10

Background

I have an alternate personality. Not like a medical disability (though it could be argued that the paranoia that started this is a problem), but like a fake life story I use when I need to participate somehow but don't want to use real-life details.

This started from online gaming when I was in highschool for safety reasons. I chose a fake name, and built a life story for myself. As time went on, it got more elaborate and I started using it IRL as well in situations where I didn't want to talk about myself, but there was some sort of social obligation.

It's become a habit at the point to just use my alternate name if I'm not required to use my real name (like for legal reasons). Like small talk with a person I'll never see again at a bar or something. This means, socially, I'm effectively two different people that are never in the same room.

Problem

The problem here comes from the fact that I've been hanging out with a group I originally introduced myself to with my fake identity. I'd like to move them over to my real life, but I have no idea how to even communicate that everything they think they know about me is false.

The fake identity is not intended to hold up to scrutiny, it is literally a means of getting out of answering questions I don't want to answer. So this is generating a fair amount of stress. I didn't anticipate wanting to make this activity a larger part of my life (swing dancing) or interact with these people outside of the activity itself.

Question

So how can I explain this to these people without losing their friendships?

  • 1
    Just how much have you told them that's not true? There's a big difference between explaining that they don't know your real name and you're not the youngest of 15 siblings compared to more personal things like your likes/dislikes and your true personality. – scohe001 Oct 5 '18 at 19:09
  • 1
    Have you taken any kind of benefit from your fake identity? – user21996 Oct 5 '18 at 19:11
  • 2
    Though the context is not exactly the same, the most upvoted answer here interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/15934/… probably contains solid advice. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 19:12
  • Likes/dislikes and personality are all largely the same. I'm a bit more extroverted since there is not (supposed to be) as much commitment. So it mostly name, job, education, general life history. All the stuff you talk about when you meet someone. "Who are you" "Where are you from" "What do you do" "Where did you go to school". That sort of stuff. – threesmallchildreninanovercoat Oct 5 '18 at 19:13
  • I know that information seems trivial, but it is the foundation of friendships. And breaking the foundation apart seems like a recipe for disaster. – threesmallchildreninanovercoat Oct 5 '18 at 19:15
8

With my friends I go by my middle name, but my legal name is on all my documents. This has caused problems both ways. Friends I meet wear betrayed expressions when they see my driver's license or come with me to get my mail. At my first job I didn't tell HR before they setup my email and badge so I figured "screw it, I won't be too close to people at work, it won't be a problem."...And then I invited some of them to hangout with friends outside of work and it was a mess. Half of them calling me "Sco" and the other half calling me "he001." Trust me, I know exactly how you feel.

I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that telling them usually causes shock and awe for maybe an hour max and then they've forgotten about it. I'll get jokes for weeks or months about how weird it is that I have two names, but as long as I joke back it's usually pretty light.

The bad news is that telling them is going to result in a lot of questions. "Really? That's so weird, why would you do that? (jokingly) Who even are you anymore?!" You may have a slightly harder time since you have more to make up for than just a name, but the situation will probably play out in about the same way. If I were you, I'd try to let them discover your real name first and then explain more after you let them swallow that. After all, the name is probably the biggest hurdle to get over.

Maybe when you're getting your wallet out to pay you say "Oh my goodness, I hate having to look at XXX year old threesmallchildreninanovercoat every time I open my wallet. Do you have a terrible driver's license picture too?" Inevitably, they'll ask to see yours and when they do they'll probably see the name and you'll get a bunch of questions.

Here's the secret: they're only going to think that it's as bad as you do. If you freak out and start stuttering "Uh...um...yea, I don't know...I, I guess I've kinda lied to you guys about a lot of stuff" they're only going to get more suspicious. Relax, be casual, laugh and say:

Didn't you know? threesmallchildreninanovercoat is my nickname! My legal name is XXX, like on the license. I can be a little paranoid about information when I first meet people, so I usually go by threesmallchildreninanovercoat. I respond to either if you like my legal name more!

Let them digest this. Answer more questions about your name. Take the jokes for a few weeks. And next time they bring up something about your past they're wrong about you can gently correct them.

Them: [...] Did you study about that at Harvard?

You: Err, actually I was at Yale. That was probably my paranoia with my personal information when I first met you. But we actually didn't! At Yale we focused on...

And slowly correct the lies one at a time as they come up.

It'll be a long road and you'll have to be willing to take a few jokes and play along, but all in all as long as you can convince yourself that this isn't a big problem and play it off that way, they won't think so either.

Best of luck!

  • As you said... "telling them is going to result in a lot of questions". They will be unsure about OP wanting to know exactly where they stand and what the truth is. It seems clear that some of those questions will be about the fake backstory. Are you suggesting OP lie again? If not, when OP tells them that one part of his backstory was a lie, naturally they will ask about the next. Given all this, I think it is totally unreasonable to suggest OP "slowly correct the lies one at a time as they come up" unless you can also suggest a way to manoeuvre around those questions. – Jesse Oct 7 '18 at 9:43
  • @Jesse I'm not sure where I suggest more lying (unless you're considering it a lie by omission that OP wouldn't say everything at once). I'm suggesting that if they treat this as not a big deal then it won't be that big a deal. The "a lot of questions" part you quoted is in respect to the name reveal. I don't think the latter situations will result in too many questions and even if OP does get things like "Are there any other things like that?" they can respond with "Maybe a few, but they're all pretty small like this. I'll correct you like this as they come up." – scohe001 Oct 7 '18 at 14:07
  • 1
    I am saying that the natural response to "Maybe a few" is to insist "Like what? Did you really go to Harvard?". Assuming that OP's friends will not address the elephant in the room just because its like, totally not a big deal man seems a bit too optimistic. – Jesse Oct 8 '18 at 1:54
  • A company I worked for changed their email system for some reason to not use the names everyone had given, but the names taken from people's passport. About 20 percent used different names. There was one guy whose name nobody recognised, and it turned out it was the company's boss. (He's quite well known in the industry, but not under his "real" name). I used my middle name - which actually is my legal name - all my life. Just nowadays it's a problem flying. Which is why the actor Michael Caine changed his legal name to Michael Caine. – gnasher729 Mar 31 at 22:04
6

You need to apologize

There are many socially acceptable techniques you can use for not answering social questions, as opposed to putting forth such an effort into creating a fake persona and portraying it as one's own.

No one likes being lied to. Even small, innocuous lies will make others perceive you as untrustworthy. Lying like you are isn't common, and many people are actually incapable of doing it. Think of it like a weapon (because it can be used as one). Once you show someone that you are capable and willing to use this weapon on them, they are going to become uneasy.

Keeping your identity private is fine, but you're doing it in an inappropriate way. Sometimes, people ask you those social questions because they want to get to know you. If they wanted to get to know a fictional character, they would watch a movie.

But, mistakes happen, and they are fixable if your friends forgive you. I recommend trying to make light of the situation as much as possible. Timing is important.

Wait until a friend mentions one of your lies:

Friend: Hi [Your fake name]

You: Yeah... about that. That's not my real name. (A smile might go a long way here)

Friend: Really? Well what is it?

You: It's [Real Name]. The reason I used the other name is because I can be a little paranoid about my identity. I promise it's not because of some dark secret or because I'm an undercover CIA agent.

Friend: Oh, well, that's okay. Is there anything else that isn't true?

You: Yeah, I generally use fake info that can identify me, such as where I was born, where I went to school, my job, etc. Everything else is true. I'm really sorry I lied. I promise I'll be truthful with you from now on.

Rinse and repeat with all your affected friends. If they ask questions, answer them 100% honestly. Otherwise, just correct your falsehoods as they are brought up in the future.

That conversation is an example. What's most important is that you:

  1. Apologize
  2. Promise you won't lie to them again
1

I'd like to complete scohe001's (very good) answer. Although answering questions or correcting false information as they come can be a good strategy, it might be a good idea to have a "big talk" at one point. First because if you correct them a couple of times, they might have a moment of "Again ? What else have you lied about ?". Also, it's not just one person you wish to integrate in your "real" life, it's a group of people, so it might be easier for them and you if you give the gist of things to everyone in one setting. You limit the number of times you'll need to correct people, they'll also be less confused if they hear a mix of "fake" and "real" information from one another.

Either way, your tone will be the most important, no matter the strategy you decide to take. Like scohe001 said, people take their cues from you, so if you're treating this like it's no big deal, people will be more likely to take it that way too. Also, if they are upset, don't be defensive and don't act like them being upset is no big deal. You did lie to them and they have a right to feel weird/betrayed/... The best thing you can do is acknowledge their feelings, take it in stride, and propose to answer as many questions as they want.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.