Monday, November 16, 2009

On lying

You know that feeling you got when you were a kid (or an adult) and were caught lying? That mixture of dread and shame at disappointing someone, and fear of what your parents are going to do when they find out?

I had a problem with lying when I was a teenager. I don't know if it was really a *problem* though. Some OTDers are of the opinion that if your parents will never accept you for who you are, it's ok to lie about what you are doing. And that lying is a good thing in that case, becuase you are preserving your relationship. My brother is of that opinion, which is why at 26 he still gets to live at home, even while secretly dating someone not jewish. I was honest with my parents and was told I could not move back home after college.

But not all of us are great liars- I'm not. Or at least I wasn't at first, although I got better with age. I learned that the best lies are the ones that contain some or most of the truth. In fact, you can tell the truth and sometimes people will think it's a lie.

Once when I was around 19, my brother and I had a secret party while my parents were away on vacation. We had maybe 30-40 friends over, did the usual things college students do when they have an open house (drank a lot of beer, some people hooked up, felt like badasses for breaking the rules, spent an entire day cleaning up afterward). When my parents came home from their vacation, my mom found a few chips on the floor somewhere that we had missed and asked - did you guys have a bunch of people over while we were gone? My brother, not missing a beat, answered "Sure, we had a party with like 40 people when you were gone." And my mom..get this...thought he was being sarcastic, and said something nasty like "ha ha there's no way you guys have 40 friends."

But there was a time before that, before I figured out how to lie effectively, when I got caught lying a lot. When I was 15 I had a secret boyfriend. He was 16. I was just starting to experiment with going OTD, and had secretly been eating non-kosher food and breaking shabbas for a few months. I also was secretly hanging out with my boyfriend. I would tell my parents I was taking the bus to the hospital where I was volunteering that summer, and instead would take a bus that went in the opposite direction, right to my boyfriend's house. Where we would make out (mostly just kissing) and feel like badasses for breaking the rules. It was pretty innocent, compared to what most kids our age were probably doing. Just exciting. I was just growing out of the extremely geeky stage I went through for..oh..all of my life up until high school (ok I admit, I'm still actually a geek), and this was the first boy who had ever showed interest in me. And he was nice and charming, and cute. He was on his own path 'off the derech' and bragged to me about setting his black hat on fire.

One weekend my best friend had a great idea- I would go visit her for shabbas, and then her boyfriend and my boyfriend would stay at her neighbors house, and we would all meet up for shabbas meals and hang out!

By that point my parents already suspected I had a secret boyfriend, and they made me promise he wouldn't be there if I went to this girl's house for shabbas. They didn't think I should be dating until I was ready to get married (Dating for "tachlis"). I of course said he wouldn't be there, because otherwise they wouldn't have let me go.

So..we went there for shabbas, we all hung out, it was good times. Then Sunday morning my dad showed up to drive me home, and my friends mom asked if he could give a ride home to my boyfriend.

And there it was. That feeling, in the pit of your stomach, when you know you have fucked up really really badly and things are about to go really really wrong. And it did. Since that moment, I have never had a good relationship with my parents again. When we got home from my friends house (my dad did NOT give my boyfriend a ride), after a long and awkward 40 minute drive in which I was freaking out and my dad was completely and ominously silent, my dad grounded me indefinitely. Which ended up being about 4 months with no tv, no phone, no computer, no stereo, just me and my thoughts and school. Which led to a weak-ass suicide attempt and some self cutting, which they never found out about. But that's a whole other story.

After that day, my parents approached our relationship as if I were their enemy. After locking me up in my room for 4 months, they put spyware on my computer that took pictures of what I was doing- which I found out about when my dad confronted me for saying things over instant messenger of a sexual nature (I think it was a joke about whipped cream or something) to my boyfriend (different boyfriend) a couple of years later when I was 17. They put even more rules on what I could or couldn't do. My dad kept trying to get me to sign "contracts" (probably not legally binding since I was a minor and he made them up on his computer) saying I wouldn't do things like date my boyfriend anymore- as if, at 15, signing a piece of paper my dad forced me to sign meant anything. He loved those damn contracts. I think I broke every single one he made me sign.

All these rules led to more lying on my part. I didn't break up with that guy when my parents caught us- we kept on having a 'relationship' (in which we didn't actually see each other, but talked all the time), for months afterward. I learned even more elaborate ways to lie to my parents. When my parents forbade me from using the phone, I would stay up until they had all gone to sleep and call him from a portable phone. I would hide in a room my mom used for storage while calling him, since at the time my cousin was living in our house and sharing a room with me (and my parents asked her to keep an eye on me).

Which led to that feeling all over again, when my parents picked up the phone mid-convo once and figured that out. Which led to them taking away all portable phones in the house so I couldn't use them in other rooms. After they did that, I would walk from school to a local pay phone and somehow call him from that payphone..I don't remember the details, but in my fuzzy memory of this is something about calling the payphone at his yeshiva and he was there at a certain pre-arranged time. Eventually I dumped him though, since he went and held hands with another girl.

Anyways what was I talking about? Oh right, lying. That feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are caught in the lie. Maybe in reaction to that, I am very very honest at this point in my life. I'd rather piss people off for what I am doing, then be caught in a lie about what I'm doing. But it took me a long long LONG time to get over that shame feeling. I kept lying to my parents throughout most of college.

I still feel that feeling whenever I tell members in my family about what I'm doing with my life. Not that I'm ashamed about my life...but I know they are disappointed in me, and it's hard to constantly be telling people things that you know disappoint them. Even when you strongly believe that their disappointment is misplaced. But part of it is that whenever I tell a relative or friend that I'm not religious, that I'm married, and that my husband isn't jewish, I'm also telling them that I have been lying to them for years...for all those years they thought I was religious, when I wasn't. So every time I 'come out' to a relative, I have to admit that I've been lying this whole time.

It's funny though that now the whole thing is kind of used to be that I was ashamed for not being religious and covered it up by lying. Now I'm ashamed about the lies that I told that implied I was religious, when I wasn't.

Meanwhile, my grandfather recently had open heart surgery, and while I want to call him (and feel like if I don't call him now, I'll probably never talk to him again), something is holding me back. That something is that I will have to go through this whole process of telling him that I'm not religious, that I'm married, and that my husband isn't Jewish. I know my grandmother knows, so he probably knows, but I would still have to talk to him about it. Every time I have to say it, it's a painful reminder of all the years I have lied about who I am, and an admission of those lies, mixed up with all the disappointment I know my family feels whenever they hear it. And right now I can't bring myself to make that call and do it all over again.


  1. Why do you have to tell your grandpa about your religion? Just ask him how he is doing?

    I had a heart surgery last year - the last thing on my mind was whether anyone is religious or not - just wanted to live at that point.

  2. I don't have to tell him about religion, but if I call even to see how he is doing, I can't imagine the fact that I'm now married (to someone not jewish) would NOT come up. Plus I would also have to talk to my grandmother, since she guards the phone and all.

    Maybe I can send him a card or something instead?

  3. This could be published anywhere. It is very powerful and true and shows the difficulty of breaking free with any cultural bonds which your family holds closely. The same story could be written by a person who was gay, I think. But this is YOUR story and I will be thinking about it for a long time.
    And if you want to know what I think- I think you should call your grandfather. Otherwise, you will give proof to what happens to people when they leave the religion. In his eyes, anyway.
    I send you my best thoughts and I think you should get this published.

  4. I'm writing this with the assumption that you want encouragement to call him.

    Is your grandmother still on decent speaking terms with you? If so, call him! Or if he's close by, visit! You'd regret your silence much more than telling him you are not frum. And if he knows already, you don't have to explain much. You can ask him how he is doing, tell him you miss him, tell him about your career. Grandparents are usually more chill about frumkeit in some ways because things really have changed that much from generation to generation. And finally, you can be the non-frum daughter who didn't call her grandfather before surgery (thus apparently having rejected him along with yiddishkeit), or the sweet non-frum granddaughter who still makes an effort.

    If you CANNOT call in the end, I think it's best to get flowers delivered and, if you can, a long note/short letter. I should tell you that a family member of mine who had open-heart surgery was not quite herself afterwards, and the recovery was so painful that she needed lots of phone conversations even though they exhausted her and had to be very short.

    The story you tell in your post is familiar but so sad. I am sorry you had to go through that, and I wish your grandpa a refuah shelemah. And keep up the great blog.

  5. I don't think he would necessarily be more chill...this grandfather, every time I've seen him for the past 10 years he's asked me "so when are you going to marry a nice jewish boy?" and he's even more religious than my parents (my parents are MO, but he is definitely more yeshivish).

    But you're right, I should call. Maybe tomorrow...

  6. Wow, this is one of your best posts. Ever!

  7. the post was Intense! very very intense. I think you should call your will kick yourself if you don't..believe me. The conversation will be what it will be..the important thing is you are doing the right thing by calling me on matter what the outcome.

  8. For what it's worth, I think you should call your grandfather. Certainly the conversation to gravitate to the more sensitive issues. However, you can make the proper effort to make contact, express concern and offer assistance. Most likely, he might not have the energy for an extended conversation. But, he'll know and appreciate that you called. After you have made the contact, if he chooses to make issues about religion or other issues, that is when you can step away. Don't try to negotiate with yourself before you even make the call.

    Take care and be well.

  9. What Vashty said; if you're not up to a call, send a card. <3

  10. Are you sure he doesn't know already? Maybe your parents have already told him or he found out by another avenue.

  11. It's emarrassing but I had to look up OTD and while I didn't get my answer, I did get 41 acronym definitions including:
    Out the door, on the dot, on the double, orally transmitted diseases and older than dirt.
    Good times.

  12. "OTD" is 'off the derech" derech meaning 'way' or 'path'; it's what orthodox jews calls people who grew up orthodox and are no longer religious

  13. There are some old and wise people who are the most accepting people ever. People who have seen the world and have watched as people come and go.

    Your Zeideh might be more understanding than the rest of your family.

  14. I find your posting a little disturbing.

    The way it reads is that what affects you most is getting caught out. Lying itself doesn't seem to bother you as much. Indeed, I find this comment "before I figured out how to lie effectively" to be very revealing. Notwithstanding "I am very very honest at this point in my life", the rest of the posting shows a degree of ambivalence towards the importance of veracity.

    Your parents' reaction may have been extreme, but it did follow a blatant abuse of trust.

    I wish your grandfather well, and hope you find a way to talk with him.

  15. Please call your grandfather. It's the right thing to do. This is not all about you or your feelings. When someone is older and is ill, especially if its someone who loves you, then try to put his interests and perspective ahead of yours.

    Besides, the chances that you will regret having made the call are much less than the chances that you will regret not having made the call if you don't do it.

  16. Oh, AE, I'm sorry. It's so hard sometimes. Sending you a big fat hug.

  17. Call your grandfather. Don't let this hold you back.

    I've struggled with a lot of the same issues. I am still struggling with a lot of them... I'm sorry your parents were so harsh. It's no help to know that they meant well, when they treated you so badly, but keep it in mind if it helps you forgive them somehow.

    My parents still have no idea that I almost married someone non-Jewish... even though I was prepared to still somehow try to keep Shabbat and kashrut (not for them, for myself). I'm 32 and was just forced to move back with them temporarily for financial reasons... hope to be out of here soon. I just try my best to keep them out of the parts of my life that would distress them, without actually lying too much. I'll never be "the good daughter" in their eyes but I can't hurt them by letting them really know what's going on with me. However, I do consider it rather brave that since moving back I've been more open about things like wearing jeans with a little skirt on top, and I also consider it a mellowing on their part that they haven't, as yet, flipped out on me about that... we've got to meet each other in the middle somehow, try to tolerate each other. Because as much as we can't understand each other, we do love each other... at least... that's what I think on my better days...

    For various reasons, I cannot call my beloved grandfather (not religious issues) even though he is still alive. I can't tell you what I'd give to be able to call him.

    Don't lose this chance.

  18. Believe it or not, I used to lie to my parents a lot when I was younger, because my parents were so old-fashioned and overprotective. I never really felt guilty about it, to be honest, because I didn't think what I was doing was wrong. I remember at my bridal shower, after talking to a bunch of my girlfriends, my mother turned to me and said, "you went skydiving?" LOL. I don't think my Dad ever knew that my college dorm was co-ed.

    Send your grandfather a card if you feel like you can't talk to him without spilling your guts about your life. Your calling him isn't about you, it's about making him feel better. If hearing about your life will make him feel worse, you haven't accomplished anything. If lying about your life will make you feel at odds with yourself, send him a card. Frankly, I don't think there is anything really wrong with calling, keeping the convo on him or on neutral things, and steering off topics that are dangerous.


  19. Excellent post. Interestingly enough-I can relate alot of my teenage experiences with yours.

  20. I like your blog. When I was 17 my mom hung up the phone on my first girlfriend when I was home from sleepaway yeshiva. I didn't come home for 6 months after that. The ridiculous rules they made (tried to make) me keep made my into a rebellious person even as an adult. I only went 'atheist' 3 years ago but growing up in a fum world has unf scarred my life in a way I don't think will ever be healed. oh well. I hope my kids never believe in any gods...


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