Did Lucy lie?

Over the course of the past year I’ve described a scenario to various people, and been surprised by the reaction of women. Just for fun (and readers interested in serious stuff are free to skip this post), I’ll lay it out here.

Background:

The narrator is in a relationship with Lucy. Ten years before, Lucy had a serious boyfriend called Pete, who she was with for about 2 or 3 years. She said there was a time when she couldn’t bear to be without him, and when they split up it was amicable but they gradually lost touch. The narrator has just looked at Lucy’s social media account.

The scene:

I should have given the account a wide berth, but the next morning I opened it. There was a photo of the toy rat, propped on its hind legs against a black ceramic skull she’d brought back from London. I’d been with her when she unwrapped it, and behind her as she took the picture. There was one comment underneath, a single word – ‘Beautiful!’ – left by Pete. ‘Thanks!’ Lucy had replied.

My throat tightened as the anger built inside me.

I looked at other photos and found more comments from Pete. I clicked on his profile, and saw comments from Lucy less than a month old. The interaction was ongoing, and in both directions. A photo from Glastonbury caught my eye, the caption alluding to how much he missed it. A sympathetic comment from Lucy lay underneath.

Lucy was outside a long time, probably on the phone with someone. By the time she came back I’d got a grip of myself, and when she sat down I buried my rage and said in a friendly tone, ‘Can I ask, is there anyone who still holds a candle for you?’

‘You mean an ex who still likes me?’

‘Yes.’

‘Michael still texts me. He wants to get back together, but there was really nothing there to begin with.’

‘All right,’ I said, nodding. This didn’t bother me. ‘Anyone else?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘How about you? Any of your exes still interested?’

‘Jane might be, I think. I get messages from her sometimes, asking how I am.’

‘Okay.’

‘So the rest of your exes – you’re no longer in touch?’ I asked.

‘No.’

‘Including those from university?’

‘Yes!’ she said, getting cross. ‘Why are you asking about this?’

I ignored her and asked, ‘What about Pete? Are you still speaking to him?’

‘No.’

‘Not at all?’

‘Why do you keep asking about this?’ she demanded again.

‘Lucy,’ I said gently. ‘Please don’t get mad, I’m just asking some questions and I’m doing it nicely.’

‘Look, if I saw him at a party I might say hello, but I wouldn’t make any special effort.’

‘So let me ask you something. It’s going to seem like a strange question, but humour me, okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘If you needed to contact him urgently – for whatever reason – could you do it? Could you get hold of him within twenty-four hours, for example?’

She stared at me in silence. I stared back until she answered the question.

‘Well, I might have an email for him somewhere,’ she said, trying to act casual and failing. ‘I don’t know, I’d have see if I still have it. Why?’

‘I’m just wondering. So you still have his email?’

‘It’s probably somewhere, but like I said, I’d have to look. What’s this about?’ Her temper was building, I had to wrap this up fast.

‘So if you wanted to get hold of Pete quickly, you could do it. Is that what you’re saying?’

With a face like thunder she picked up her phone, and I watched in silence as she furiously searched.

After a minute she stopped. ‘No, see!’ she said triumphantly, showing me the screen. ‘He’s not in my contacts any more, it’s gone. So no, I couldn’t get hold of him, even if I wanted to.’

‘Okay,’ I said neutrally. ‘That’s fair enough, thanks.’

***

When I’ve put this to women, their reaction has usually been to doubt that Lucy had lied, saying something to the effect of: “Maybe she didn’t think being in touch meant being friends on social media?” Men are a little less forgiving.

What say you, readers?

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19 thoughts on “Did Lucy lie?

  1. Do we know for sure, this is the same Pete?

    Yes: he has a very unusual surname. There’s no doubt.

    What would you think if Lucy asked the same question?

  2. If you don’t trust her get rid of her. From this exchange though I don’t think they are doing anything that I would be upset about. He clearly still likes her and her him but what else would you expect?

    Oh and she lied. Just like almost everyone else would have because she can see you have an agenda with the questions.

  3. My initial reaction was yes, Lucy lied and seems to be doing lots to cover this up. Thinking about it for a while though and then trying to rationalise it- I do come to the conclusion that commenting on social media with people in my experience is never particularly personally meaningful or intimate, because it’s public, and absolutely encourages meaningless throwaway interactions.
    So the initial reaction makes me male, which I am. Overthinking it to come to the opposite conclusion makes me a woman. Clearly I’m actually gender fluid so I guess the next step is to organise some swastika burnings at the next pro-brexit LGBTQZTSDRAHPV pride rally.

    Thanks Tim, I enjoyed this activity.

  4. I’m not sure you can say you’re out of contact with anyone who you have ever known if they are on social media (especially if you have mutual friends) if you haven’t blocked them surely? But with that taken into account, it would hardly be surprising if people therefore discounted this as a form of serious interaction, even if it was quite regular.

    In a way the key question (to Lucy, about being in contact, not to the commentators) is from the 1970s, but poised in the 2010s – it lacks key qualifications. It’s also the sort of question that would be a big red flag to me that this relationship had problems (not being a fan of tension and jelousy in relationships).

  5. Since reading this I’ve had a coffee break and brought it up with colleagues

    First up: People seem determined to understand the question wrongly as “is she cheating?” rather than “is she lying?”

    There seem to be two big issues:

    (1) Lots of people on Social media build up big networks of very casual to very close acquaintances. The number means everything. Others restrict to family and close friends. In the latter case, there’s a potential problem. In the former it’s less likely.

    (2) the reciprocal nature of the responses. In other words are they just making casual responses to prompts or are they following each other.

    In addition there seems to be a thought that the “white lie” of “I’m not in contact” is kinder than the perhaps more honest “I’m linked in with Pete but I’m not cheating on you”. Of course white lies found out, make people more suspicious.

  6. Yes, of course she lied.

    Wrong question though.

    The question should have been, “why are you still in contact and what’s the nature of the contact?”. Or maybe just, “should I be concerned about the fact you are still in contact with him?”.

    Asking a question you already know the answer to from someone you are in an intimate relationship with is game-playing and weak.

  7. She lied. She lied because she’s keeping her options open.

    Women tell you to trust her because, while they know she’s lying, they empathize with her rather than you, and they would tell the same lie (*have* told the same lie, many of them), for the same reason — keeping their options open. They don’t want to screw up whatever game Lucy is playing. Harm to you may be regrettable, but they don’t like to think too hard about the ethics of how women treat men.

    Men will tend to give you the answer they think is factual.

    Women will tend to give you the answer that will lead you to do what they want you to do.

    Switch the sexes of the characters and see how the women react.

  8. Just due to the difference between the sexes, any woman can walk out her door and be having sex within minutes if she so desired.

    Men, not so much.

    Women crave security, and so, even when in relationships, tend to have “guy friends” to whom they could quickly become attached should their relationship founder.

    These principles work together such that a woman, knowing she could be having sex at any time, discounts the romantic threat posed by these guy friends because they’re not actually having sex with them at the moment.

    The man in their relationship sees this, realistically, as a threat – they understand that the guy friends actually represent a woman’s innate hedging nature – “treat me right or Pete will.”

    So, yes, she lied, but in her mind, so long as she and Pete aren’t having sex, it was an unimportant lie, and narrator “just doesn’t understand.”

    But narrator, who read her phone and also lied, understands all too well.

  9. Thinking about it for a while though and then trying to rationalise it- I do come to the conclusion that commenting on social media with people in my experience is never particularly personally meaningful or intimate, because it’s public, and absolutely encourages meaningless throwaway interactions.
    So the initial reaction makes me male, which I am. Overthinking it to come to the opposite conclusion makes me a woman.

    That’s interesting, thanks!

    Clearly I’m actually gender fluid so I guess the next step is to organise some swastika burnings at the next pro-brexit LGBTQZTSDRAHPV pride rally.

    I knew I had one among my readers. Welcome!

  10. The question should have been, “why are you still in contact and what’s the nature of the contact?”. Or maybe just, “should I be concerned about the fact you are still in contact with him?”.

    A lot of women would respond to that with “I’m not”.

    Asking a question you already know the answer to from someone you are in an intimate relationship with is game-playing and weak.

    True, the relationship is fucked beyond repair at that point.

  11. She lied. She lied because she’s keeping her options open.

    That would make sense in most cases. I think in this case (as my follow-up will show) she simply cannot let go of her past.

    Women tell you to trust her because, while they know she’s lying, they empathize with her rather than you, and they would tell the same lie (*have* told the same lie, many of them), for the same reason — keeping their options open. They don’t want to screw up whatever game Lucy is playing. Harm to you may be regrettable, but they don’t like to think too hard about the ethics of how women treat men.

    That makes sense.

    Switch the sexes of the characters and see how the women react.

    Exactly.

  12. So, yes, she lied, but in her mind, so long as she and Pete aren’t having sex, it was an unimportant lie, and narrator “just doesn’t understand.”

    Yup.

    But narrator, who read her phone and also lied, understands all too well.

    He didn’t read her phone, she connected with him on social media. One oddity is that these exchanges with Pete were not hidden, so perhaps she really believed she wasn’t in touch with him when asked the question.

    As for the narrator lying…other than by omission by asking a question he already knew the answer to, I’m not sure how.

  13. “He didn’t read her phone, she connected with him on social media.”

    Ah. It was right there in the open?

    I’m sort of a social media Luddite.

  14. Ah. It was right there in the open?

    Apparently, yes. She persuaded him to connect with her on social media, he hesitated because he didn’t want to find anything he didn’t want to see (ignorance is bliss) but found she was in contact with this Pete guy – after she’d said she wasn’t.

    If he’d been rummaging through her phone he’d have been somewhat of a bigger asshole.

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