In recognition of International Women's Day, and in the context of the emerging Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump scandal, I'm proud to share chapter 5 from my 2016 book The Future of Men: Men on Trial. The chapter title isDeny, Deny, Deny: Men's Destructive Instinct to Lie. My book was prescient in its understanding of new gender realities and visionary in its solutions and recommendations, focused on assuring the future of men does not follow the past. Please support my message of support for advancing positive gender relationships by ordering The Future of Men at Amazon, and viewing my TEDWomen Talk at www.futureofmen.com.
Chapter 5 from "The Future of Men: Men on Trial" by Jack Myers
Deny, Deny, Deny: Men's Destructive Instinct to Lie
Katie Roberts, a thirty-year-old psychology graduate student and military widow from Kansas, shared in an interview that she has high hopes for her three-year-old son. She wants him to grow up to be a stronger man than the "foolish" ones she dates. Katie is not alone in this. While women see their own chances in education improving, many also worry for their sons.
What are we teaching our sons? For generations, men have lived in a state of constant denial. For many, the earliest lesson taught to them by their fathers was that if caught in a compromising situation, the one single rule to live by was to deny, deny, deny. This code permeates society, from "Weinergate" and Chris Christie to Bashar al-Assad's refusal to admit to using chemical weapons and from Bill Clinton's "never had sex with that woman" to the Republican Party's steadfast refusal to admit that the attack on Iraq was misguided. [And we are living through the conflict between denial and truth, as we suffer with from Donald Trump's 'bus-gate" episode with Billy Bush and his denials of inappropriate actions with several women including Stormy Daniels].
According to Joe Zychik, author of The Most Personal Addiction, dishonesty is the "biggest destroyer of an intimate relationship." Men must fundamentally change their inherent instinct to protect themselves and, by extension, "protect the other person" by lying. Zychik explains that "most people lie to save face. They feel guilty and trapped … so they lie. … There are some people who lie for malicious reasons. They don't lie only to get themselves out of an uncomfortable situation; they lie to hurt. … Other people are so sensitive, they seem to lie almost all the time. They're not malicious and they don't want to hurt you. They're obsessed with not looking bad."
However, Zychik shares, "looking bad from telling the truth is better than looking good through deception."
Despite the truth of Zychik's advice, most men over age thirty have at some point been advised that the best solution, even if caught red-handed, is to deny. The basic model of male repudiation is portrayed in countless films: men are caught in obviously compromising positions (such as in bed with another woman) and immediately refute what is obviously happening. Men have been taught that women want and need to believe the fabrication and are satisfied that their man cares enough about them to lie to protect their feelings. These men are oblivious to the disrespect the pattern implies.
Today, across all aspects of their relationships, more women are now demanding the full truth, every detail, and the ability to decide— based on that—how they will react and what the couple will become. Women are requiring that their relationships be based in honesty, which flies in the face of men's embedded instinct to lie, contradict, and obfuscate the truth.
Ty is an ex-college football player and a rancher. He is also proud to be known as a horse trader. One truism of being a horse trader, Ty shares in an interview, is that if you pull the wool over someone's eyes, you never admit it. "I used to watch my dad trade horses, and whenever he'd sell a green-broke horse to a family looking for a kid's horse or an unreliable horse to someone looking for one that was reliable he would tell me two things, 'That damned sure wasn't the right thing to do,' and, 'But, if we get caught, never confess: "lie till you die.'" Ty says this with a big grin on his face and a chuckle.
Ty continues, "You never want to sell bad stock to someone you're likely to be dealing with again in the future, nor friends or family, and you don't want to stick it to someone who is new to the game. But, if some guy has himself convinced that he's a horseman and he doesn't know what he's getting into, I'm not going to be the guy that talks him out of doing something stupid."
Then Ty explains that his father's life philosophy has a flip side. "My mom left him after he got caught cheating for the umpteenth time. His biggest mistake was that he was not honest with her, would never confess, and treated her like a fool. Everyone in town knew he was not only a horse trader but a dirty dog that cheated on his wife, but somehow he had himself convinced that if he 'lied until he died,' she'd eventually believe him. She never did, and he's alone to this day because of it."
Ty's tone changes a little when he begins speaking of his own experience. A little more humbly he starts out, "For some reason I try the same method when I'm in trouble with my wife over this or that. Most of the time it's over something silly that I could simply admit to and that would be the end of it, but for some reason, I fall back into that dishonesty BS and everything goes downhill from there.
"The worst part is that I know she knows I'm lying," he says forthrightly. "So there I am, looking her straight in the eye, knowing that my lying to her probably hurts more than what I actually did. But, now it's just a habit. She's used to it. We almost have an understanding that when I deny something, I more than likely did it, and she doesn't even bother calling BS anymore because she knows I'll just get adamant and swear up and down and rant and rave and cuss as if I'm offended she doesn't believe me." He chuckles humorlessly.
The odds on Ty's marriage surviving are slim, as one untruth leads down a dark corridor of endless others. While the advice to lie and deny may not have been directly imparted, Ty's father and fathers everywhere have shown through words and actions that that is the best option when confronted with a condemning truth. Women have, to some extent, been complicit in this game, rationalizing that the lie is a way of showing affection.
However, the belief that the truth hurts too much to hear is quickly changing. Women are no longer accepting bold-faced lies, and men are struggling to understand and accept these new standards. Most relationships can sustain bad behavior, mistakes, and problems when men admit and address them, but duplicity encourages men to continue the behavior that led to the original falsity. Accountability becomes a "nonissue" as men learn they will not be held responsible for their actions as long as they can lie and get away with it.
Getting away with it, however, is becoming more and more impossible as the Internet and women's aggressive demand for the truth shift the balance of power. It's better for men to control and manage their future by acknowledging their past—both to themselves and to those who are most hurt by their falsehoods, whether those are proactive, by omission, or both.
Yet, most men—in private and public—continue to embrace the fundamental belief that the solution to any problem is to gainsay what happened. It is better to do that than to admit wrongdoing. This advice extends from relationships to the classroom, and from friends even to the law.
In a hypothetical scenario, a teenager cheats on his girlfriend and comes to his father for advice. Since young love is a fickle and fleeting thing, many a dad's instinct would be to advise his son to simply not tell her. Why break her heart when she can just go on living without this burdensome knowledge? And if she does find out, the teenager can simply claim it didn't really happen. For generations, men have learned to deny and in turn tell their sons to as well. Lying and cheating are endemic in sports; Lord protect the young boy who admits he was out at home plate when he's called safe. Truth and honesty have no place in that situation and far too many others—or so men seem to think.
Yes, it's a generalization, but boys are more typically taught to lie their way out of trouble, while girls learn early to tell the truth and use their charm and vulnerability in such cases.
Brad, who asked that his last name not be shared, has worked for the local rural electric association for almost twenty years. He's married, has three kids, and is generally pretty happy with his life. The one "issue" Brad has always had is that he is a womanizer. Brad was a state champion wrestler in high school and had a college scholarship but dropped out of school when his girlfriend got pregnant.
"She was a pretty little thing, still is, but I don't think she was prepared for the likes of me," he says honestly. "Twenty years later, she knows me inside out, but I still manage to do things that she simply can't believe and that hurt her tremendously. She's extremely well liked among the other mothers in our community, so people are far more likely to look out for her best interests than they are to turn a blind eye to my dirty little secrets." Brad says this as if it is a sort of epiphany.
"I had a couple of extramarital affairs, and I swear she knew about them before I ever even made it home. My dad always told me, 'What they don't know can't hurt them.' The problem is," Brad explains with certainty, as if he thinks his father had the right philosophy but that it is merely outdated, "they always know these days. With cell phones and texting and Facebook, news travels faster and farther than a man can in a lifetime.
"The first time I got caught, Jenny was hurt and sad, but she eventually forgave me. The second time, she was furious, and she probably never will forgive me for that one. It never surprised me that she found out; women usually do. What I couldn't believe is that both times she was waiting for me on the porch when I got home. She found out what I had done before I even had time to make the twenty-minute trip from town back home," he says in seeming awe. "I will never have the right to ask how she found out, and I wouldn't bring it up even if I thought she would tell me, but I can tell you one thing, with today's technology, there is no such thing as a secret. There's no such thing as 'what she doesn't know'; it doesn't exist anymore."
Media reflects the realities of life, and vice versa, in this and all things. In Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the television shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad, artifice is the foundation of the storyline.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, lead character Tomas loves his wife, but he also loves his hypersexual life as a womanizing bachelor. His wife knows; he barely takes the time to cover his tracks. As the story progresses, she becomes more and more withdrawn until he can no longer get away with a puppy-dog look of shame. He can no longer hide his red hands and he eventually stops his affairs, finding happiness after moving to the countryside with his wife. This novel and the subsequent film were considered progressive when they came out, and just thirty years later, they still capture the realities of many relationships grounded in lying and misogyny.
Don Draper, the lead character in the AMC hit series Mad Men, is a slick, sophisticated ad executive whose reality is grounded in lies, deceit, and more lies. Over the course of the show, Draper's falsehoods are progressively exposed, destroying almost every aspect of his life as he continues to focus more on covering up than acknowledging the truth. Although Mad Men is one of the most critically acclaimed TV series in history, little was written until the final episodes about the main theme: dishonesty and denial lead inexorably and inevitably to despair and destruction for most involved, with only hope for redemption and a happy ending for some.
In AMC's Breaking Bad, chemistry teacher Walter White begins cooking methamphetamine to provide for his family after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The series presents a morality tale of a man delving deep into the heart of crime while making horrendous decisions, yet the core of the show is about how his duplicity tears his family apart. After a while, he is no longer lying to save them from the awful truth; he is doing it to avoid facing the reality himself. At the conclusion of the series, veracity is Walter's savior, but he acknowledges he has enjoyed the deception. However, he shifts the need for continued mendacity to his wife, Skyler.
Even though denial is becoming less accepted by women and society, it remains an embedded reality beyond male–female relationships—in business, politics, religion, education, and every part of life. Just as US law does not force someone to testify against themselves, it also does not strictly punish repudiation. While lying under oath is a crime, many alleged criminals have refuted claims and gone unpunished as a result. In 1994, even against evidence and public outcry, O. J. Simpson continually rebutted any accusations, falsifying his way to a "not guilty" verdict in his murder trial. His lawyer's now-enduring motto, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit!" is a lie in and of itself.
In 2012, the Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney came to be known as one of the worst flip-floppers in political history. No matter what he said about his political stance, archival news clips showed direct contradictions. Romney consistently denied and disavowed. Donald Trump, in his presidential bid, gained popularity simply by embracing and acknowledging his own incongruous statements. Trump's campaign offers evidence that there's little if any expectation of integrity in politics, but ironically, it may prove to have been the turning point for a society that is becoming intolerant of a lack of honesty. [Ed. Note: Obviously, it was a turning point in a totally unexpected way. We will learn in the next several months whether Trump is ultimately held accountable for his adulterous actions and behavior, or whether he remains the role model for the negative patriarchy.]
No matter his accomplishments as president of the United States and after, Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct will always be central to his personal story. While his transgressions in the White House would have gained enough attention, it was his denegation that caused a prolonged, upsetting, and truly memorable affair for the nation, including his impeachment. Clinton commented later in his book My Life, "I went on doing my job, and I stonewalled, denying what had happened to everyone: Hillary, Chelsea, my staff and cabinet, my friends in Congress, members of the press, and the American people. What I regret the most, other than my conduct, is having misled all of them." Clinton is the poster boy for deniers everywhere; meanwhile, Hillary Clinton stood by her husband, holding her family together.
Congressman Anthony Weiner was not so fortunate, and his demise was far more rapid; his actions caused him to lose his seat in Congress and his bid to return to politics and public favor. Weiner used social platforms such as Twitter to help unite his fans and spread his views. Unfortunately, under the pseudonym Carlos Danger, he also used Twitter to send a waist-down photo to a twenty-one-year-old woman from Seattle. Although the photo was quickly removed, an anonymous Twitter user called Dan Wolfe intercepted it before it could be entirely erased. This photo was saved and subsequently circulated online and to news media.
In response, Weiner stuck to the age-old tactic of disputing what had happened. While even in 1999 this may have worked, in 2011 Weiner instantly became the subject of global laughter and scorn. People became a part of the story, as they shared and commented on Weinergate. With Twitter, women no longer had to stand on the sidelines and be silent in the face of deception. The Internet turned the scandal into a living thing that grew with each tweet, blog, or Facebook update. The people wanted justice—the truth—and they could get it by keeping the story in the spotlight until their demands were met. No longer confined to newspapers or television tidbits, the Internet made the scandal personal for everyone.
Does Weinergate represent a shift in culture from generations of male denial to future generations of men coming to terms with society's new rules and realities? As more women demand the truth, are men ready to give it to them? Perhaps the deeper question, acknowledging the data emerging from the recent Ashley Madison hack, is whether the threat of exposure combined with women's insistence on truthfulness will result in a shift toward more monogamy or more frank and honest relationships.
With the Internet prompting an openness that society has never before been confronted with, men everywhere have to become more aware of the likelihood that the truth of their actions will be exposed, bringing on inevitable repercussions. Men need to learn that when challenged, it is easier in the long run to tell the truth, no matter how damaging it is in the moment. With a permanent history of their transgressions stored on the Internet, it will become increasingly difficult for men to cling to the old mantra of deny, deny, deny. They may, by circumstance or on purpose, one day reveal the truth to their significant others, colleagues, friends, or bosses—but too late: the relationship will already have been destroyed.
Ashley Madison, Match.com, and AdultFriendFinder profiles; Craigslist ads; visits to stripper bars; affairs; and even assignations with sex workers (those of ex–New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer come to mind) can no longer be assumed to be confidential, no matter what lengths men may go to. Men are moving through a painful period of exposure; all our deepest and darkest secrets are pouring from cyberspace into our living rooms, our bedrooms, and the computers of wives, girlfriends, and journalists.
An emerging generation of young men has grown up with the Internet, and as a result, they have a new relationship with truth and denial. As they learn the inevitability of being caught, their relationships are evolving in a new and more honest way as they learn that secrecy and privacy are fleeting mirages and that there are troublesome consequences to lying. Fabrications are easily exposed; denial is not only unproductive, it is destructive. There is no return path once a lie is told other than digging a deeper and deeper hole—one that gets exponentially more difficult to climb out of.
"Deny, deny, deny" as a male mantra is on a path toward retirement along with so many of the lies and destructive myths that have been learned and passed down by generation after generation. Denial is no longer a viable option. Men need to explain who, when, where, and why, and once that first denial comes in, it's game over. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Periscope, falsehoods and contradictions are far too easily and quickly discovered. Lying, though, is woven into the male self-image, and although not all men lie (and many women do!), any study of the history of civilization uncovers the reality that men operate on being untruthful. Women, conversely, operate on the truth, and they now have the power to demand the same from their men. In a 2012 blog post published at MariaShriver.com, dating expert and author Ken Solin argued, "Where there's no trust, there's no love. … The purpose of men being emotionally honest isn't just to satisfy women, but to live in integrity as men. … There's an enormous difference between a man being emotional, and a man being emotionally honest…. A woman may not like hearing how her guy feels about her or their relationship, but she'll know his truth, and she can work with that. ... The walls in relationships can be broken down when both partners trust each other to speak their emotional truths."
A fundamental failure to be emotionally honest is part of the fabric of flawed humanity. What can be changed, and is being changed at an astonishing pace, is the reaction to a lie. No longer will a woman stand idly by; she will demand answers and will rightfully speak out against blatant disrespect and abuse of trust. Mistakes can be forgiven, but the public is less accepting of denials by politicians, instead making fabrications a pulsating living entity forever virally traveling the web. Women and society no longer allow men to get away with deception; in a constantly broadcast world, men must learn to accept this.
As men realize that their former strategies are no longer options, will they learn to own their mistakes? Likely, they will continue to lie, cheat, and deny. But as wives, girlfriends, and the rest of society become less tolerant and more aggressively offended, more and more men will find salvation in simply telling the truth, and as that becomes the norm, male behavior will change. Some men will become more faithful and some relationships will become more open, whereas others will dissolve as the truth makes the status quo untenable.
As we look to the implications for the future, a new generation of men, born in the Internet age, will understand the pitfalls of engaging in actions and infidelity that will inevitably lead to a decision of whether to tell the truth or to refute it. They will witness the exposure and downfall of those who lie and deny and be less inclined to make the mistakes to begin with. Humans will always err, but this new generation will be more conscious of the inevitable consequences of their actions.
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