She was suspicious of words. ‘One can talk problems into existence’, she had once said, and just as problems could come from words, so good things could be destroyed by them. I remembered her telling me that, when she was twelve, her parents had sent her on a camping holiday. There she had fallen in love with a boy her age, and after much blushing and hesitation, they had ended up taking a walk around a lake. By a shaded bank, the boy had asked her to sit down, and after a moment, had taken her damp hand in his. It was the first time a boy had held her hand. She had been so elated, she had felt free to tell him, with all the earnestness of a twelve year-old, that he was ‘the best thing that had ever happened to her’. The next day, she discovered that her words had spread all over the camp. A group of girls chanted mockingly ‘the best thing that ever happened to me’ when she came into the dining hall, the honest declaration replayed in a mockery of her vulnerability. She had experienced a betrayal at the hands of language, the way intimate words may be converted to a common currency, and had since hidden behind a veil of praticality and irony.

Essays in Love – Alain De Botton

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