I was raised to tell the truth; yet, I was also taught manners. These two ideals can be in conflict with our relationships, and the 2023 movie You Hurt My Feelings, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus does an exceptional job of exploring what we often call “white lies.”
The movie is R rated and follows one primary family (husband, wife, and adult son) as well as relatives and couple friends. It is complex, sincere, yet funny. Expect some sensitive subjects and language.
This isn’t a spoiler alert because it is in the copy for the movie’s trailer: a novelist’s marriage is upended when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book. Beth, played by Louis-Dreyfus, writes her second book. Her husband, Don, has read through the countless rough drafts, constantly telling her he thinks it is great and loves it. His motivation is to encourage his wife. However, Don tells his brother in-law he actually hates the book and how he feels it isn’t good at all. Beth accidentally hears the conversation. This sets up the whole “You hurt my feelings!” scenario, and it unfolds and plays out in a variety of ways.
Other events like saying you like a gift when you don’t, or you think a haircut is fine when it isn’t all come to the surface. In essence, everyone has the conversation about white lies…are they being loving or dishonest? Good question, and I’m not sure I have the answer. I struggle with this myself.
As a writer, I can relate to Beth’s hurt feelings. However, I would want to know the truth, even if it stung. I may not like the feedback, but I would love the person for telling me. Each of us is different. Some have very thin skin and struggle with hard truths while others can accept it a little easier. The challenge is for us to know the difference and adapt accordingly. I’m not suggesting we flat-out lie, but we can omit details. Sometimes, saying nothing is the best answer of all.
As I look back, I remember how my Mom and I would rather get something the other like instead of hearing white lies. We weren’t offended if an item was returned but seldom encountered it because we would get a list of “wants” to shop from. The more specific we could be, the better. 1) This made it easy on the shopper 2) It guaranteed the person receiving the gift would love it and be happy.
This brings up a point about gift giving: is it for the recipient or the giver? You would think it was about the receiver, but my experience is often the other way around. People tend to give what they want to get.
I can use this example because my friend and I now laugh about it, but for years, she would give me scarves for my birthday and Christmas. I don’t wear scarves unless I’m in 20 or below temps with snow flying in my face. Otherwise, no scarves for me. One time when she was visiting, we were in a store, and her face lit up over a scarf. “I’m going to get this for you,” she said. Apparently, my face fell because she noticed. In my head was, “Oh great, yet another scarf I will never wear.”
In her defense, I never told her I didn’t like scarves because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Her friendship mattered to me, so I just accepted them. Yet, I never wore one, but she loved them. When she saw my face drop, it finally dawned on her. “You don’t even like scarfs, do you?” We then talked about it, and I never got another scarf. I feel like our friendship got deeper and more honest. I still have a bunch of scarves in my closet. Even though I don’t wear them, I smile and think of my friend.
When we receive gifts, we don’t want to be ungrateful, spoiled brats when someone takes the effort, time, and money. Again, sometimes a simple “thank you” is all we should do. Where is the line, though, with close friends and family? Shouldn’t we be able to tell them what we like and don’t like? I would hope so, but it isn’t always the case. To this day, I still get candles even though I’ve told close friends I don’t like them, but they love them. Heck, my own husband has gotten me candles! So, I have a bunch of candles I don’t use unless those friends come over because they enjoy candles. Why? Because I love them. I smile and just say “thank you.”
As the movie goes, what telling the truth looks like will depend upon the individual. The discussions around it are worth hearing, and I am planning on watching the movie again. The reactions to white lies are all over the board, too. We could learn much from the scene where Don & Beth’s son spews his anger upon them for how they raised him. Their white lies (“Oh, you’re great at swimming,” when he was awful) felt like betrayal to him. What they thought was helpful was actually harmful, in his opinion. This is something to consider, and my Mom always said honesty was the best policy.
I don’t know where I land on this other than, “It depends.” I think we take it case by case and person by person. As Christians, we must look for ways to speak the truth but (key word) in love. How we share our likes and dislikes will matter along with timing. Being harsh and rude over a gift isn’t the answer. Word choices and tone are essential.
My husband and I have been married 25+ years, and we are still learning. You’ll see this play out in the movie, too. Humans aren’t stagnant. We are constantly growing and changing, as are our tastes. Who knows…maybe someday I will like scarves and candles!
I’ve always said relationships require hard work, and taking the time to understand those in your life should be a priority. We must be willing to step out of the way and put our own interests aside.
Without God in our lives, I’m not sure we can accomplish true selflessness and complete, 100 percent honesty. Even then, we will make mistakes. When people genuinely try, this is where perhaps gentle kindness is the answer. What says you? How honest are you? Do you feel white lies are okay?
I offer concrete relationship tips, ways to set healthy boundaries, and get some sanity back in your life in my book, I Want My Life Back.