Earlier today I was thinking back on a time when a lady friend said to me one of the worst things you can tell another person in a relationship: “We need to talk.” When my partner says, We need to talk…, I know it’s going to be bad. I hear We need to talk… and it’s a Code Red Alert, Relational DEFCON-1, batten down the hatches because Tropical Storm Oh Shit is coming. We need to talk… makes me feel exactly as when I was a kid and my mom would call me by my full nameâ€”Aaron Jacob Ducatâ€”and I knew I was really screwed (luckily I grew up in a pretty rural area surrounded by lots of trees and fields; it didn’t take me long to learn that when my full name was employed I was best to sneak out and hide myself under some fallen leaves until my mother’s storminess subsided). The main difference is that when I was a kid I knew what I’d done wrongâ€”I’d snuck a forbidden cookie or pushed that little shit Jamey Johnson on the playground; but as an adult when I’m bombed with that phrase generally I don’t have a damned clue what I’ve done.
To me, the most frustrating thing about We need to talk… is that it’s completely disingenuous. It carries itself with all the stuffy civility of a British gentleman in coat-tails but turns on you with all the ugly desperation of an urban lecher. Because when someone says to you, We need to talk…, he or she doesn’t actually want to talk with you. They don’t mean, It would be nice for us to have a conversation about your thoughts on the recent debt crisis. We need to talk… doesn’t mean, I’m curious about your childhood experiences with clowns or Let’s share our thoughts or feelings via the language that is unique to us humans and enjoyÂ a relational dialogue on a certain topic or topics. No, We need to talk… is exactly like that other relational foil, It’s not you, it’s me, because the real truth of that duplicitous statement is that it’s never me and it’s always you, and as such the statement really ought to be summarized as, It’s you that me doesn’t like anymore.
When your special someone says, We need to talk…, what they really mean is, “I have a complaint, about you, that I’d like to voice.”
To those who think I’m exaggerating the negativity inherent in this statement I counter with the following thought experiment. Ask yourself this: In the history of romantic relationships has anyone ever sat their partner down, looked them seriously in the eye, somberly said We need to talk…, and then followed it with, “you gave me the best orgasm of my life last night”?
No way. Never. No, no and no on all accounts, because that’s not what We need to talk… is about. We need to talk… is about bad and bad alone. It’s your partner expressing the negative things they feel about you or what you’ve done, and I emphasize the word “feel” because this phrase is always and only uttered exclusively from the subjectivity of the speaker’s experience; We need to talk… excludes any semblance of “objective reality” and you the hearer of this phrase would be a rube to try and appeal to such. We need to talk… is employed when another person who nominally or theoretically loves you or at least cares about you decides to express things about you that they find odious; and if you think the substance of the specific complaints will be mitigated by what you actually may or may not have done, to say nothing or your awareness of possibly having or not-having done the things in question, you’re missing the whole thrust of the phrase.
What We need to talk… is really all about is finger-nail clippings left on the arm of the sofa or not listening properly as he was trying to share his feelings about that particular color scheme for the floor runner or your smiling too long at the cute waiter. And once it has arrived, once We need to talk… has given way to the specific complaint, you can get defensiveâ€”you can argue that those aren’t your fingernail remains or that you really were listening and you do agree that the terra cotta runner would border the hallway nicely or that you were smiling at a story someone told you earlier and not at the waiter. You can appeal to ‘reality,’ whatever that is. You can implore gods or curse the skies; you can quote Shakespeare or you can dog-yourself and beg like a warbling hound. You can do any or all, you can foil and fib and filibuster all you’d like, but you’re caught and you won’t escape. Once you’ve been We need to talk…-ed, realistically you have one of two optionsâ€”you take it on the relational chin or you do what I did when I was seven years old and my mother yelled my full name: you run and hide yourself in the farthest, darkest place you can think of.
[Perhaps the entirety of this particular post could best be categorized under the Heading: Women; Subheading: Aaron’s-problems-in-speaking-with-them. In truth, I don’t think it’s what I say, or at least it usually isn’t; rather I think the problem lies somewhere in the transfer of the sounds from my mouth to their ears. It’s as if once things cross my lips they go through some sort of anti-translation loop that takes my words and transforms them to an output that is somewhere between Charley Brown‘s teacher and a fast-food drive-through window. For example, when I say, You look very nice tonight and I’m excited to share dinner with you, often the woman on the other end will hear a garbled and staticky, Mrrhh mrhh mrrhh have you gained weight? mrrrh mrrh your friend Joanne is so much hotter than you mrrrhh mrrhh I wish I was watching football with my friends mrrhhh mrhh fat mrhh mrhh. Try as I might I’m yet to comprehend this discrepancy, though a friend I discussed this with once reverted to the aphorism that ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’. I don’t know how much I buy into that, because while the ladies I’ve dated may in fact be from Venus, never once have I felt like I was speaking anything other than plain, simple English from America.]