Three Little Words

We were sitting at a table for two next to the window overlooking the High Street.
Was this a trick question? If I said Yes then what might follow? I wasn’t sure. If I said No, she’d probably walk out of the restaurant leaving me to pick up the bill. So what could I say?
“I don’t know”? Even that wasn’t a good answer.
“What do you mean, you don’t know? Either you do or you don’t.”
I don’t hold with this two-valued logic. But then, logic doesn’t really come into it.
“If you don’t know then that means you don’t love me.”
“No, it’s not that.” I’m trying to justify my position. “I really don’t know. I’ve not been ‘in love’ like this before. It’s all new to me. And I’m not certain what it is I feel. Can you understand that?”
The point is, ‘Do you love me?’ is a trick question. There is no way of answering that leaves you in any kind of powerful position, and surely, loving someone should build you up, not cast you down. If you say Yes, without having carefully thought through the consequences, which is in effect, telling a white lie just to please them, then that will be taken down in evidence and used against you at some later date, for the slightest of misdemeanours. But for the moment, she’ll be satisfied. It’s what she wants to hear, and I have supplied her with the ‘right’ answer.

But ‘I don’t know’ suggests a level of insecurity. She would say a lack of commitment. So what’s really going on here? I don’t know.

I can recall other times in my life when I’ve not known things, but still expected to produce a precise answer. This happened frequently during my schooldays: “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I never knew. I never saw my path through life mapped out in front of me. It was never a clear-cut case of “I’m going to be a journalist” or “I’ll be a singer in a band.” The world was always much more open than that. My way forward was always blocked by tall reeds, or grass, that stopped me seeing anything beyond the next few yards. I needed to sample many aspects of life before I could settle down – now, there’s a phrase – settle down into a steady job, take on a role, or a position. No, I didn’t even know if I was going to settle down. How could I know until I’d done it? I was happy to wait, but few of my questioners were. They wanted an answer there and then, matter settled – but all they got was “I’m not sure. I don’t know yet.”

Of course I made decisions about my career, my life, and I went on various training courses that offered sufficient vagueness and transferable skills, so that I could explore and discover, and reject –  quite often – the preplanned directions that others thought ‘sensible’. I could handle that – I took what I wanted, left the rest, and developed my own unique style of coping with the world. There was always choice. It wasn’t like the old days, when you went down the pit, or took over the family business, and married the girl next door. I wonder what happened to the girl next door. Jane. I know she didn’t marry the boy next door … so where did she end up? I don’t know. She made her choices too, not limited by geography or tradition.

I looked up from playing with the knife and the fork. “Sorry, I was miles away.”

So how would I know if I loved her?  If I were to say “Yes, I love you” then she might think that I was only saying that to please her, because she had asked the question in the first place. Perhaps what she really wanted was for me to spontaneously say “I love you” without her having to prompt me. But then I don’t know when I should ‘spontaneously’ make such remarks. Is there any kind of guidance on this? I don’t know.

“Do you love me?” she asked, tenderly.
“That’s a nice question,” I replied. “What do you think?”

© Peter Young 2015


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