Have you ever played the Worst Word game? You know, the one that usually results in a group of people gagging over ‘panties’ or ‘gusset’ or ‘discharge’? I know, I know – and I’m sorry for making you read that – but I have two more I want to add to the list: ‘always’ and ‘never’.
I admit they don’t make me cringe the way I do when I hear ‘panties’, but it occurred to me recently that the further I travel in life the less I find myself using ‘always’ and ‘never’, and the less I want them said to me. They come laden with the weight of expectation, and my experiences tell me that expectation always precedes disappointment. I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve truly been disappointed in my life, but the truth is I remember every one. That’s what disappointment does; it leaves a mark that no amount of soul scrubbing can remove. And that’s okay. It’s through those disappointments I’ve learned the most about myself, but they remain what they were – great disappointments. And once I started to scrutinise it I realised that, in most of those situations, much of the heartbreak could have been avoided if ‘never’ or ‘always’ hadn’t been uttered.
I think what I’ve come to believe is that they’re used too flippantly to be bound as tightly as they are to human emotions. We promise never to cheat, never to stop loving someone, never to hurt another person, or that we’ll never want children. We say we’ll always be there, that we’ll always be together, and that we’ll always have each other. We talk about always loving people, declare that we’ll never give up, and promise to always look on the bright side of life. But in truth we mean these things only as long as the conditions in which we say them remain the same. What we really should be saying is “I will never cheat on you provided nothing changes” or “I will always be here for you as long as something terrible doesn’t happen to me.” The reality is life can and does change quickly, and promises made under different circumstances can suddenly become unrealistic. This isn’t only related to romantic attachments. Illness, accidents and altered living circumstances all have the potential to break unbreakable promises. I can’t say “I never want someone I love to die” because I have watched people in the final stages of illness and, despite loving them very much, I did want them to die in the end. I guess I can say “I never wanted to see them sick in the first place” but that’s not really the same thing. Besides, I once wished for an ex with a drinking problem to fall sick because I was so desperate for her to give up alcohol. Despair can make for irrational requests of the world.
Even at the most basic day to day level ‘never’ and ‘always’ are hard to commit to. I can’t even say “I’ll never eat corned beef as long as I live” because there are stories of people who wake up from comas and everything about them has changed. Unlikely as that seems given my utter loathing for Silverside, I have to admit it’s possible. I doubt I’ll ever buy a Justin Bieber album either, but who knows? There’s a woman in America who woke from a coma speaking with a French accent; bet she never expected that to happen.
I don’t know, maybe I’m over-analysing like I always do. I’m not trying to be maudlin about it. I just can’t help thinking that some of our falls in life wouldn’t be so hard if these two words and the pressure to live up to them didn’t exist. But they do exist, and at the very least we should try and use them sparingly.
What do I want to hear instead? Well…I want someone to stand in front of me and say they’ll try their hardest despite the circumstances; that they’ll love me for as long as they can, that they’ll do their very best not to hurt me, and that they’ll fight to stay in my life for as long as they are able – and for them to understand that by offering the same in return, I am promising far more than I would be if I just said “I’ll never hurt you.” Maybe that way we’ll find delightful surprises far outweigh crushing disappointments.
And I can go back to believing ‘moist panties’ are the worst two words you’ll ever whisper in my ear.