My Interview In Mirror
appeared in Mumbai Mirror on March 12th 2013 and Ahmadabad Mirror on March 13th 2013
The hug that lies
Study says most lovers hug & kiss even when they don’t mean it. Mirror cracks the code of deceptive affection……Teja Lele Desai firstname.lastname@example.org
She doesn’t want to hug her boyfriend but does it anyway. He tells the lover he loves her so she’ll get off the phone. She doesn’t like his haircut, but gives it the thumbs-up anyway. A recent study reveals the curious case of couples exhibiting deceptive affectionate behaviour to mask their true feelings. According to Understanding the Routine Expression of Deceptive Affection in Romantic Relationships, individuals in romantic relationships often express affection they don’t actually feel for “face saving, conflict management/avoidance, and emotion management”.
The study, conducted by relational communication expert Sean Horan, an assistant professor at DePaul University in the College of Communication, with Melanie Booth-Butterfield, a professor at West Virginia University, found that non-married individuals express deceptive affection about three times a week to their romantic partners.
So, why do lovers handhold, kiss and cuddle when they’d rather bite their partner’s head off?
Horan says face saving is the most frequently cited motive. “It could be either to save one’s own face or the partner’s. For the self, respondents gave reasons such as masking potentially embarrassing or vulnerable feelings. For example, ‘so that he didn’t realize how sad or upset I was feeling’. The other chief reason involved situations where respondents sought to improve their partner’s moods or avoid hurting them,” he says over email.
Conflict management or avoidance is the third key function of deceptive love. This could involve an individual who wants to stop or avoid an argument, or to settle a problem/fight, Horan explains. A fourth theme, emotion management, involves affectionate deception communicated out of habit or routine. “Individuals do this to avoid hurt, and ease negative emotions,” Horan adds.
IS IT NECESSARY?
Clearly, the matrix of modern romantic relationships isn’t easy to navigate. Rules and narrow certainties are in the past; the present is all about an amoebic, open-ended approach. Can 21st century love not survive without necessary deception?
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Hansal Bhachech believes it’s not a new phenomenon, but what’s made it in-your-face is the spread of technology, freedom and openness of expression and increasing PDA.
Horan agrees. “As people, we think that deception is bad and that we rarely engage in it; in reality, studies repeatedly document that we lie all the time. In fact, we lie the most to the people we are closest to. We may avoid honesty since it could hurt a loved one’s feelings, jeopardise our relationship or hurt us.”
WHEN IS IT REAL?
In an age when fake it-till-you-make-it seems to be the order of the day, how does one tell the real thing apart? Was that “I love you” or kiss on the forehead genuine or an act to ward off conflict?
Horan says, “Many people think they are skilled at detecting deception but studies repeatedly show we aren’t. Also, people think they can tell when their romantic partners are lying to them. That said, we suffer from a ‘truth bias’, which means that the closer we are to someone the less likely we are to suspect deception.”
Also, people tend to believe that a lie is not a lie if it is selfless or altruistic. But is a lie ever that?
Although Horan’s study focused on unmarried couples, Dr Bhachech says the married are no different. In fact, they turn to deception more often. “Over a period of time, most couples lose the romance and attraction. A sense of boredom sets in, sometimes accompanied by feelings of being taken for granted. The humdrum of daily life brings with it a psychological defence called ‘reaction formation’ where a person behaves exactly the opposite of what s/he feels,” he says.
Horan and Booth-Butterfield’s 2010 study, Is It worth Lying For? Physiological and Emotional Implications of Recalling Deceptive Affection, revealed that individuals using deceptive affection are minimally bothered by their lies. Using affection to lie appears to be normal in romantic relationships; most couples seem to know the truth about deception and don’t mind.
Ravin Thakkar, 34, a recently engaged banker from Bengaluru, says lying “once in a while” is fine and helps him “keep the peace” in his relationship. “I may not really be feeling it, but I often feign affection and warmth to ensure that we don’t end up in a no-holds-barred battle,” he says.
But weren’t we always told that honesty is the bedrock of a relationship? The study indicates that deception isn’t always bad and deceptive affectionate messages may actually help maintain a relationship.
“The motives and feelings of why people communicate deception reveal that they use it as maintenance behaviour. They communicate it, mostly, when experiencing negative feelings. Instead of being honest and expressing the negativity, they choose to express a positive message in the form of affection. They are doing so to avoid negative outcomes and, essentially, maintain their current relational state,” Horan says.
IT’S ABOUT CARING
It may come across as twisted logic but Dr Samir Parikh, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, feels that indulging in affectionate behaviour when the heart is not in it, shows that “heart is still there”! “We are human and cannot display attention 24/7. In modern times, when relationships face stress on multiple levels, such gestures help maintain the bond. It amounts to care,” he explains. That said, experts warn against outright lies — they can be relationship killers.
“Everyone likes affection,” says Dr Bhachech, “even if it is fake — like that song — Pal bhar ke liye koi humein pyar karle, jhootha hi sahi! No wonder, such gestures help maintain relationships.”
Clearly, the study validates what Adam and Eve learnt after they were banished from Heaven and came down to Earth: Romance is fine, but a dose of compromise is essential to keep couples together. “At times, love means saying or doing something you don’t really want to, but do it because it will make the other happy. What’s wrong with that?” asks 36-year-old freelance writer Aditi Behl.
Now, the next time she asks “Have I put on weight?”, you know what to say.
Relationships are not built on truth alone. Lying to the One You Love: The Use of Deception in Romantic Relationships, a study by Tim Cole of DePaul University, reveals 92% respondents admit having lied to a romantic partner. The motives varied from the desire to avoid punishment, individuals’ attachment beliefs and reciprocal exchange of information. The study concludes that while some deception may be functional, extensive use indicates overall relational distress.