If I were you is a sentence that never needs to be finished,” he said.
It was genius, something I had never heard or considered. It became a word tattoo etched into my skin, being and world view.
When someone said, “If I were you” I’d reply, “Impossible,” or ask, “What good is you narrating a pretend version of me, to me, who is actually me and right here?”
“If I were you” is like saying, “Here’s how I’d spend the lottery money I didn’t win….”
It’s fantasy, wishing and speculation. It may be interesting but it’s not money that can be cashed in, shared or spent. It has no currency or value—you know—in reality where things cost real money.
So what is the motivation in a sentence that starts this way? I have to ask myself this now when I find these words forming in my face.
Am I wanting to adorn someone’s life with my opinions or judgments? Isn’t that as intrusive as changing someones glasses, jewelry or lipstick without invitation because I’ve got something in my closet I think might work a little better?
Would it hurt if I stayed silent longer or waited til I was asked for input or just appreciated how they put their life together with what they had to work with? If I have quality hand-me-downs might it be better to leave them as gifts rather than undressing someone of what they are wearing?
Instead of me imagining how I’d do it if I were you or you me, how about we just get to know the actual versions of each other?
If I ask you to tell me how, why or when something I can’t understand or relate to became true for you I might learn something.
If I tell you what I’d do in your situation without being asked, you’ll clam up or feel criticized even if we think what we have to impart is critical, important or saving someone from pain.
This being a being is a solo dance. We can join music, sing and move together sometimes but I can’t get inside your vocal chords and you can’t get inside my brain.
I don’t know why this is easy for me to forget. I’ve overstepped my role and have had my heart treated like it had a public access easement when it does not.
How come we judge others or accept their judgments of us?
How come we forget we were once strangers—two people near the same dance floor choreographing our own moves?
I was struck by the space in your movements, long pauses and intentional stillness. You seemed to follow beats so soft they were inaudible to me. You could tilt and lean into them so I could see a shape forming I’d have missed without your example.
You said you liked how I jumped and hopped and came alive in the percussion sections when you always felt they were too upbeat and high energy for you. You watched me bounce and I felt seen and free.
And then while i was catching my breath and sitting out I could see the way your whole face fell in happy relief during a sad instrumental melody. I favored words and lyrics and seeing you taught me to appreciate what’s said without words.
I’m not sure I’d have seen that if you had said, “Can you slow down and stop moving so fast? Can you inhabit this song the way I do?”
Who are you is far more interesting than who I think I’d be if I were not me and were you instead.
I never want to forget but the truth is I do.
“If I were you,” is a phrase I want to stop hearing or saying or at least start paying better attention to.
“If I were you” is a sentence always followed by fiction.
I’m a memoir not a fairy tale.
What are you?
Author: Christine White
Editor: Catherine Monkman