An Existential Guide to Risks and Relationships

Trust and lies as indispensable halves of love

Growing up, I would go into construction sites and pretend they were haunted or contained forbidden, secret chambers. Once, an unenthused, older boy announced how it was “just a house!” and that I was being silly. I discovered that we should be seeing things for what they are, straightforward and ‘de-constructable’. However, after several years of pretending to shun enchantment, I realised it is more enjoyable to climb a hill with the same grit of climbing a mountain, to dub onto things all terms that increase their sense of adventure. Though these outlets may differ for each of us, we can all experience the allure of infusing imagination into the blandness of reality, however much one may suspect blandness to be its true nature. This willingness to create is what we see in the visualisation exercises of meditation and prayer. Really, we could see all of religion, ideas of God, and even social narratives as adhering to this phenomenon of wanting to believe in certain constructions. 

There is a certain choice involved in generating fascination. Indulging in make-belief is where, we know from our childhoods, the fun lies. We might envision ourselves to be above such childish exercises, but we participate in self-deception more often than we realise. Clancy Martin, in his book Love and Lies, writes about the willingness to engage in self-deception that is almost necessary in the process of erotic love. It is this same self-deception that I believe we must knowingly seek out.

Creating one’s own meaning requires a primary acceptance that there is no greater truth or purpose to discover. There is no meaning outside of one’s own little existence that will be bestowed upon one. While I navigated my relationship with existence, friends in high school said I’m nihilistic. I found an alternate, ‘absurdism’ to be slightly more appropriate. I resonated with different world  views at different points. What I knew throughout this process is that I would not continue to hold on to my teenage belief in the superiority of cynicism. 

There is a popular narrative about the smartest minds historically having been depressed, as depression is confused with being in greater touch with the dismal reality of this world and therefore a marker of intelligence. Resignation can seem seductive until we find ourselves in its grasp. Suddenly, one realises how stunted one feels. One finds that real growth requires a different approach—stimulation of the mind that goes beyond the initial acceptance of a supposedly futile existence. A constant wide-eyed fascination within the constructs we find ourselves in is a more productive, truer indulgence. 

I came to prefer and appreciate people  who were willing to engage with the world. Those willing to spearhead creation and entrust meaning into what might be a meaningless outside, to charge at it with creativity and humour. I realised it is more admirable to not obstruct oneself with egocentric competitions of intelligence and to instead approach life with open arms.

The Bravery of Believing

With willful self-deception, there is a risk of being proved incorrect. But there is very little one knows with absolute certainty. In a Nietzschian way of thinking, to try to know something is to impose upon it a fixity. What is so static and graspable that it can demand the discarding of different perspectives and leave no room for contradiction? Logic requires that there is regularity, and to treat events as such is to falsify them; it is to go against the chaotic nature of reality. Nietzsche discourages the seeking of perfectly secure beliefs. 

The seeking of absolute truths arises from panic in the face of the world’s unknowability. Instead of striving to continuously assess and reassess situations to arrive at increasingly nuanced assumptions about the world, we look for specific truths, to become “master over the multiplicity of sensations,” as Nietzsche writes, which are beyond our control. Truthfulness, for Nietzsche, is an impossibility. Our world is fundamentally false.  

Since we cannot know the nature of what we are being told, that at some points we may have been fooled does not necessitate every following event to comply and require our mistrust. I am a student and proponent of critical thinking, but would distinguish it from the fear of being fooled. Is it really worth the cost of not believing? Of living timidly, wary of the world. There is joy to be derived from trusting, from falling for pranks and engaging with jokes. What is a bigger statement of the dullness of one’s life than when one rejects stories of things not experienced first-hand? The self-important ego is limiting. It is the barrier between us and the world of laughter and love that we might find ourselves in if we dive headfirst. 

Risk and ambivalence underlie every moment of our lives. The process of living demands that we make decisions and engage with our reality, unless we want to remain perched at the boundaries of our lives as spectators. Choosing life paths, telling a story, trusting another person—there is so much we engage with that we cannot be certain about, and yet that which we cannot do without. 

Romantic Relationships

It is essential to understand that we cannot make someone feel a certain way about us. Not only does attempting this impeach upon the freedom of another, it is also not strategically sound. Instead of trying to impose control upon our relationships, we can try changing our behaviour to remind someone of our value. No matter how many answers one finds to make a relationship sustainable, hacks to love, such as making a commitment to commitment itself, making efforts despite wavering tides of affection, working for another’s happiness—yet there is no telling how your loved object may respond. We cannot determine whether, despite all our efforts, they wish to exert the same commitment. So how on earth do we deal with the suspicion that someone is slipping away, without imposing control?

The position of being in love is precarious. It requires participation in play, make-belief, and an open-hearted welcoming of the world. The fact is, there is very little ground to trust someone completely. “The point about trust,” Adam Phillips writes, “is that it is impossible to establish. It is a risk masquerading as a promise.” Say, we’re suspicious of how our spouse might be cheating (on our monogamous arrangement). Barring marked evidence that makes it plain that a partner is disloyal, why not continue to expound faith? Instead of bitter and frightened suspicion, we can choose to be direct with our partners about our doubts. Beyond that, perhaps the point of choosing a special someone is to lend them constant benefit of the doubt. And if we happen to be wrong, if they have blatantly proved our faith futile, we must trust ourselves to be able to deal with it. A trust in our own abilities, arising from self-love, allows us to keep our relationships kinder.

A power struggle is what the challenges of closeness and acts of infidelity are often attributed to. For instance, that we can be so ashamed at the prospect that we might be more invested in a relationship that we ought to prove to ourselves otherwise with an action that restores a sense of control. We betray our lovers’ trust sometimes as an assertion of individuality, a desperate assertion that we have not fallen into the entrapment of dependence upon them. Instead of asking for the attention and closeness one needs, one takes advantage of the fundamental gamble the two people engaged in. A power play—fear—therefore, may be useful to describe the self-preservative betrayal of another person. 

However, there is another place where the tussle of power lies – what one grants themselves. To allow oneself to lose control is an assertion of the faith one has in oneself to deal with the consequences. Can we believe that we have enough power to reconcile with whatever reality might present itself in time? A belief in our strength, to recover from such a misfortune, is perhaps enough reason to not spend time fussing over a partner’s actions and anticipations of their “true intentions”.

Infusing doubt into a relationship carries risks that might sabotage the relationship. A friend of mine told herself after her partner kissed someone else early in their relationship that she can see how it played out. That the person likely came onto him, that he wasn’t interested, and that it was an innocent mistake. Questioning whether or not she is right is the work of an aimless search for facts. If it is, in fact, self-deception that she engaged in, it turned out to serve her in the longer course of their relationship. It is what allowed her to not give up at the time, and gave her boyfriend another chance to realise her worth. Another friend has offered wisdom on this. I must introduce her as someone for whom, as she claims, sex is not especially central to love. Regardless, she used to think that she would ask a partner to at least tell her if they cheat on her. “But now,” she tells me, “I think I would tell my partner that if they cheat on me, I would rather they not tell me.” It is a compelling preference.

Summarising thoughts on the necessity of self-deception in the fostering, nurturing, and maintaining of love, Clancy, my professor, writes how if one takes falling in love seriously, it makes sense “to encourage an ongoing falling in love.” We can demand respect and certain ways in which to be treated, and in that way maintain a place for accountability. However, we do not own anybody, and the only way to get someone to continue being with us is to make ourselves, as often as possible, likeable. This process is contained in the act of trusting, and all the more augmented by a surrendering of ownership. When one cannot own and dictate another person, one is better off letting the tides of seeming truth wash over them. To participate, wide-eyed, in the act of love is to ride the waves which sometimes requires a healthy involvement of deception, beautification, and kindness, of wilfully induced admiration and fascination. It is not to lie all the time, but also not to enforce confrontations of naked truths that may often be beyond what one’s loved one can bear to hear. It is to participate in games and to let oneself be swayed by appearances. To ask a lover what they are thinking is to sometimes convey, as Clancy charmingly points out, “I trust you to lie to me.”  

Truthfulness and Change

A former lover believed that complete honesty is the bedrock of true love and respect. This meant that he would often tell me anything he found disagreeable, whether about us or me, and be quick to express anger. However, in expressing what he thought was honesty he was validating his current thought, leaving little scope for changing his way of thinking, at least in the short term. (Of course, despite his best attempts he could not be completely honest all the time, none of us can. Deception and self-deception are natural to us. Yet his insistence on the naked truth made his points of dishonesty all the more salient). When I asked that he restrained certain ways in which he acted his anger out, he insisted that he showed his anger to me because he felt that I was someone to whom he could express anger. That he shared enough comfort with me to show his “true self”. I believe he did not account for ways in which he could keep certain parts of himself to himself, finding alternative ways to channel them. Whether he realised this or not, this hindered self-improvement for there was little to work with when his feelings were so blatantly externalised. Feelings and actions are seldom equally valid. We recognise how certain ideals are utopian, yet by being aware of how things can be better, we continue to strive towards those ideals. 

Perhaps those who love us the most deserve to see our best sides instead of our truest ones. That is, if we think there is such a thing as the “truth”. By insisting upon the truth, my (then) boyfriend vested upon it a reality. He insisted upon a being of events, static, frozen in time, instead of participating in the becoming of things. Sometimes, perhaps sometimes, we can surrender our insistence upon the way we are to instead work towards our ideal selves (accepting that we may never reach them)to not make our partners suffer our minds and to instead better ourselves to present to them kinder versions of us. Insisting upon the truth can be as violent as a fierce hiding of it. 

The stakes of the naked truth are much too high for any mortal lover to provide a satisfactory treatment of them. The expectation of being perfectly understood is something we must keep to ourselves. It is the work of a lifetime to refine the ways in which we can communicate our needs effectively and have them met by another person. I can’t help but quote the entirety of these lines from Clancy’s book Love and Lies: “A grown up love, I think, will always believe that we can become more transparent to each other, while accepting that the transparency of complete visibility (which is an invisibility; to see completely through someone is to see him or her like glass) is impossible, probably undesirable, and maybe even threatening.”

Truth itself is something to be created, not discovered. Nietzsche posits the will to truth as the failure of the will to create. It is the work of the unproductive, suffering kind of person. Of those, he explains “who do not desire to create a world as it ought to be,” but take reality for granted. If we take Nietzsche’s advice that life is creation, and that it is our project of creativity, why not create something as endearing, fun, and generous as possible? Our interactions with the world can be as grand and splendid as we want them to be; as playful and satisfying to ourselves. What decides to trust and not-trust is the ego, what if we were to go beyond its frailties to instead embark on a project of satisfying the soul?