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. In fact, 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.