What Your Fear of Being Lied to Says About You

How do I know if a guy is lying? Is there anything you can tell me about body language or other red flags? I want to be sure he doesn’t have a wife or a girlfriend, or an ex that may resurface in his life. I’m always very upfront and direct about asking, but I have no way to know if they’re telling the truth before it’s too late. Help!

Short answer: You can’t.

Look, body language experts will tell you that certain facial tics, gestures, or behaviors can raise a red flag, the key being inconsistencies between what a person says and does (saying no while nodding yes, for instance). When I think someone’s lying to me, I usually pick up on a smarmy or uncomfortable vibe. And I’m usually thinking of ways I can stop talking to this person, not whether or not I should consider him as a life partner.

However, your question is telling—and says more about you than it does about any dude in question. Because right now I’m not as worried about a guy with a lingering ex as I am about why you assume someone is lying to you out of the gate. It tells me you’ve been hurt before and you’re out to prevent that from ever happening again. Which as you know, no one can guarantee.

You’re leading with a negative bias—suspicion, doubt, and defensiveness. New people, to you, are guilty until proven innocent, and instead of being curious and interested about a guy, you’re doing a stop-and-frisk. I don’t need to tell you how unsexy this is.

I get the sense that you see your “upfrontness” as a noble thing and that he should act in kind. Wrong. Frankly, when you’re first getting to know someone, what he’s doing or has done is none of your business. Of COURSE he knows you wouldn’t like it if you knew he’s kinda seeing someone else, or that his ex texted him last night that she wants him back. That’s why he’s not telling you—and it’s not your business to know. Not now. Are you a woman looking to meet a man, or are you the Truth Police? Because being clearing house for n’er-do-wellers is a losing position.

“But I just want to be sure!”

You can’t be. There are women who fall in love with men, marry them, and find out 20 years later that these guys have three other kids and another wife across town. That’s the extreme, of course. But the promise you want, that someone you care about won’t lie to you, is something no one can make.

And to insist that you don’t want to get involved with any man with even a whisper of a woman in his recent past? Trust me you don’t want that guy. A man worth having is going to have been loved by others before you, and there may be others in the wings. And if you’re busy trying to play Exterminator of Past Loves, he’s going to catch that drift early on, and who wants that? You’re setting a dangerous precedent. No man wants to come home to a TSA pat-down every night.

(And I’ll remind you that a man who needs the truth beaten out of him is probably not worth the trouble.)

You add that you want to know before it’s “too late.” What does that mean, exactly? When is too late? Before you’ve had sex? Rented the reception hall? Been married for 50 years and have six grandkids? By “too late” you imply that there’s a “before” (or risky time) and “after” (when he’s past security). There is no such timeline because being invested means there’s always a chance you can get hurt.

What would happen, and humor me here, if you went in assuming that, whatever this guy has going on, he’s interested in you right now? What if you unburdened yourself of the task of going through his prior history and spent more time being curious about and interested in him? Because I believe you are losing yourself in a checklist of Things To Find Out About this Bastard and not tuning in to the man himself.

I took a hard-core self defense class years ago where I learned that once you master the skills, your whole bearing changes. You’re no longer terrified every second that a rapist will hop out of the bushes any second, and more tuned in to your surroundings. And because you’re more self assured and carry yourself as such, you’re also less likely to be the victim of a violent crime.  In other words, unchecked fear prevents your intuition from doing its job.

Same applies here: When you can be relaxed and confident and assume that the person you’re meeting is a good guy, you’ll be more open to the clues that tell you otherwise. This is what dating is, by the way: a willingness to risk trusting someone new in a way that leaves you vulnerable. If you’re not willing to take that risk, then you’re not ready to love someone.