The Sad Truth About Subtext

2011 January 29

Hate To Break It To You is a recurring feature wherein we dispense succinct home truths that everyone could benefit from facing up to, unpleasant as they may be.

Aside from treasure maps and ransom notes, there are few communications worth parsing for hidden/secret meanings. Doesn’t stop us from reading into everything from our doctor’s raised eyebrow (Does he think I need to lose weight?) to a coworker’s “good luck” wish before a big presentation (Was that sarcastic?) to the ellipses at the end of someone’s Facebook status update, though. We’ve got it into our collective head that face value isn’t good enough, isn’t true enough. There has to be more. What about decoding body language? Sussing out subtext behind straightforward statements? Parsing the potentially passive-aggressive? If what we’re seeing or hearing doesn’t match up with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and others, we just dig a little deeper, squint a little harder until the pieces fit together in a way that works for us. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO TELL ME BY NOT TELLING ME?

The truth? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the precise reason why he hasn’t called you back is, only that he didn’t and that tells you all you need to know about him.  And you’ll probably never know why you didn’t get an interview for your dream job. Tough luck, but that’s the reality of job hunting, alas. What matters is that you stop spending your mental energy filling in the blanks, putting words in people’s mouths and intentions in their heads. Creating elaborately second-guessed narratives is exhausting and their veracity is nigh on unprovable. And no one’s gonna pay you J.K. Rowling level dough to torture yourself by reading between the lines of your crush’s three sentence text or stressing over whether your kickboxing instructor’s smirk was a silent judgment on your lack of fitness.

Sometimes, when literal is all you get, it’s also all you need.

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