The Lexicon of Love
Last Saturday, sometime around 2:30 in the morning, I texted my friend Thumper.
“Hey,” I said. “I need your translation services.”
He texted me back immediately. “Sure thing.”
One of the advantages of having a BFF who works part-time in a leather shop attached to a bar is that he is generally awake at those times when I am mentally unwell.
As some of you may recall, I went on a couple of dates recently. Well, against all odds, there have been even more of them. With the same guy. I know. I’m surprised too. Pleasantly surprised. However, ongoing dating brings with it the inevitable issue of overthinking.
In this particular instance, I had spent a good couple of hours agonizing over a text. New Guy and I had made plans to get together. Later, he mentioned that he had been invited to do something with some friends at the same time. Being me, I assumed he was trying to get out of seeing me, so I might have said it was okay with me if he wanted to do that instead. He didn’t respond for a while, then said that we were still on.
“But just so you know,” he wrote. “I’m feeling crabby and antisocial. Hopefully my mood will switch a little once you get here.”
I forwarded the text to Thumper and waited. A minute later he wrote back. “What’s the problem?”
“Well,” I replied. “Obviously he’s telling me that he’d rather be doing that thing with his friends instead of spending time with me.”
“Got it,” Thumper texted. “You’ve translated this into Conversational Thumper instead of Reality.”
In addition to the fact that Thumper is awake when I need him to be, we also share a brain. Even better, the parts of this brain that don’t work well for one of us generally function adequately for the other. We’re like some kind of psychic conjoined twins, physically separated by 1,200 miles but inhabiting the same mind space.
“Well?” I asked impatiently.
“Hang on,” Thumper texted. “Selling lube to drunk people.”
I waited. Five minutes later, the answer came. “What he’s saying is ‘I am in a bad mood but looking forward to seeing you. Your presence will make me feel better.’”
I read the text half a dozen times before replying. “I don’t see that.”
“Of course, you don’t,” Thumper answered. “You think he couldn’t possibly choose spending time with you instead of with his friends.”
Because this was exactly what I was thinking, I didn’t reply.
“And no, he’s not in a bad mood because he feels you somehow pressured him into choosing you over his friends,” Thumper wrote without prompting.
Once, when I thought I might want to go to grad school, I took a class in reading and translating German for academic purposes. It was a horrible experience, primarily because I became obsessed with being as precise as possible. Similarly, I have taken something like 36 years of French, but when confronted with someone actually speaking it, I hear every word coming out of their mouth as pamplemousse and respond that oui, of course I would like to see the castle of their aunt.
When dating, I often feel as if the other person and I are speaking different languages. When he says “I had a good time tonight,” my brain hears “This was sort of okay.” When he texts “I like spending time with you,” what I see is “We make better friends than boyfriends.”
I used to think this was a self-esteem issue. And probably it is, at least partially. But I think it’s also a writer problem. Words don’t always mean the same thing to writers as they do to normal people. We like precision. Which is probably why our romantic lives are often briar patches of emotional turmoil. We parse every conversation, every text, looking for hidden meanings and, quite often, misinterpreting the very clear messages being sent by the other person.
The sound of a text coming in startled me from my overthinking. “I know what you’re doing,” Thumper said. “Stop it.”
“Sorry,” I wrote back. “And I think your translation is the correct one. You know I don’t speak Romance well.”
“It’s an honest mistake,” Thumper said kindly. “That shit is worse than Latin.”
Later on Saturday, I met up with New Guy as planned. And it was great. He wasn’t in a bad mood. He was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him. Being me, I looked for signs that he would rather be with his friends. But either he genuinely preferred to be with me or he was doing an excellent job of pretending. I mostly let it go.
When I got home that night, I texted Thumper. “Had a great time.”
A minute later, he replied. “And just what do you mean by that?” ▼
Michael Thomas Ford is a much-published Lambda Literary award-winning author. Visit Michael online.