My New Favourite Thing Is Lying To Strangers

Photographed by Renell Medrano
"So my boyfriend would tell me not to share with you. BUT I’ve really got into lying at the moment."
So begins Holly’s TikTok about her 'lying era' in which she walks urgently through London, outlining her recent lies. Lies such as pretending to know how to box in a boxing class, feigning ignorance about the Pret subscription programme to a Pret barista and inventing a career as a foot doctor (which she calls a paediatrician, not a podiatrist) in front of strangers at the pub.
There is something about the concept of 'getting into lying' that tickled me deeply. With good reason, many of us have an ingrained moral objection to lying. That moral outrage is of course justified: obscuring the truth is a way of avoiding blame, abusing trust or deceiving people. No one is denying that lies with an agenda are wrong.
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But lying for the fun of it with nothing to gain? That’s spicy. That’s outrageous. That’s like taking whatever nonsense your head is filled with to the pub and pouring it out on the bar to see what happens.
I decided to speak to Holly on the phone about it (as she walked urgently through London, naturally). She explains that while she has the most fun lying to strangers, it actually started closer to home.
"It kind of started off with my friendship group – I would just start chatting shit because I thought it was funny. I'd make up something about my past like, 'Oh my god do you remember that time I bumped into Kim Kardashian on the underground?' and people would be like, 'NO?!' I'd get other friends in on the lie as well. Eventually I'd have to admit that it was a lie because otherwise they'd ask about it again."
With friends, you are obviously limited in how much you can lie by the fact that they actually know you. You can test the boundaries of what they will believe (why would you believe Kim was getting the train?) but you can’t just invent a new self out of whole cloth. You can when it’s small talk with strangers.
"Lying to strangers was more rewarding because I could be anyone I wanted then," Holly explains. "When you're talking to a randomer and they're chewing your ear off, you think, I don't care about anything you're saying, you don't care about anything I'm saying, so I might as well make my life randomly a lot more interesting." It's basically like storytelling. I'm writing my own episode in front of my own eyes. It's quite fun."
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She explains that she reserves these kinds of stories for random in-person moments, though she will always reveal the deception if it’s with friends.
"As long as it's not harmful, the lie could go on for as long as it needs – then it's funnier when the person realises you were chatting shit. I think the line drawn is that if you lie to friends, it's only ever something really stupid. But with strangers, it's just quite funny that there's these random mateys hanging about in the world that think that I'm a foot nurse. I quite like that."
Holly adds that she sees these lies more as a little treat than a regular exercise. "I'm obviously not lying all the time because that would be really exhausting and then it's not funny. A lying era is when people are talking to you and you can't be arsed."

I'm obviously not lying all the time because that would be really exhausting and then it's not funny. A lying era is when people are talking to you and you can't be arsed.

HOLLY
There is something fundamentally silly and naughty about lying in this way. It taps into a mischievous side of ourselves that’s not always given space to shine.
I had assumed that psychotherapists would read something deeper into this behaviour. But Ali Ross, psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), agrees that there is something fundamentally good to be gained from telling fibs.
"We take mental health and morality so seriously, and actually sometimes it's really healthy to just play around with your identity," he tells me. Ali even says that having this ability to invent stories about yourself can be an asset. "There's something to be said for the fact that you've got the artistry to tell a compelling story. That's part of your charm and not to be exclusively discredited just because it's not the truth."
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However, he emphasises that this is only within reason. "It becomes problematic if that's your constant way of being and you're telling those stories because, on some level, you don't feel like you're enough in yourself and you have to inflate your personality to be palatable or, worse, lovable."
With this in mind, Ali advises being mindful of context – don’t pretend to be a surgeon if you're standing in a pub next to a hospital, for example – and to keep in touch with who you are behind the story.
"It's like everything in life: the basic moral of don't do harm to yourself or other people. Sometimes we inadvertently cause harm and the responsible, human thing to do is to try and recognise whenever harm is coming or has happened and then acknowledge or take responsibility for it and stop causing harm at that point. And then the rest is all good."
Holly agrees, pointing out that our vocabulary probably needs updating. "I think when it's a pointless lie, it's fine. We need to invent a new word – it's more of a fib than a lie. A pointless lie is not in the same category as a white lie. I don't think that's good. I'm not condoning any kind of lie that has any kind of impact. I think the only time that a lie is fine is when it's just someone that's chewing your ear off in the pub and it's a form of entertainment. I'm not making any benefit out of it. No one's praising me or anything. I'm just passing the time."
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Life for the past few years has been stressful and overwhelming. You don't need to look far to find some news that feels like a fictional tweet (hello, Matt Hancock on I'm A Celeb) or witness an online claim that's clearly false get traction (remember when Harry Styles 'spat on' Chris Pine?). So what not play harmlessly with those boundaries? Life is hellish! We have to find fun where we can.
As Holly puts it: "It's just a bit of mischief!"
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