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Thursday, March 2, 2017 12:12 am

A ruse is a ruse is a ruse

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
A year ago, the woman who pet-sits for me began inviting herself over for dinner. We started going out about three times a week. I always paid for dinner. She never introduced me to her friends, wouldn’t let me pick her up at her apartment and wouldn’t let me touch her. Even a genial “thank you” touch on the arm got a grim response. Her reason: She didn’t want a relationship. I kept hoping this would change. Recently, I went on Facebook and saw that she’s been in a relationship with another man. Her response? “Well, I’m not sleeping with him, so I can see whomever I want.” After a long, demoralizing year, I ended things. Did I do right by getting out? – Not a Game Player

Having regular dinners with somebody doesn’t mean you’re dating. I have dinner with my TV several nights a week, but that doesn’t mean I should get “Samsung forever!” tattooed on my special place.

Consciously or subconsciously, this woman deceived you into thinking a relationship was possible – but she had help. Yours. To understand how you got tripped up, let’s take a look at self-deception – through an evolutionary lens. Evolutionary researchers William von Hippel and Robert Trivers describe self-deception as a “failure to tell the self the whole truth” by excluding the parts that go poorly with our goals and our preferred view of ourselves. We do this through “information-processing biases that give priority to welcome over unwelcome information” – or, in plain English: What we ignore the hell out of can’t hurt us.

Seems crazy, huh – that we would have evolved to have a faulty view of reality? However, von Hippel and Trivers contend that the ability to self-deceive evolved to help us be better at deceiving others – keeping us from giving off the cues we do when we know we’re putting out a big fibby. As Trivers explains in The Folly of Fools: “We hide reality from our conscious minds the better to hide it from onlookers.”

Knowing that we do this can help us remember to ask the right questions – the ego-gnawing kind – and drag the facts upstairs to consciousness and give them a long look. Nice as it is to glimpse the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” it’s wise to make sure it isn’t just the one on the tip of the colonoscope.

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