There is a duality to expectations; you are expected to keep up and to succeed with those around you, but you are also expected to do everything possible in order to succeed – even if that means lying to others and to yourself. You put down a finger or risk leaving yourself open to criticism and mockery. It’s our chameleon-like instinct.
“Yeah, I’ve lied before; everyone’s done it,” Lucas Allen*, a first-year student says. “You want to be a part of the group.”
The peer pressures that can arise from games like “Never Have I Ever” are evident elsewhere in our lives as we are evaluated on our performances in multiple settings. There are demands from our parents to do well in school, from the professional world to obtain and maintain jobs and to keep up with the social repertoires of our peers. When we don’t do the things that people anticipate of us, does the truth of who we are and what we hope to accomplish make us winners – or are we victorious because of the success of the poker face we present?
Now more then ever, we feel the stress of the peripheral pressures from our families to do well and to follow the paths they have laid out for us. If we do not, we share the fear of disappointing our loved ones. As the son of a lieutenant, Lucas participated in the police cadet program for the last 12 years at the Summerville Police Department’s Explorer program. He says that he does not mind the police work, but that he has never had an interest in pursuing law enforcement as a career, despite what those around him believe.
“My parents make me do it,” Lucas shrugs. “Being a cop isn’t a job; it’s a lifestyle that I don’t want.”
These academic pressures from our parents transfer into the business world as we feel the stress to succeed on a broader professional scale.
Virginia Blue, a fourth-year marketing and entrepreneurial management student with a minor in education admits: “I’m applying for grad school in architecture, and the closest I’ve come to studying architecture was my three-week study abroad program this summer.”
Virginia wanted to major in architecture coming out of high school, but counselors and admissions programs advised that she choose a different career path. “People would say, ‘Didn’t you fail calc? Don’t you need to be strong at math for architecture?’ When people tell you that you’re not going to be able to do something, you start to believe it.”
Now, she must go through a competitive interview process and pull a portfolio together from scratch. In order to strengthen her application, she stretches the truth about her goals.
“I like to tell people I did business in undergrad because my ultimate goal is to have my own architecture firm, but that’s not true at all,” Virginia admits. “I’ve spent the past four years of my life figuring out what I do not want to do, but I can’t say that. When you can’t quantify why you really want to do something, you can’t prove yourself to somebody.”
In the professional world, admitting indecision of any form is never a concrete enough answer. You must be able to perform at the highest level, or you are written off as incapable.
For his summer internship at a television station in Myrtle Beach, second-year media arts student Wayne Foster was told to edit a commercial using a video-editing program he’d never touched in his life.
“I said I could do it because I needed to learn from people who knew what they were doing,” Wayne says. “So, I sat in the office and watched tutorials all day and edited the video.”
As a result of his work, Wayne was asked to return the following Monday to take on new projects, but he realizes the risk he took.
“Had I messed up,” he says, “[that situation] could have ended poorly. But to me, in creative opportunities, it’s OK to present your capabilities even if you’re doing something new. I knew I could do it, so I did.”
For those like Wayne, projects that arise due to exaggerated truths challenge them to acquire new skills, but for people like Virginia, there remains the chance of failure.
“I guess I could tell everyone the truth,” Virginia says, “but how well would that go over? I just don’t know.”
Situational doubt is most obviously encountered in relation to social expectations. Nora Wright, a third-year journalism student, loves to go out, but she has never been drunk.
“Once in a while I’ll recognize that I’m in a crowd of people who are going to think I’m lame, a prude or super religious,” Nora says, “and in these situations, I just make things easier and tell them I’m the designated driver – implying that drinking it something I do normally, but I’m lying.”
While she admits that it can be entertaining to pretend that she’s drunk, when she actually expresses the truth, she is treated with hesitancy by her peers because she does not live up to their expectations of what college students are supposed to be doing. By virtue of the lie she tells, her peers more readily accept her – but if she presents the truth of who she is and what she believes, she draws a wall between herself and others.
"I feel like when I’m not drinking, I’m making other people feel guilty – and it’s their guilt that sometimes forces me to lie,” she says.
Whether it’s living up to the social expectations of our friends, performing well in school or in the job world, we feel the persistent demand to give in to the pressures to do things that we may or may not be able to handle.
It’s been six years since I played that round of Never Have I Ever. If I were to play again today, I probably wouldn’t be holding up too many fingers. You may think that’s a good or bad thing, depending, but I’ve come to the realization that “never have I ever” doesn’t actually have to mean “never will I never.”
*Names have been changed for this story.