Recently I was in Los Angeles, a city in which I do not live. The bookstore I was trying to go to would not open for another 20 minutes, so I did what I always do when I am trying to kill time: I went to buy a seltzer. I purchased a Perrier — not my first choice, I’m a Hal’s girl — and enjoyed some light chit-chat with the guy behind the counter.
“On your way to work?” he asked.
At that moment, I had two options. I could tell him the truth: I am not going to work, I’m just in town visiting, I live in New York. Or I could lie.
“Yep,” was what came out of my mouth. “On my way to the bookstore.” This technically was not a lie, but it did create a false narrative, one wherein I work at a bookstore in Echo Park, answering people’s questions about Sally Rooney. In that universe I probably live in a house with a yard. Maybe I have a cat. I talk about how it probably costs the same to live in LA as New York once you factor in the price of having and using a car. I see Mandy Moore at Erewhon sometimes. It’s a nice life.
We are not supposed to lie. I know this, you know this, our parents are supposed to tell us this early on in life. Mine certainly did. But, like smoking cigarettes and watching TV for five straight hours, some things our parents tell us not to do are actually pretty fun.
I am not advocating for lying in a malicious way. Obviously you should not lie in a way that hurts other people, or lie for social/political/economic gain. Lying can be useful for the sake of being kind. We've all been in a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. That’s a net positive lie. But what we’re talking about here are total net neutral lies. These are lies that serve no point other than creating a little thrill, just to see what you can get away with.
The key to lying for fun is that the lie has to 1) be a very small lie and 2) be about yourself. You cannot get away with a huge lie about someone else, otherwise known as a rumor. Before our frontal lobes had fully formed, my friends and I toyed with rumors to some success. That is until I was confronted by a girl in AP Government who asked if we were telling people that her boyfriend owned three tropical birds. We were, and we got caught.
This brings us to the third tenet of recreational lying: don’t do it with people you know, or who operate in your social circles. The easiest way to create a little fantasy life for yourself is to do it alone in your own mind; the second easiest way is to wait for a stranger you are positive you will never see again to ask you a question. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” “What are you doing here in Topeka?” These all open doors to your new identity.
Hotel bars, airports, subway cars, Uber rides – you have to lean into the transient nature of these spaces. You can, like Ryan Atwood, be whoever you want to be. Start small, like saying that you have a pet when in reality you are allergic to all dander. If you want to be bold you can say that you were born in a completely different city, and if that makes you nervous you can add a caveat and say that while you were born there, you moved to your actual hometown very young. Once you get comfortable as a liar, you can bring out the big guns: your parent went to college with a moderately famous person , you had swine flu in 2009, you were born with a full head of hair. All of these are basically unverifiable in polite conversation, but will elicit some easily answerable follow-up questions.
What you’re going for here is adding a little paprika to the conversation. It’s mostly for color. Don’t go full Mr. Ripley – just tell one small lie, see where it takes the conversation, and enjoy the thrill of creating a slightly new identity.
Perhaps it’s due to my embarrassing history as a college improviser, but I think that there is something exciting about not knowing where a conversation will go after you spin your yarn. The lie is almost always just for your pleasure. It’s a little secret that allows you to peek into an alternate universe version of yourself, the version who has married parents or owns a Pekingese named Fred. And occasionally the lie will elicit something interesting from your conversation partner. Maybe they have a great story about the city you are fake from, or they’ve met your third cousin Dave Coulier.
Though it may be tempting, don’t go huge. It’s not worth it. I have long thought that I could get away with alluding to the idea that Robert De Niro is my dad, but I have never deployed it. That lie is just too interesting–it would lead to many questions, which would lead to many other lies, and you might lose track of what you are and aren’t lying about. If I met a De Niro child at an airport Chili’s I would want to know everything about them, including where they grew up, what proximity to fame feels like, and whether or not they’ve met Al Pacino. Keeping track of too many lies is a challenging, fruitless exercise that takes all the fun out of this small joy.
Lying for fun is not about making yourself more interesting to another person; it’s about imagining your Sliding Doors life. Who are you if one little thing is different? Who is the version of you that has five siblings? Who is the version of you that works in advertising?
These tiny lies are like making the choice to wear a statement hat. You might carry yourself differently for a little bit, but you’re still gonna be you when you come home. There might just be someone out in the world who thinks you ran varsity track in high school.