This is the greatest dish I have ever tasted,’ I tell the hostess with an ease that comes naturally to those who, having to choose between lying and hurting someone, lies. ‘I would gladly have this every day of the week.’
My wife points out that when I’m embarrassed, I exaggerate. Embarrassed by the terrible food, therefore, I swing the other extreme and suggest a Nobel Prize for culinary skills.
It’s all wonderful, but there’s a catch. For the past several years, whenever we have been invited to a certain friend’s house, I’ve struggled through the same dish. After all, I love it so much, don’t I?
At what age, I wonder, does speaking the truth become the easier option? When is it no longer better to have lied and lived? Perhaps at 70 or 75 – which is roughly the age when, going by the example of a couple of family members, those who’ve been agreeable and fun suddenly turn cranky and crabby.
Psychologists have never understood the change that comes over us. The explanation is actually quite simple. Such people have decided to speak the truth no matter what.
‘That is a terrible dish, you are merely masquerading as a cook, I wouldn’t feed that stuff to a refinement-challenged animal,’ I can see myself telling my friend the day after I turn 70 (or 75). Had I said it last week or last year or in the past decade, I’d have been deprived of weeks, years and decades of friendship. Sometimes it takes just one cook to spoil the broth over and over again.
My only worry is that my friend, having also qualified to speak the truth, might then say, ‘I hate your writing, you have always looked weird in those trousers, and why didn’t you shower all the years we have known you?’
By then, we would have known each other for more than half a century, and that kind of relationship should not fall victim to truth-telling.
Perhaps there is freedom in finally getting things off your chest, but if your guts aren’t tough enough to receive similar frankness in return, then dishonesty is the best policy.
So, for a few more decades, I shall continue to praise the cooking of a friend I get to see only a couple of times a year anyway. I shall stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and if that is not enough, grit my teeth and grin and bear it. Tell a person she is homely and she might forgive you; tell her she is a terrible cook and you make an enemy for life.