It occurred to me this weekend as I told a story at my cousin's graduation party that I exaggerate a lot, and when I say, "a lot," I mean at least a third of what comes out of my mouth. I have no definitive reason for my behavior, yet I can admit it's there and always has been. I'm fairly confident the exaggerations started in grade school and stuck to my personality like glue.
Over the years, I've tried to curb my exaggerations. It's not that the things I say are fabrications, but even I can admit some of my stories can get widely exaggerated to the point of nearing a lie, much akin to a fisherman's tale. Part of that stems from my desire to be more interesting than I feel; after all, I live with my parents and rarely leave the house. There are few occasions something out of the ordinary happens, so when I tell my yarns, I want to captivate the listener as best I can--it's frustrating to known you're mundane.
I often wonder if an exaggeration is a lie. When I told my cousin over the weekend that I wore shorts to a 30th birthday party and woke up with a 100 bug bites (first number that popped into my head), was he able to tell I was exaggerating to get my point across? By his scrunched face and lack of response, I can only assume he didn't. He had a look that said, "What a bullshitter."
For me, I think what separates a lie from an exaggeration is intent. When I exaggerate, I feel it's obvious, something that can be distinguished moments after being said, and it's usually a case where I'm talking and thinking at the same time. It's also worse when I'm drinking, yet a lie is a purposeful deception. A lie masks the truth, giving wrong impressions that can last for years.
I also pride myself on being able to recognize both a lie and an exaggeration. As the saying goes, you can't bullshit a bullshitter--exaggerations are far less subtle and usually involve ridiculous numbers of whatever is involved. You'll hear things like, "There were a million puppies," or, "I saw a hundred people I knew," and after a moment to think, you conclude the person talking probably saw 3 to 10 people they knew. When it comes to lies, I usually have to pay attention to a person's eye contact or mannerisms. Unfortunately, I'm usually not happy with the things I detect. It can cause awkwardness, because sometimes, just sometimes, I can't help but call a person out.
Not too long ago I asked a friend if she had hooked up with someone at the bar. Even though I already knew the story, I asked out of curiosity, wanting to know how she'd react. As I suspected she laughed my question off and proceeded to inquire as to why I thought such a thing of her. When my attempts to change the subject failed, I responded, "You've been with my friends before. It's no big deal." Again, she pried, and I obliged her with the list of my friends I knew she'd had sex with, creating a long moment of silence as her face turned red. As always, it would have been better if I kept my mouth shut.
Along with quitting smoking and making sure I exercise 5 days a week, I'm also setting a goal to curb my exaggerations. This, more so than smoking or working out, will be the hardest to overcome, as I have a tendency to think aloud when talking.