The need to be liked

‘They’ve all got someone else to hate now, haven’t they?’ she (Lily) spoke to Frances softly – The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters.

Up to this point in The Paying Guests (page 490) my feelings towards Lily were somewhat ambivalent but when I read this line I felt I understood her actions a little better. If you haven’t read the book – and I won’t give anything away – Lily doesn’t behave honourably and I desperately wanted her to ‘do the right thing’. Then it struck me how difficult it is to do what is right. It is instinctive to protect the image of ourselves that we wish to project to the outside world. Lily was in deep trouble and had a lot to lose but was consumed with the desire to be liked.

In order to preserve this self-image we often lie to avoid looking stupid or ignorant and frequently blame others to save face. Even trivial things, such as when the doctor asks how many units of alcohol is consumed each week, there is a brazen ‘Ohh..I don’t know…about..mmm….4 units on average.’ Yeah right! Why lie? Because we don’t want the doctor to think we are alcoholics. Why does it matter what the doctor thinks? It just does.

I was in a similar situation just last week. My husband always blames me for losing his paper work. That he is so messy and leaves things all around the house, which I am then obliged to tidy away, is irrelevant. Says he. Usually I can retrieve it from some pile or other on his desk but sometimes…well quite often…I can’t.

This particular folder which he was looking for I had no recollection of. I hadn’t seen it. Hadn’t touched it. Hadn’t cleared it away. Otherwise, I say with absolute confidence, I would remember.  So the search begins. An hour later after trawling through mountains of jumbled sheets and other detritus on his desk the folder is nowhere in sight. My husband by this time is visibly irritated and I am offended that he believes me to be the culprit when he is so disorganised.

deskMessy office and curious cat

Then I go upstairs to the room I use as an office and spot a bundle of my folders that I had taken up a few days before. My heart starts to thud. Surely not! But somehow I know that the disappearing folder will be there. And of course it is.  I now have to decide what to do. I can conjure up a plan to sneak it amongst some other folders on his desk and make a big display of a more thorough search and Hey Presto! it was there all along. NOT MY FAULT; YOUR FAULT! Or do I risk looking stupid, enduring the mutters and the shaking of the head and go for the truth? My instinct, if I am truly honest, is to lie but I decide to tell the truth and, in my husband’s defence, he gives me a ‘look’ but refrains from any comment.

Lies and cover-ups abound when inquiries into serious incidents occur, often to avoid a custodial sentence but frequently just to ‘save face’. I think, despite cries of ‘disgraceful’ it is instinctive to protect oneself as far as possible. After some reflection I have decided that the only reason I have not behaved like Lily is because I have never been in such a precarious position as she. I suspect, judging by the missing folder episode I would be very tempted. It takes a very brave person to open themselves voluntarily to ridicule, insult and hatred and I am usually a coward!




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