Adapted from a recent online discussion.
He's for little white lies, she's for unvarnished truth
San Antonio: I'm a fan of the little white lie, but only when it's not used to hurt anyone. My girlfriend, on the other hand, believes in total candor — she shares every thought that ever crosses her mind, no matter how hurtful or minute. I try to tell her it's sometimes okay to keep her mouth shut, but she condemns that as an endorsement of lying. How can we reach a middle ground?
Carolyn: Not sure you can, and not sure you'd even want to. It's not as if you disagree on whether to set the white-noise machine for "city" or "rain forest"; you disagree on what constitutes moral and civil discourse. You either respect and get used to each other's approach (I really don't think it can be either/or), or you're not compatible.
I will say, she is tacitly encouraging what could be a liberating experiment: Try being as honest with her as she insists on being with you. I'm not one for games, but this would be a legitimate quest: to find out whether her way really is better for you two.
That, and it's way too tempting to pass up.
White Lies: The problem with white lies is that not everyone defines that term the same way. It's like deciding for someone else what they "need" to hear.
Total honesty is about not lying; it's not about saying everything you think. If I am in a bad mood and my husband's jokes are getting on my nerves, he really doesn't need to hear that. The problem is my mood, not his quirk of repeating jokes.
Carolyn: I think one's opinion of total honesty/rudeness/insensitivity/self-righteous self-indulgence is irrelevant here. What these two believe is at odds, and each viewpoint is fundamental to the way each of them lives day-to-day life. Their relationship is just as doomed no matter who gets the blame. For them to get along in a meaningful, enduring way, at least one of them will have to give, which seems unlikely.
I'm skeptical of compromise because this difference over honesty is suggestive of even bigger differences. Even if she decides to hold back somewhat, at his request, that won't be enough — there's still the (I think) immaturity to be reckoned with. It has to be a change she undertakes on her own because she develops a more nuanced understanding of candor, cruelty and truth.
Quit hanging on just for the sake of hanging on
Washington: My boyfriend wants to get married. I don't and am growing increasingly convinced we should break up.
I've been getting more sure of this for at least a year, and have been dragging my feet. I know I'm being unfair to him, but I'm terrified of being alone. How to handle this?
Carolyn: The fact that you keep your unbeloved around as a stuffed toy gives me uncharitable thoughts, and yet you do seem to feel bad enough already, so I will try to answer carefully.
Your fear is fairly common, and understandable. But it doesn't grant you the right to inflict collateral damage. Summon the strength and integrity to face your fear on your own. If you need to lean on someone, do it with their informed consent.