by Marjorie Ingall
"Can I be honest with you?"
What the questioner actually means is "Can I say something hurtful that I think is really for your own good?" I brace myself for the fascinating observation that: (a) I've gained weight, (b) my haircut is unflattering, or (c) there is just something about me that is irking you mightily.
Since when has Honesty been the highest virtue? What happened to the little white lie? It used to be that a primary goal of social interaction was to leave the other person feeling good. Now, telling people how to improve themselves seems to be paramount. It's okay to sweetly inform a heavy person that being overweight isn't healthy and she should slim down because you really care about her so much. Do you think your friend hasn't heard about the health risks of excess poundage? I'm sorry, fat people don't read the newspaper? Vomit. These passive-aggressive maneuvers have turned Sharing the Truth from the highest goal into a way to sanction all kinds of out-of-line comments.
Don't get me wrong. I'd want to know if my boyfriend were cheating on me, or if my dress were tucked into the back of my pantyhose. When I'm genuinely in the dark about information I need to help me in my journey through life, I want to be enlightened. But, if you're truly my friend, you'll sit me down and give me the straight scoop without any ulterior motive, nyah-nyah moralizing or I-told-you-so'ing.
There's a big difference between solicited and unsolicited honesty, and it's the unasked-for, bare-assed, meant-to-wound kind of Honesty I detest. The kind that's used as a weapon, a way to express disapproval of my lifestyle or choices in a way that seems nurturing and helpful while it's actually quite hostile and aggressive. It's similar to the equally charming habit of starting a sentence, "No offense," and then saying something wildly offensive. My cousin Michaela, who's five years younger than I, recently said in her nasal little voice, "Can I be honest with you? It's cool that you're so into your career, but no way am I going to be single when I'm your age." Thank you for sharing.
"Sometimes someone is angry at you for one reason or another, but isn't comfortable telling you so," says Belleruth Neparstek, a Cleveland, OH psychotherapist (and my aunt). "So rather than telling you directly, they give you one of life's little instructive lessons. This way they can get their rocks off and retain the happy delusion that they are nonetheless morally impeccable."
The moralistic Honesty-sharers are the worst. The ones who tell you all about their dysfunctional relationships when you're standing next to them in the supermarket checkout line. The ones who narrow their eyes if they see you have a second martini at a cocktail party and gently tell you that the first step is learning to admit you're an alcoholic.