Show, don’t tell

It’s an old film-making adage that – show, don’t tell. For those of you who aren’t film geeks, it relates to the problem of exposition. Frequently in dramas you will see characters delivering very unnatural lines like “Let me get this straight – you want me to go into the building, find the Director’s office, plant the bug in the picture frame on their desk, and get back out here without being seen?” Nobody would ever say such a thing, but it’s a quick and easy (and lazy) way of filling an audience in on what’s happening. (It is parodied excellently in the Austin Powers films by the character Basil Exposition, whose main function is to explain the plot.)

A few weeks back, someone I follow on Facebook suggested on Valentine’s Day that we should tell the people we love that we love them every day. I disagree.

This is partly because the first time I ever told someone I loved them, I didn’t really mean it (I was just saying what I thought you were supposed to at that point in our relationship), and they didn’t really want to hear it, and it was all rather awkward. So I vowed there and then that I would never again say it unless I truly felt it.

But it’s also because I think to reiterate something on a daily basis renders it largely meaningless, or if not meaningless, soulless. Fairly soon, you arrive at a place where you are saying something simply because it’s a thing you say every day, not because there is any genuine sentiment or passion behind it. If we are going to accept that the word love has any value to it at all (and that’s a conversation for another time, the way we universally collude in accepting that we will subsume dozens of complicated, challenging and rewarding emotions into one simple monosyllable), surely it’s essential that we retain its power through economy of usage?

So what to do then? Show, don’t tell. Show the person you love them with consideration, and humour, and appreciation. Put a hot water bottle in their bed in anticipation of them going upstairs. Rub their feet without being asked to. Throw away their stupid tissues which they leave lying in the armchair every night. And then (and here’s the key), when they say or do something which reminds you exactly why you fell for them in the first place, DO tell. I doubt whether I tell my wife that I love her even ten times a year. And every time I do, it’s because she’s done something magical and it feels like I’m saying it for the first time.

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