“My face hurts … from pretending to like you.”

Like most people where I live, I am a mid-life transplant from a big city / metropolitan area to a small town, three hours from any major city.

Most of my peers have made the comment, “People in this small town are generally liars. They say one thing to your face, and then you find evidence that they think just the opposite, or have said the opposite to somebody else.”

Of course, most of the people guilty of this lying are not originally from small towns. Most of them are transplants from big cities, the same type of transplants making the complaints about all the lying.

So what gives?

My theory: Small towns mean fewer individuals. With fewer individuals, the widespread problem of lying and deceit is simply more visible.

Lying and two-facedness happen in New York City or Los Angeles just as much as in a small town. The only difference? There’s more insulation. It’s harder to catch people in it, because you have a greater quantity of interactions. Of course, if you inhabit some sort of subculture or community (e.g., an office, a small social organization) within a huge city, you’ll run into precisely the same sort of two-facedness encountered in a small town.

The real question here is: What causes all the deception?

There are basically two reasons people will lie. One is to gain something for nothing. This might involve financial or even criminal fraud; or it might involve wishing to gain esteem from another based on something other than the truth. This sort of con-artistry is widespread, but not everyone is good at it. And not everyone likes doing it. I believe this to be the lesser of two causes.

The greater cause is — and I know you’ll expect a psychotherapist to say this — personal insecurity. Personal insecurity can be based on many things. However, the way personal insecurity manifests is via a false belief — contained in very powerful, motivating emotions — that “I must be liked by others.” At almost any cost.

Unfortunately, this false belief comes at quite a cost. It comes at the cost of pretending to think one thing in the presence of one person, and then pretending to think something else in the presence of another.

It backfires on its own terms, especially in a small town. Sooner or later nearly everyone knows about everyone else’s two-facedness. Everyone ends up looking like an idiot, creating the incentive for even more obnoxious phoniness, in an attempt to cover up the prior phoniness.

The person with this insecurity is not deliberately trying to perpetrate a fraud, or gain something for nothing. At least not explicitly. Of course, any  bending or faking of the facts does involve a sneaky attempt to gain what you might feel to be in your interest. “If I tell Joey that I like this person, place or thing, then he’ll like me, because I know he likes it. But I know Jennifer doesn’t like it, so I’ll make sure not to play that up around her.”

Yes, there are the proverbial issues of religion and politics. People will pretend not to have disagreements in these areas. But it’s more widespread than that. It can refer to movies, celebrities, restaurants or other local establishments, someone else’s pets or children — literally anything.

A lot of people have the whole equation backwards. “If I’m going to have friends, I must have people who like me.” It logically (and psychologically) follows that you will play up/play down or outright fake your views in the presence of other people.

However, people who do this have reversed the equation. Because of their inherent lack of self-esteem, they fail to see the proper order of things: “I like what I like and I love what I love. I will seek out people who are like me.”

To such a person, while it might not be desirable to be alone, it’s certainly tolerable. And it beats the alternative of lying and faking your way through social circles best epitomized by the poster I’ve seen which says: “My face hurts … from pretending to like you.”

By refusing to be yourself with other people, you might falsely think you’ve gained something. But there’s nothing ever gained in faking or fraud. Only anxiety and loneliness will result. When you’re who you honestly are, you drive away the people you should drive away — and develop deep, loyal and lasting connections with those who should be in your life.

I don’t blame any of these on nonessentials such as small towns or big cities. The real problem is much more — pardon the term — global — than that.

My advice, other than don’t be a faker yourself? When you find people who know who they are, and act consistently as that person in varied situations, treasure such a person with all your might. They’re rarer than gold.

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