Random AsidesSkepticism

Ask Surly Amy: Truth and Consequences

Dear Surly Amy,

I’m not sure if this even scrapes into the type of situation you normally deal with, but I’m hoping you can give me the perspective I’m missing.

I’m male, but in the first MMO I played, I created a female character. Later I was asked if I was really female – not knowing then what the opinion would be, I lied. A lie later perpetuated because the truth would eventually find its way to those who have trusted me.

I’ve been very close friends for over seven years now with one person, but I’ve come to realise that she’s not just “someone” – I’ve found my soul mate and it’s tearing me apart inside to not be able to tell her the truth.

She is very unhappily married and desperately looking for a way out – I want to give her that way out. To treat her with the love, respect and care she so rightly deserves. To always be there for her as I’ve promised I would be.

She is attracted to me too, for who I am rather than what I am, but should she know the truth?

~Why Can’t I Just Be Me

Dear Why Can’t I Just Be Me,

Short answer, yes. You should absolutely tell the truth.

Photo by Surly Amy

One of the most important qualities of a skeptic is one’s ability to admit mistakes and do what is needed to correct them. Skeptics and humanists alike value and should seek out truth whenever possible.

I’m pretty sure you realize that you need to come clean but you are afraid of what the consequences will be and rightly so.

Odds are pretty darn good that this online friend is going to very upset. You have lied to her and I am assuming others for seven years. Seven years is a looooooooooong time to keep a lie going. It is impressively long especially since you claim to have such a deep understanding and connection with this person. I can totally understand why you would be afraid to be honest at this point in the game (no pun intended).

You made a mistake and you need to face it.

You really have no choice at this point, if you hope to have any type of real life interaction with this woman, you are going to have to tell her the truth and explain why you lied. Which brings me to a question. What makes you think you are soul mates (if you believe there is such a thing) with someone you have never met in real life? Have you never talked on skype or even had a google+ hang out? She may be confessing her feelings to you because she thinks you are a safe online girl-friend but may have no intentions of having a real life connection with you. Things can be very different in the meatspace. To have never even talked on the phone to this person sends up some BIG red flags.

Before you can offer up your love you need to come from a place of honesty.

Photo by Surly Amy

I have a code that I live by. Well, I have a few codes but the one that applies to this situation is as follows:

If you are doing something that you need to lie about, it’s likely you are doing something wrong. So think first.

I know this isn’t a set-in-stone rule. There are occasions when it is necessary to lie like if you are hiding jews from the nazis or if your Mom asks you if those pants make her butt look too big. But in the mass majority of cases, it is really best to tell the truth.

Playing a female character as a male or vice-versa is really nothing to be ashamed of, carrying on an unnecessary lie for seven years is. You should come clean and give her the opportunity to like you for who you really are if indeed she even wants to. And look at the bright side, even if it doesn’t work out, you won’t have to spend all this extra energy carrying on the lie. You can start fresh and that should feel pretty darn great.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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30 Comments

  1. Yeah, I am 100% behind the Surly One on this point. If you personally identified as female, we’d have a far different story, but you don’t. It’s not uncommon to have an alternate gendered alt… my characters on LOTRO are two women and two dwarves (who, for some reason, cannot be female). Why? Because in the game, it is an aesthetic choice, and I like the aesthetics of women more than those of men. In other games, I’ll play both or either, depending on the story.

    Tell the truth. Who knows? She may already know.

  2. This is a great post, and a great response. The only thing I’d add to the conversation is that it might be worth him asking himself the question of why he felt the need to lie and present himself as IRL female in the first place, and what he may have found enjoyable out of that.

    Usually, people don’t maintain lies for seven whole years just for the sake of maintaining a lie. There’s usually some kind of incentive or reward.

    And I have known a lot of people who did do this kind of thing for whom it was an important act of early gender exploration.

    So… it might be something worth thinking about.

    I’m not saying that’s the explanation or that there’s anything deeper going on here, or even that it’s likely, just that he might find those questions worth asking. And if the answers really are just “seriously, I liked the aesthetics and was scared of getting laughed at for being a guy playing as a girl”, no harm done, and if the answers are something else, well… that’s definitely something that deserves consideration.

  3. I did something similar with a guy I met online but I lied about what I looked like. For six months we carried on a fairly emotionally intense relationship and then the truth finally came out. He was understandably upset and we remained friends for a while but it wasn’t the same. I can’t imagine the problems that it will be after 7 years but you can’t let it go on any longer. You need to fess up and accept the consequences. Its likely she won’t talk to you for a while but if the relationship is what you say it is, she might have a hard time staying away and after a few months you could work back to being friends and maybe something more at some point.

    tl;dr tell her the truth, accept the consequences, hope for the best.

  4. Excellent responce: And I have to echo Amys point that how can you think you’re soul mates when she doesn’t really know you. And I think you’ll find your impression of her is wishfull thinking. Not to say she’s not the wonderful person you think she is, but that you only half know her and are filling in the rest with your own imagination.

    You also don’t want to be a rebound relationship. If she’s truly unhappy with her marriage then she needs to leave it, and establish her own identity as a single person before she can start looking for a new partner.

  5. Great post, Amy. Definitely also questioning the “soul mate” thing.

    If anyone is interested in further reading on the consequences and value of lying and telling the truth, and you’ve got a couple bucks, I recommend Sam Harris’ new essay, Lying: http://www.samharris.org/media/lying/ I don’t agree with everything he writes here, but it provides some good food for thought.

  6. As a guy, I always prefer to play as female characters in offline RPGs (e.g. Fable, Eldar Scrolls, Dragon Age) because it’s FUN! But when I play online I play as male because I feel socially uncomfortable and implicitly dishonest presenting as female, yet somehow I don’t feel at all wrong with elf ears and magic powers. I can’t explain why. (???)

    Someone once told me that online, G.I.R.L. means “Guy In Real-Life”. I think they’s comming from that old “There are no girls on the internet” and “Male until proven otherwise” nonsense.

  7. I had some fun when I first came online in the ’90s pretending I was a guy just to see if I got treated differently. I would also sometimes go into a chatroom and and not use any gendered terms just to see what people thought I was. Apparently I come off as a gay man. I had some fun, and it was interesting to see the difference in treatment, but I never made any friendships or anything serious, and if I did I would be honest about it. It’s really important.

    1. I had this weird little experience with a web forum way back in 2002 where although at first I was being open about the fact that I was (at the time) a boy, people kept consistently assuming I was female. Eventually I just started running with it and made a point of not confirming my gender one way or the other. I definitely did get treated different, and did enjoy it (for somewhat obvious reasons).

      Maybe everyone should give a little innocent internet cross-presentation a try sometime. I wonder how much we could learn about gender and sexism! :)

  8. I got into a situation not unlike this when I was about 20. She was pretty pissed at first, in fact she said I “murdered her best friend.” But she kept talking, mostly because we were both the closest things either of us had to a “friend.” With time we built our own, real friendship. She still asks me to go for coffee from time to time in fact.

  9. I see “should she know the truth?” as having two sides to it, with two answers.

    Morally? Yes, absolutely. No question about it. You have a friendship built around a lie and she deserves to know the truth.

    On the other hand, right now the only one being hurt by this is you. If you confess, you hurt her too. So perhaps the answer is no?

    I will say this, I was once on the other side of your story when a close friend of mine revealed, after a little over a year, that “she” was really “he”. And yes, I was hurt. I would’ve been much happier not knowing the truth. And for various reasons, that friendship slowly died.

    But y’know what? Now, years later and I look back on it and see that I really don’t care if it was he/she/it/whatever. I miss that friendship.

    If you care for her as much as you say, you know what the answer is.

        1. Sorry, that was badly phrased. I actually agree with you.

          “And yes, I was hurt.” – I meant I was hurt because someone I trusted completely had been lying to me for the entire time I’d known them.

  10. Ahh, to think about a day and age where none of this will matter because we will be cyber brains in a cyber world and can be who and what ever we choose to be, if that can even exist anyways.

    Been watching too much ghost in the shell.

  11. Why do I have pieces from the Tootsie soundtrack running through my head right now?

    I don’t envy him the upcoming conversation, but I think it’s long past time to come out into the open about who he is. I think he needs to avoid the “I’m in love with you” part of the conversation until (if) she’s able to accept his actual status as a man.

    I have a friend who is bi, but felt entirely betrayed by an online “girlfriend” who turned out to be a much older guy. She might have liked him if he hadn’t pretended to be something else. (He didn’t come clean, she figured it out.)

    [On the other side of the conversation – I don’t do MMO, but I have been known to use female characters on video games, which really annoys a female friend. I think the game-generated guys on Wii look like tools and the girls are a little more fun to look at (and yes, I do somewhat mean that in an objectifying way, but it’s a game not reality), so if I can use my Mii in a game, I frequently select a girl.]

    1. Actually, that’s another thing. In addition to cRPGs, I play REAL RPGs. But I’ve noticed I have a marked disinclination to play female characters if there’s going to be a woman at the table. No woman? I’ll play whatever strikes my fancy. If there are going to be real women, however, I tend not to.

      I cannot think of any time when I’ve broken that (except once in High School, when someone dropped in unexpectedly).

  12. Being genderqueer, I mess around with online identities a fair bit, and always have. I’ve done ‘the confession’ about gender, though not in this context.

    It can be awkward. It can change how people think about you. If it’s something that could be important to the situation (which gender may be in the case of relationships) it’s best done early. Obviously, things may not seem important at first. The moment you know something is important but you decide to hide it, that’s lying.

    I say, go for honesty. The longer he waits, the worse it’s gonna get.

    On a tangent, it’s interesting to wonder about when gender matters to online interaction. Obviously, if you have two cisgender straight people possibly interested in a relationship with eachother, it’s important. I would be more upset if someone lied about their interests than their gender, seeing as that doesn’t necessarily dictate someone’s character (although some internet denizens think it does). On that note, it might also matter what sort of character this guy has presented, if it’s relatively unchanged except for the gender his friend might be less upset.

  13. I’m the one who asked this question.

    Firstly, my thanks to you Amy for your well thought out response, and to all the posters who have offered their opinion. You’ve all given me much to think about.

    @Natalie,
    Interesting. Why exactly did I be “female” for so long? It’s true that many guys do it for aesthetic reasons, some unfortunately do it to string other guys along and get special treatment. That was never me. I never acted differently (I don’t think), I never claimed to be female unless directly asked, which only happened twice. I just felt “better” about myself and more confident in who I was, when I was being “her”. Eddie Izzard once famously described himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body” and honestly, for a very long time I’ve felt that described me perfectly. But I had never associated that with my choice to play female characters until now. It’s very true that while I’m “her” I think differently and feel differently. It’s still the real me, but with some kind of filter that turns everything into “her”. I think maybe I become the person I would much rather be.

    Soul mates… maybe that was too strong a term (or my definition was wrong). I am realizing that the “love” is largely friendship rather than romance, and I’m probably idealizing the rest. But in some ways I still feel she is a soul mate, we have a far stronger friendship than any I’ve experienced before.

    @silvas,
    Everything… absolutely everything I’ve ever told her has been 100% truthful. The real me, my real experiences, my real memories, etc. The only lie I have ever told her is that I’m female. Well, and my real name.

    There is only one issue that’s holding me back now, and that is that there is something incredibly important in her life that would be a lasting reminder of the lie, the person that never existed. But she needs to know the truth, she deserves it. And yes, I will tell her, I truly hate myself for keeping such an important thing secret for so long. Any “difficult” issue, big or small that’s come up in the past, the friendship has bounced back incredibly quickly. Whether or not it will this time, only time will tell.

  14. You’re all sexist!!! I play a female dark elf on my MMO cause she kicks ass.

    As for this guy…I feel really bad for your troubles guy but, maybe it’s time to turn the console off, take a walk, and get some fresh air.

  15. And a male dark elf would not kick equal amounts of ass?

    I mean, I don’t know what MMO you play, but most are, mechanically, pretty gender-neutral, in that male characters and female characters aren’t much different aside from models.

  16. “To have never even talked on the phone to this person sends up some BIG red flags.” – Amy

    This, this, and double this! You claim to have a soul mate, but I’m sorry to say, much of your impressions of her are all in your head. You said, “[…]I’m probably idealizing the rest.” That is correct. No, it’s not a mental condition. It’s the way we interact when we use computer-mediated communication (CMC). Our impressions of each other grow as strong as they do in face to face interactions, but at a slower rate. Strength of an impression, however, is not equivalent to accuracy. We have a need to reduce uncertainty, and we do so in CMC by filling in the gaps with the halo effect (or it’s reverse). Instead of getting the necessary cues from her (i.e., vocal cues, eye contact, dress, and the many and powerful oh-so-subtle body language cues) you fill in your own. There is an entire body of literature on CMC, not to mention hoards of online daters who can share their stories of how different someone can appear online compared to in person, regardless of how many interactions may have occurred.

    This is not to say that she may not be your one true love or even a very great real-life friend. This is not to say that you haven’t picked up on some cues that would be equally helpful in understanding her had they been in face to face interaction. But it would be a huge mistake to put much weight in your own impressions of her if you’ve only communicated by text in game.

  17. I’m surprised that I’m the first one to realize the perfect solution to this problem:

    1. Ask to meet in a bar with dim lighting.
    2. Show up dressed up as a girl, and speak in a high voice.
    3. Arrange to get a call from your “twin brother” who’s in town unexpectedly. Ask her if it’s okay for him to join you, since you hardly ever get to see her.
    4. Arrange for a second call that takes you away on emergency business. Ask her to have drinks with your brother until you get back.
    5. Duck into your car, change clothes, remove make-up, and come back in as yourself, a.k.a. the twin brother.
    6. Connect with her. Bond. Etc.
    7. Arrange for a third call. Fall into her arms, crying, because you’ve just been told that your “twin sister” was pronounced dead on the scene after being hit by a drunk driver.
    8. Marriage.

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