Friend lying - not sure how to react

Hi everybody,

I’m not sure if this is the correct forum - it’s actually not about a family member but about a close friend - but he’s so close that one could actually consider him being family…

The hard facts: A really close friend of mine lied to me. It was nothing THAT important, but he did lie to me. I would not have a problem with that alone because it did not relate to anything personal, but the problem is that he insists on continuing the lie regarding his parents, spouse and other friends.

I don’t know why but at the very moment I just can’t trust him anymore. He lied to me for about a week, now told me the truth because he couldn’t bear it anymore and now he is planning to continue the whole lying thing for several months because he thinks it would be easier for him to do so.

I tried to tell him last night that it wouldn’t be any easier at all but that he had to STOP lying but for some reason I can’t understand he said he would continue the way he does and he doesn’t seem to get the point at all.

I just don’t know what to do right now. He IS a good, if not my best, friend at all and I know that he needs my support now more than ever before. On the other hand I can’t support him with lying, can I?

Please, some advice…

You might point out to him that he should not assume that his lie is not known. If he’s going to maintain any shreds of his integrity that still remain, he needs to 'fess up, provided that he doesn’t have a criminal defense attorney telling him to keep his mouth shut. He most certainly must not repeat the lie, must not profit from the lie, must not act in ways that imply that the lie is true, and he must not expect that you will not tell the truth if someone asks you what you know.

If this is not one of those stupid lies of the sort that do not offend the reputation or competitive opportunities or the like of any actual living third party–that is, if he isn’t bragging about winning some fictional tournament that never happened or something idiotic like that–then you have to tell him that if he doesn’t tell, you’ll have to. Sorry, but you’re not his confessor. If someone is being harmed by the lies of the third party, you are morally bound to defend the innocent party by disclosing the truth. You cannot stand back and let them hang out to dry because their attacker is some friend of yours.

Your friend might not have many friends once his behavior becomes widely known. Stick with him then, but don’t stick with him in his lie, or it will paint your integrity black, too.

Ask your friend how on earth he expects to be able to keep lying to his family for months when he couldn’t manage it for two weeks with you?

Quite apart from the moral implications, which have already been adequately covered.

Lying breaks trust. You will never trust him in the same way again, and he is showing his lack of character by insisting that he will continue to lie to others even though you know the truth. The first lie is the one that changes everything.


I think you should consider a few issues before worrying too much about this:

You say the matter is not very important. So why worry about it?

Is it a matter in which he is lying to people who have a right to the truth? (noting that not everyone has a right to the truth; some things are rightfully a private matter). If not, again, why worry?

Have you ever told a small lie out of embarrassment? I sure have. No, it’s not right, but it is understandable.

At this time, your friend may need your support more than your condemnation. You don’t need to condone his lie, but perhaps you could let it go so you can support him through a tough time.

Integrity in small things matters. You are right that maintaining privacy does not constitute a lie, but maintaining privacy means keeping the truth hidden, not telling lies. There is a big difference.

Still, if this friend is turning inside out about a small lie he told widely two weeks ago, then that speaks better of him than not. Habitual liars tell lies like that without a 2nd thought. He ought to be encouraged to come clean to everybody, though, and get the stress of his stupid lie off of his chest.

Something tells me, however, that this was not a small lie. It might not concern anything criminal and it might not be something that ruins anyone else’s reputation, but I think this friend has really told a whopper. Does he really want to carry this thing around for…how long? Five years? Ten? Twenty-five? If he thinks he’ll just quit caring about it some day, I would not be so sure. It does not work that way! The devil stirs up shame over our sins, lest we confess them. That shame hangs on. The friend ought to come clean and repent. Then the matter can fade into a mere embarrassment.

If the friend is unsure about whether it would compound the offense to come clean (these situations do exist), he ought to discuss the matter with his confessor. That is above the sacramental grade of what the OP can offer.

In my opinion the adage “intergrity in small things” is intended to promote self-awareness; not for finding fault in others. If it is a small thing, I’d let it go.

The OP should also consider why has the friend told a lie? Are others intruding into personal matters when they shouldn’t? The stress may not be in having told a lie, but in the subject of the lie, which he may not want to share with other people. Or is it something bigger, as you suggest…

Naturally, the OP knows important details that we do not. Certainly, if it’s a whopper and holding onto the lie may be a great burden, then the OP could be acting as a great friend by supporting this person in accepting/acknowledging the truth.

I just meant to offer another perspective…this may or may not be a matter to pursue for the OP, depending on the specifics.

I think that you are right that it is a mistake to draw huge conclusions from a single episode of dishonesty, and I’d even include a lie about a large matter, if the person were a) normally honest and b) as riddled with guilt as the OP’s friend seems to be. I actually think the degree to which this matter bothers the friend speaks well to the life in his conscience. I just think it is a mistake to downplay dishonesty entirely, even in small amounts. Instead, the OPs friend would need to learn honest ways to keep his own secrets and insist that others mind their own business!

So while I’d encourage the person to come clean, I’d agree that this needs to be about responding to guilt–did I do something wrong from which I need to turn and make amends, if I can?–as opposed to responding to shame–what kind of awful person tells a lie like that? The OP would be wise to avoid letting his friend come to terrible conclusions about himself. He should encourage his friend to both embrace contrition and amendment, but to reject self-shaming. Even a serious lapse in honesty, if it is only one and the lapse was not made with a presumptuous attitude, does not prove utter untrustworthiness. Even a person with a history of untrustworthiness can, through sufficient transparency and integrity, deserve the reputation of a truthful person again.

Is that close to what you meant, too?

This is tough. I think you have done the right thing by not supporting him and by trying to explain that he needs to change the situation. The problem is that you can’t make him - it is up to him to do the right thing. Hopefully he will realise that what he is doing is wrong and will make amends. In that case do everything you can to help him and don’t judge him. But if he refuses to stop lying and expects you to cover for him, then I’d say you should distance yourself from the situation in order to protect your own integrity and stand up for what is right.

I understand how hard this is. I’m in a similar boat: found out that a good friend was lying to me for a long time about a several huge issues. I never asked to be told about a thing, it was her choice to tell lies. I’m so torn and heartbroken.

Perhaps, but on re-reading the OP, I’m not actually sure what advice the OP is seeking.

If it’s concern about trust, I was just trying to point out that a lie to protect privacy and avoid embarrassment may be understandable (though not condoned) and as such should not break the person’s trust. But I think you’ve covered this too. It is of course better not to lie, and to tell people that it’s a personal matter that will not be discussed; this can be hard, depending on the exact situation.

If it’s moral advice, I was trying to point out that sometimes we ought to let other’s minor flaws go by without the need for correction. It really depends on whether this matter has any impact on other people (their right to the truth). If the only moral consideration involved is the lie itself, then the OP has already raised an objection and really doesn’t need to take this further. Perhaps the OP is concerned about being brought into the lie?

The OP is quite vague in details, so it’s hard to say anything very definite on way or another.

I would encourage your friend to be honest but unfortunately you can not force anyone to do something if they refuse to do it. Please pray for your friend and pray often. Prayer is very powerful. I have seen changes in others after continued prayers. I will keep your friend in my prayers.

Lies are hard to discontinue but they grow and pile as you go. Just cut it, go back on it, claim any excuses that are true, and never do it again. The wound will probably heal, and it should be forgotten sooner or later (especially depending on the quality of the excuse, e.g. someone cave in to the pressure of the moment but found it in himself to backtrack on it and apologise to everyone involved). People won’t likely flay a confessing liar alive, especially someone who just couldn’t handle a bad situation rather than someone who made money or other benefits through fraud.

Without specifics we can’t offer much in concrete advice. There are some things you should consider, however.

Don’t assume you heard all the relevant information. At least, not yet. Given his distress and refusal to discuss the matter with anyone else, it’s possible that you didn’t get the entire picture even when he confided with you.

For now the most prudent action might be patience. Give him time and see whether he discloses something else you should know. Why did he lie? Perhaps he has a valid reason to conceal the matter from his family and friends. Does he actually owe them the truth? Even if he does, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are entitled to your honesty, especially if the lie does not relate to you.

I’m trying to decipher that sentence.

Is the lie about his parents, spouse and other friends - or is he lying to them?

You mention that the lie isn’t about anything that important - so can you figure out the motive?

Is he lying to hide his embarrassment about something?
Is he lying to hide a wrongful deed?
Is he lying to enhance his image?

As a friend you could handle these differently. It would also tell you whether he is likely to continue lying. Also, is anyone hurt by his lies?

If he were cheating on his wife, that would seem to call for a friend to intervene. If he were stealing from his employer, then a friend could counsel him make amends. If he were lying about spending three hours studying last night - but instead he were playing solitaire - well, you could advise him that he is wasting his time, but you haven’t really suffered.

So, without some kind of indication of what we are talking about, it is hard to know whether you are overreacting or not.

Thanks to everybody for your replies.

To clarify the whole situation a bit - or to be more conrecte, actually:
He had signed up for an exam last week and decided not to take it some days before. So nothing that bad about it. The problem is that he told everybody (including me) that he would take it anyway and for about a week he told me how hard he is learning…

Just before he would have had that exam (and right after I texted him that I would keep him in my prayers) he told me he would not take it and that he knew about not taking it for about a week or so (he had unregistered about a week before).

Regarding other people (friends, family, …) he still says that he HAS TAKEN the exam and is now awaiting the results. When I asked him about how he thinks he could “manage” all that in the near future he told me that he is going to tell his parents/friends within the next weeks that he DID PASS the exam. He thinks that there is nothing wrong about that because he is planning to take the exam at the next possible occassion (that will be within the next two months or so) and that he won’t harm anybody that way anyway…

Why is he lying? Well, I guess he’s afraid of his parents knowing that he didn’t take the exam. But what’s worse… not taking an exam or lying about that to parents and friends??

As I said in my OP, I do not have a problem with the lie itself because it doesn’t affect me that much but I’m just so worried about the way he behaves, that he has lied to me for over one week about such an un-important Topic (if he would have told me from the beginning maybe I had told him that it would be better to try but it would have been his decision anyway … now I make myself think - if he’s lying about such irrelevant matters, can I trust him in relevant matters anyway??)

Maybe I’m overreacting, I’m known for that, but I also know that most times I overreact I have good reason for.

I do like him a lot and I will support him as much as I can, but I’m still unsure how to handle that specific topic when talking to him. I can’t just forget about it, can I?

I’d say the best way to support him is to help him (however you can) pass the exam at the next available sitting.

As for why he has told the lie, perhaps his parents would over-react (“freak out”) if they found out he didn’t take this exam. If you can help him pass it next time, the truth of the matter will not affect them. If however he fails, and if the parents are supporting him through university or whatever it is, then both the truth and the lie will have an effect. You could point this out to him, but I suspect he would already know. It sounds like you’ve already cautioned him sufficiently on the wrongs of this lie.

Well that helps a lot. Actually, for his own good, it would be better to lie that he flunked the test - and has to retake it. For what if he takes it and does not pass - his lie will live for longer. I don’t know what kind of test this is. (I come from a profession similar to CPA - where the pass rate of an exam is 33% or so - so a pass is not easy). If he is taking something like a driving test - where anyone will pass with proper preparation, that may be a different matter.

But, in the scope of life - his lie seems relatively minor. Would i never be able to trust a person who told such a lie? Well, it seems, i would be destined to live a pretty lonely life if i were to have such high standards to eliminate everyone around me who didn’t meet such a lofty standards.

You will have a much greater impact on him by remaining his friend. Sure, gently counsel him about the dangers of such a lie - but don’t cut him out. (I say gently, because if you become preachy about it, then he will be the one cutting you out).

And if this makes you trust him less, then take that into consideration when you need to depend on what he says.

(And as i mentioned I have had professional tests that were very difficult. In fact, the consumed many years of my life in preparation to get through them. I knew that few others could understand the pressures that i had about them. Few could understand why i couldn’t go out to a movie with them or whatever. It took months to get the results. After i would take a test, I wanted to forget about it for the months it took to get results because I just wanted to live without the pressures of thinking about it - because i would have to start the preparation all over again for the next test. My parents never did quite understand what that was all about. When i didn’t pass a test, it was difficult to explain that - and it didn’t really matter to them - I was an adult - living on my own. So i could certainly understand a little white lie that i took a test that i didn’t take. (I never did that, but i knew people who did that. It doesn’t seem that major to me). when i look at a lie like this - that has absolutely no impact on anyone else - it seems rather benign to me. After all, we all have things that we would rather not discuss with others. Sometimes it is easier to mislead them a bit then to tell them that it is none of their business.

I’m not trying to condone lying. But he isn’t cheating on a spouse - he isn’t stealing from an employer. He isn’t covering up abuse. I don’t know his motives - but he may have motives that you don’t understand. It does seem rather minor from your vantage point.

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