Why Do We Lie? Three Men Speak Candidly about Their Relationship with Honesty

·7-min read
Photo credit: A.J. Rich
Photo credit: A.J. Rich

I never intended to be a liar, but once you have run away from the truth, you tend to keep running. The truth, I learned, is a line, the lie is a sinker, and you are the fisherman. Your thumb on the reel lets the line go. Once the sinker drops deep enough, it’s hard to reel in.

A decade ago, I said, ‘I do.’ When important questions about our life together inevitably came up – did we want to relocate to the country, or stay in the city? Were our finances better kept apart or together? – I turned away or stayed silent. I started to lie so as not to cause problems. I said what I thought my wife wanted to hear, while I quietly continued to do as I pleased. I started to lie more and more. First came the lies, then the lie that I was not a liar.

I racked up black holes of credit card debt on the sly. I nodded along as I listened to her reveries about a place in the country, knowing that I would never move out of New York. With every conversation avoided, every charge unaccounted for, the bonds of our union frayed. ‘Lies make intimacy impossible,’ says Dr Charles Ford, a professor who wrote perhaps the most important work in the liar’s canon, Lies! Lies! Lies! (It’s all about lies.)

Once you start ghosting the truth, your compensatory lies can’t help but ripple outward. That’s what Neil Garrett, a cognitive neuroscientist at Oxford, calls the slippery slope. In a study, he found that the amygdala, which is active when you initially lie, responds less and less with every passing prevarication. ‘What begins with small acts of dishonesty can escalate,’ says Garrett, leading him to conclude, ‘The brain generates less of an emotional response each time we lie, and that enables more dishonesty.’

When the reckoning came, all of the line had been let out and it snapped. There was nothing to do but think and be still, sad and sorry. I have a different relationship with honesty these days. I keep the line taut and hew to the truth. Yet the memory and consequences of dishonesty linger, in custody calendars and self-flagellation. There’s a part of me that’s still lost. Do all liars fare as I did?

These three men have wrestled with truth, found themselves adrift and had to find home. The answer, they discovered and I continue to discover, is that honesty is hard:

Maxim Lapunov: In the End, I Refused to Lie

Photo credit: Courtesy Maxim Lapunov
Photo credit: Courtesy Maxim Lapunov

In 2017, Maxim Lapunov was arrested and tortured for being gay. Unlike many of the other men and women in Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge, Lapunov went public with his story, suing the Russian government. His story is chronicled in the documentary Welcome to Chechnya. Today, he and his boyfriend live in hiding.

The question of honesty is complicated for me. I am very religious and have always believed in honesty and justice. But I have – and my family has – suffered greatly for this honesty. I came out with my boyfriend to my family seven years ago in Russia. Our mothers took it OK. Our siblings less so. What brought us together was physical labour. We have dacha gardens where we’d work together, side by side. Gradually, they grew to accept us.

I was picked up by Chechen police four years ago in the middle of the Anti-Gay Purge. Hundreds of queer folk were arrested and tortured – I was for 12 days – and some killed. I signed a blank confession and promised to remain silent. But I couldn’t. I worked with Russian lawyers to prove that I was an honest man and that what I said happened to me had happened. But the Russian law was dishonest with me. My name appeared on a hit list with a reward for my death. I knew I wasn’t safe and went into hiding.

Ideally, I want those responsible, who are still in power, to be called to account for their crimes. But even if they’re not, it was worth it. Since the film came out, I’ve heard from many queer friends in Russia who have said how proud they are of me. This is important, for it means they are no longer scared of being who they truly are.

Jay Dobyns: I Had to Lie for a Living

Photo credit: James Patrick
Photo credit: James Patrick

For two years starting in 2001, special agent Jay ‘Jaybird’ Dobyns infiltrated the Hells Angels in Arizona. His work resulted in numerous convictions for members of the gang – but at a personal cost.

I lied to make a living, and I became very good at it. My lie was that I was Jaybird Davis, a gun-running, debt-collecting hit man. My truth was that I was Jay Dobyns, a federal agent. I was lying to some of the most dangerous people on the planet. With every lie I told them that they believed, I gained a little more trust and loyalty. In some cases, I gained love. I had no doubt that these violent, intimidating people would have stood in between me and a bullet. But if the people I was deceiving learned that they were being lied to, they were going to put a baseball bat at the back of my head, or a razor on my throat. My lies were life-and-death lies.

The downside was that I put a huge amount of battle damage on my family. I became addicted to lying. I lied to everyone about everything. I became so consumed with being a liar that it turned into who I was, instead of what I did. Every time I told a lie and it was successful, believed and received, it empowered me to lie more. I was not a good father. I was not a good husband. I don’t take any pride in that. It’s humiliating and embarrassing for me to speak about. My justification was that I was doing what I needed to do in order to stay alive in the environment I was in.

Seven years ago, I retired. It took me a while to transition out of that lifestyle. I didn’t stop lying cold turkey. But I began to write my stories down. I found it was easier to be honest, since the page doesn’t judge me. When I knew that these stories would become a book, a book with my real name attached, I realised that it couldn’t be counterfeit, or I’d get called out. And so the process of finding Jay and letting go of Bird really began. I have made a million mistakes, but I have been given a million and one second chances.

Floyd Landis: I Didn’t Want to Be Both Ruined and a Rat

Photo credit: Daniel Petty
Photo credit: Daniel Petty

The year after Floyd Landis was declared the winner of the 2006 Tour de France, he was stripped of his title, having tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). He contested the results but admitted to doping in 2010, implicating his teammate Lance Armstrong.

When I started using PEDs in cycling, no one was paying attention. But in 2006, I won the Tour de France, and everything changed. That’s the thing: when you start lying, you don’t think about the thousands of ways in which events will develop, pulling you deeper and deeper into the lie. I was surrounded by people all doing the same thing, telling the same story that they didn’t use PEDs, when we all knew they did.

When the test results were positive, I knew I was fucked. I couldn’t say yes, I did use PEDs. Instead, I chose to keep the code of silence. I was ruined, but I didn’t want to be both ruined and a rat. I kept lying. That weighed on me for years: every time I lied to friends, fans and family. Finally, in 2010, when it was clear that I’d never cycle professionally again, that incentive was gone.

As soon as I started telling the truth about doping, it was a relief. Of course, that was tempered by the knowledge that Lance and the rest of the cyclists who wanted the story to die would go after me. I realised that the community for which I had fallen on my sword didn’t have my back at all.

I know that, to most people, my name will always be associated with cheating. All of my achievements will have an asterisk; all of those years grinding it out against incredible pain, alone on the road, have been wiped out. There was a time when I felt a sense of unfairness about that. These days, I’d say my relationship with honesty has evolved.
I am diligent about telling the truth.

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