Why we all lie to get out of socializing, and how to do it right

Texting a white lie to get out of a social outing isn't necessarily a bad thing, one psychologist says. File / Global News

Who hasn’t lied to get out of social outings? We all do it. And psychologists and studies say it’s totally justifiable — largely because there’s nothing like a little “me time.”

For you, that could mean catching up on chores. For this writer, it means some snacks, Netflix or a book, and most definitely a nap.

Whatever you’re into, we can likely all agree that staying in can be way more enjoyable (and cheaper) than the whole big production of going out. So if telling a little white lie gets you that freedom, who is anyone to judge?

If you can’t relate, and think people who bail on plans are horrible human beings, you’re probably in the minority.

Studies back it up

A survey of 2,000 Americans aged 18 to 54 revealed this year that 80 per cent of us lie or make excuses to avoid going out. The conclusion: “FOMO” (the fear of missing out) has been replaced by “POMO” (the pleasure of missing out, also known as “JOMO”).

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Embrace ‘JOMO’; it’s way cheaper than ‘FOMO’

It was commissioned by a food delivery service which, sure, may have a vested interest in people staying in. But the findings are in line with what seems to be our growing anti-social ways.

The way Canadians spend their time hasn’t been examined by Stats Canada since 2010. Even then, though, “people spent [seven per cent] less time socializing with friends and relatives face-to-face” than 12 years prior.

Now millennials (aged 18 to 34) choose to stream 2.7 hours of TV shows a day, according to a U.S. consumer research agency. They also spend about 3.1 hours a day on their phones. That adds up to nearly a whole day every week.

READ MORE: Is your smartphone ruining your social life?

So why are so many of us opting out of social situations?

‘You want to focus on the things that are most important to you’

Alexandra Freund, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, explains people become more selective with their time as they get older.

Story continues below advertisement

“They weed out the things they don’t want to do anymore,” said Freund, who specializes in social motivation during adulthood.

She thinks younger people may feel pressured to go out more for fear of missing out on networking opportunities and new experiences.

“There are so many countries you haven’t travelled to, people you haven’t met who might be really interesting, movies you haven’t seen… all the kinds of things you don’t know yet.

By then, you’ve also “experienced many things and know what you like,” Freund added. “You want to focus on the things that are most important to you.”

‘An effective lie’

Psychologist Robert Feldman knows a thing or two about lying. He’s done dozens of studies on the topic at the University of Massachusetts. He’s written a whole book about it, as well.

Feldman definitely sees a purpose to the white lies we tell to cancel plans.

“They serve a useful function in social life,” he said.

White lies are a sign of good social graces, Feldman argues. They can protect people’s feelings and make “things run more smoothly.”

Story continues below advertisement

“We all do things that we don’t want to do very much… so when we find a way that we can get out of it, even if at the root of it someone is lying to us, we’re happy to receive that lie.”

If you are going to tell a white lie to get out of something like a dinner, Feldman recommends making it more credible by “embellishing” a little and telling the host what he or she would want to hear.

So rather than just saying, “I’m sorry I can’t make it,” he suggests something more along the lines of this:

“I feel so terrible I’m going to miss dinner because you are such a great cook, and I just love your dinner parties because they’re always so much fun.”

That excuse delivers a compliment while also conveying your regret, Feldman points out. It also likely won’t be questioned because it’s consistent with how the host probably views him or herself.

He insists, however, that he’s “not promoting lies” and admits they can be a slippery slope.

READ MORE: Scientists say politicians lie more than you do

So choose when you white lie — and to whom — wisely. You don’t want to always ditch the same person. Because then you’ll for sure be seen as a jerk.

Story continues below advertisement

Being less social doesn’t mean you’re lonely

Some experts have expressed concerns over people’s solitude, saying “staying indoors can hurt a person’s emotional well-being.”

“I can’t tell you how often I hear [patients] say, ‘I did nothing this weekend and I feel terrible,'” Manhattan clinical psychologist Michael Brustein said to The New York Post last month.

Freund doesn’t seem to worry about that and is determined to bust the stereotype that older adults are lonely because their social contact is more rare.

“Generally, the peak of loneliness is in younger adulthood,” she said. “That’s when you have a lot of people around but you don’t relate very closely to them.”

“That’s the worst.”


Sponsored content