way is what I did as a child to cope with a lot of anger and distance growing up. To keep the peace I did what I thought would make people happy.

Before meeting my husband I really thought I'd kicked that. I felt strong in myself -- doing artistic performances, traveling solo, running my own business.

That's why what I've done is now so disturbing. After the divorce my self-esteem plummeted. I became very conscious of my age -- 36. Because most of my close friends are happily married and have children, I was kind of on my own to find new friends and acquaintances. Being 36 seemed like a huge disadvantage, so I lied. But here's the kicker -- I told people I was 35. Ridiculous, right? If you're going to lie about your age, at least make it significant! For whatever reason I think 35 seemed a milestone -- still on the young side of 40. The fact that I look much younger than I am also fueled the fib.

Having new friends and acquaintances think you're a year younger than you are really isn't a big deal -- age doesn't come up that often. The problem is that in addition to finding an outstanding network of friends (who range in age between late 20s to early 40s) I've met a wonderful man and over the last seven months have fallen in love. When we met and he asked my age, "35" popped out of my mouth automatically. He was shocked that I was that old and then told me he was just 28. Right then and there I thought the fib didn't matter anyway, because this wouldn't amount to any more than a fun affair.

But it has amounted to more and I don't know what to do about it. I have been honest with him about everything else -- family issues, thoughts, emotions, spiritual beliefs, things I regret doing, my messy closets, you name it. We talk easily about conflicts. He actively encourages me to express myself. He is one of the kindest, wisest, most mature individuals I've ever met. He has been hinting about being together in the future, about creating a life together -- he seems to truly love me, warts and all. But I know I can't be with him, because I've lied. If I tell him the truth, I have to tell my friends, now our mutual friends, the truth --and the prospect seems daunting. I mean, what a fucking idiot to lie by one year about your age! I wish age didn't matter, but it does. Or am I the only one making it matter? I know I can't continue this way with him -- it's not fair to him and I don't feel good about myself.

My therapist wants me to understand that this lie is a mechanism I employed to avoid the pain of getting too attached and of being abandoned. It allows me to stay separate. It gives me some control because I "know" this will never work out, so it's my choice when to leave, rather than being left. And I genuinely feel that if he or anyone else ever found out about it, they'd leave immediately.

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Can you suggest some way out? A gentle way to tell my lover the truth?

Should Be More Mature for My Age

Dear Should Be More Mature,

You know how touching and funny this is, right? How kooky and endearing? It's like you broke into Tiffany's and stole a piece of lint. And you know also that we are laughing not because we wish you ill but because we know exactly where you're coming from, right? It's important that you understand that. I speak as someone who has been known to become angry at a pile of his dirty clothes, to point his finger and threaten his own laundry. I know what it is like to have emotions that are as pure and intense as they are absurd. I know also that we all have to start where we are, not where we think we ought to be. So there you are, having lied about your age in such a small increment that your boyfriend may not even remember whether you said 35 or 36, but there you are losing sleep over it, as I might be losing sleep over the disappearance of a sock.

Would you listen to what you wrote? You wrote, "I genuinely feel that if he or anyone else ever found out about it, they'd leave immediately." You also say, "I know I can't be with him, because I've lied."

You apparently believe these things you say, but for your own good there's no reason the rest of us should. And OK, sure, perhaps your therapist is right about why you believe them -- because they give you an out, or they will result in the coming true of certain unacknowledged prophesies, beliefs or predictions you've unconsciously made -- but I don't really care about that. I'm not here to figure you out. I'm just here to get you back on the road -- like the AAA technician guy in the truck. He doesn't do repairs. He just gets you back on the road.

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So you've made some propositions and for you to see that they are not true, you need to experience for yourself that they are not true. So why not test them out on some people who can be guaranteed to stay with you.

One way to do that would be to tell some people what you did. Why not start with somebody in your family, somebody not involved in your current social set. Try it out on them. Just say the words out loud and see what happens. I guarantee you that you will not be abandoned or condemned. It's too funny to abandon you over. It's too Seinfeldian. It's like something George Costanza would do, this absurdly perverse scrupulosity.

It doesn't even matter if you tell your boyfriend or not, except to you. But if you have to tell him, after telling enough other people that you have a good handle on how insignificant it is, tell him.

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Here's what it might sound like. You might say to him, "You know, I am kind of vain, and I am a little bit insecure, as aren't we all, you know, but lovable, like Annie Hall, did you ever see that movie, I mean I am lovable but I am a bit of a nut case too, and I am afraid if you know I'm a nut case you will leave me and I don't want you to leave me, because I like your record collection very much, especially the swing records, so I have to tell you something I am afraid to tell you, and you have to promise not to be mean to me when I tell you this, OK?

"I have three children by a Pentacostal minister currently living in Hallandale, Fla.

"No, I was just kidding. I really only have two kids, by a mechanic in St. Paul. No, I'm still kidding. In truth, I am older than I said I was. I am older by a few months. When I told you I was 35, I was actually several months older than 35. I was 36. In the spirit of full disclosure, here is my driver's license, and as you can see there my birthday is coming up, on which day I will be 37. There. I've said it. Kiss me."

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He may not realize that you are scrutinizing his face for the tiniest hint of rejection and that if you see it you are going to run screaming into the night. He may not realize that. And you may not be able to read what his face actually says, especially if you are kissing him. His face, which you are not looking at anymore now anyway, may seem to say that his worst suspicions are thus confirmed, but all it is really saying is that he wishes he'd gotten a double cappuccino instead of a single, and do the Twins have a home game coming up?

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Cary Tennis

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