Has anyone else felt shocked and horrified the first time they heard their significant other / spouse say something exactly the same way that they would’ve said it?
It’s like someone recording your voice and making you listen to the recording without giving you time to brace yourself, with the only difference being that the voice may be slightly deeper than yours (if your significant other happens to be male).
The first time this happened to me I felt completely mortified. I have a habit of using the word “okay” a lot when I am “feeding back” to a person I am listening to. When I heard my significant other do this the first time I was overcome by a sense of inescapable familiarity, and a crushing realisation that this actually sounds spectacularly stupid! How in the hell had I let myself use such a phrase on a continual basis, and spoken it in such an incredibly annoying way? I clearly had done so extremely regularly, because someone else had caught the habit.
The worst part was that I wasn’t even conscious that I used this expression so repetitively, and that it was such a stable part of my vocabulary. But when I heard my significant other use the expression, even the greatest depths of my subconscious knew that it could have only come from me and that there was no way I could avoid owning it.
I then wondered if he and I were going to morph into some sort of hideous joined-at-the-hip couple, wearing matching tracksuits, speaking exactly the same way and only ever talking about the same boring crap. Surely that wasn’t the intention of the whole hooking up with someone to share your life with thing? However upon further reflection I decided that as we are both strong willed and independent individuals busy with individual goals, we are probably at minimal risk here.
Despite this, I did wonder about what expressions and speech styles I might have caught off him, like some sort of subtle sexually transmitted disease. I know that I have deliberately and enthusiastically taken up some of his habits. My significant other has this adorable way of repeating a gentle “bye” at least a couple of times at the end of a phone call when he is speaking to people he is close to as a way of letting the person on the other end of the phone know that they are important to him. I love this habit and I adopted it quickly, always using it whenever either of us is away and we are relying on phone communication. I am otherwise however unaware as to what extent I have acquired other subtle speech patterns and expressions from him. Luckily I like the way he speaks and the phrases he uses, so this does not alarm me the way hearing my own odd expressions reflected back at me does.
I also wondered about where I had picked up my mortifyingly tragic “okay” habit, to reinforce the fact that I was listening to someone else in a conversation. I actually have no idea where I might have contracted this habit, though I have clearly heard it somewhere and taken it further than I ever imagined possible. Perhaps I am a lot like a captive bird in a cage repeating phrases it has heard, in exactly the same way as the phrases were said. Actually, if you were to hear me talking at home, I probably do sound exactly like a caged cockatoo who continuously repeats the same expletives over and over again.
Anyway as time has moved on I have got to the stage where I’m slightly unsure of who started what when I listen to my significant other speak. Perhaps this is in fact a way of abdicating responsibility for certain phrases and speech patterns if I think they might in fact have originated from me. In any case, I don’t have time to record myself speaking and to analyse what comes back. I also find it wonderful to think that we can adopt a manner of speaking and expression from anyone we come into contact with, and by doing so we are clearly paying a compliment to the person we are emulating. In addition, my anguish subsided when I realised that the expressions we use to some extent have a mind of their own. Once they are out there they are free to seize upon whoever they wish, and I’m no better or worse than anyone else for throwing something out into the world.
© Annemaree Jensen 2018