When I was 21 years old, I experienced what might be termed a minor break with reality. I was fresh out of a three-year relationship—one that had been defined by my partner’s serial dishonesty. In the months following the breakup, I found myself questioning some of the things my ex had told me over the years, chipping away at the foundations of my understanding of him.
Major life moments began to seem suspect. A few months into our relationship, my partner told me that one of my friends said I wasn’t fitting in well at college, that the people I’d been hanging out with weren’t really all that fond of me. I felt unmoored by that remark, abandoned and vulnerable enough that when, immediately after, my partner suggested we move in together, I didn’t have the presence of mind to consider all the reasons it might not be a good idea. Now I had to contend with the possibility that my friend never said that; that the nasty comments people had been making about me were nothing more than another invention sold to me by my ex.
Offhand comments he’d made over the years were similarly suspect. In retrospect, it seemed unlikely that his uncle’s wife’s family actually owned Chicago’s famous Crain Communications Building. Details I had taken for granted about his friends and family and past relationships began to unravel before my eyes.
It would have been one thing if this sense of uncertainty had remained contained in my past relationship, but it began to spill into the rest of my life. I became vigilant against potential liars, and that vigilance became paranoia. If someone expressed affection for me, how could I know that they really meant it, that their professed feelings were genuine and not just a cruel attempt to manipulate me? How could I regain confidence in my judgment, in my perception, in my very reality?
Fifteen years after that breakup, I find myself thinking about what it means to lose the ability to distinguish between reality and mendacity, to arrive at what so many have called “the end of truth.” As new technology amplifies our ability to create and disseminate deception, many people have begun to fret that our…