Monday, 11 January 2010

Something amiss

Have you ever met someone whose experiences are so weird and outlandish you're never sure they're telling the truth? You wonder whether anything they say can be relied on or whether they're making it all up from start to finish.

I knew a woman like that once. She should tell me these stories with complete conviction, stories full of quite plausible details and incidents, and yet I would always be thinking "She's lying. I just know she's lying."

She would tell me about the umpteen men she had slept with, and their odd habits and obsessions. Not a single one was normal, she said, they were all screwballs under the surface.

She had been fired countless times from jobs for absurd reasons. Her bosses were all cranks who would sack her on a whim, just because she never smiled or her clothes weren't smart enough.

She was once thrown out of a car in a horrific smash. It was touch-and-go whether she would survive. She was in hospital for months having one operation after another but she eventually recovered.

I just couldn't believe her though. Everything she said seemed too extraordinary, too far-fetched. Nothing routine ever happened to her, her life was one long, uninterrupted drama. It simply didn't add up.

I asked a friend of hers about some of these stories, but she insisted they were true. She had known H for years, she said, she was just one of those people who attracted oddity and sensation.

I never did find out if she was inventing it all. But what I do know is that there are plenty of very convincing liars out there, so fluent with their pretences that they can fool practically everyone.

After all, why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?

At the last count, well over 2000 people had visited my old post Gay Cure, which concerns the beleaguered Northern Irish MP Iris Robinson and her belief that homosexuality can be cured by psychiatric treatment. All I can say about this phenomenal interest is - thanks for visiting, guys!


  1. I would guess that your friend desperately wanted to be special and feared that she wasn't, so she invented those stories to bolster her own ego -- mental masturbation for the seriously insecure. I learned a long time ago that I prefer my friends truthful.

  2. Heart - I'm sure you're right, there was some desperate insecurity at the bottom of it all prompting such wild tales. But the unvarnished truth is often more interesting.

  3. Nick, I know more than a few such characters, and I can assure you from personal knowledge, that they are not inventing these stories. They just seem to attract such events to themselves in a series of happenings. If you want to hear first hand experiences, do attend an AA meeting. Some of the stories that you will hear will give you goose bumps. They will all be true and the attendees will all be nodding recognizing the truth of such stories, because, very likely they would have happened to them too.

  4. Ramana, that's most interesting. Why an AA meeting? Do you mean those are the experiences typical alcoholics have had or do you mean they're an example of people with experiences that are extraordinary but genuine?

    Either way, I'm intrigued you've heard stories like these and they turned out to be absolutely true. Perhaps I expect life to be too prosaic?

  5. My brother's ex-girlfriend was like that. No matter what strange thing happened to anyone, anywhere, there was always something similar but EVEN MORE STRANGE that had happened to her.

    It got so that we stopped telling stories around her because we just couldn't take it anymore.

    I always wondered if she was telling the truth.

  6. Hmm . . I do have a friend who is very fond of retelling his sexual exploits and how he 'challenges' other men who are rude to women or committing some injustice. Fact is, he's very plain, thin, wimply, freckly and incredibly shy that I can't imagine him actually confronting anyone. I'll never know I guess. Nothing very exciting happens to me so, no gilding the lily down here.

  7. There is one way to find out if the stories are true.

    Keep note of a detail or two and throw a question casually about it into conversation several days later. I have done that a time or two and it soon showed up the attention seeker.

  8. Truth can often be stranger than fiction, Nick, but I'm also a firm believer in intuition - yours was bang on, you were picking up some otherwise hidden elements in this woman that belied what she was saying.
    I'd say she was a great hand at embellishment and would do what GM suggests next time.
    There is often a secret satisfaction in knowing you've tripped someone up.
    I wouldn't like to humiliate them publicly with this knowledge.
    They have a desperate need for attention and can have serious mental instability issues.

  9. I tend to believe whatever i'm told. In fact, we went to a Murder Mystery weekend once and the first night I was sitting next to a woman who was telling me these dreadful stories about her family and their hard luck and I was, 'Oh no-ing' like a good 'un. It turned out she was the murderer and had been feeding information to me - except of course I was totally believing her tall tales. Wasted on they were.

  10. i have a friend who often tells me "only you cou ld tell that story"

    there arent lots of outlandish happenings in my life but when there is something interesting
    1. i am unafraid to tell a story against myself
    2. i will embroider
    3. i am a good story teller when the conditions are right

    i gotta run to work

  11. Megan - So that's attention-seeking with added competitiveness. An even bigger mental tangle to sort out!

    Baino - It certainly seems unlikely such a shy guy would be challenging anyone. I find it hard enough myself challenging misogynistic men, even with my sensitivity on the subject.

    Grannymar - Good tip. I must try it the next time I run into someone like that.

  12. www - Intuition can be very sharp. However plausible someone's stories on the surface, the unconscious will pick up on something subtly incongruous.

    Liz - You're a bit too trusting, probably because you've been lucky enough never to have been seriously scammed by anyone. And I hope you never are!

    Kylie - "I will embroider" Ah, so it's people like you we have to watch! Mind you, I've been known to embroider a little myself....

  13. In AA meetings alcoholics share their experiences strength and hope. All those who have been in the program and have stayed sober for long will tell you stories that made them converts into believers. The stories are inevitably during their drinking days, when only divine intervention could have kept them alive to come to the program.

  14. Ramana - I see what you mean, the extreme experiences that led them to sober up.

  15. I've known both kinds of people - those who would embellish what they ate for breakfast to the point you thought they were describing the latest Spielberg epic, and people who actually do get struck by lightning in the course of an average day (true example).

  16. Tattytiara - Isn't that the forthcoming Spielberg blockbuster, Breakfast, in which a deadly microbe lurks in people's cereal bowls?

    I've never been struck by lightning but as a kid I was almost killed by a falling chimney. And that's 100% true!

  17. I can't think of a thing to say, without embellishing a bit. So I'll just sit on the sidelines all wizened and smiling...

  18. Brighid - Can't think of anything to say? Ooh, you fibber, you. Still, you can sit on the sidelines and watch by all means. There's all sorts of interesting things going on here....

  19. Hmmmmm I cannot stand liars and I won't tell lies myself - I think just too many people have lied to me!!!

  20. Kate - That's very ethical and very admirable, but surely there're occasions when telling the truth would bring disastrous consequences?

  21. Maybe - although I have not been in that situation..... perhaps clever avoidance of comment might be better in those circumstances!

  22. Kate - Yes, clever avoidance of comment can be a useful tactic in a tight spot.