If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time and heard your partner say, “We need to talk,” you likely had one reaction and one reaction only:
So pervasive and widely understood it is that “we need to talk” is a doomsday scenario, Urban Dictionary even defines the phrase as “You are screwed.” There is no universe wherein “we need to talk” ends up being a good thing that makes both parties happier, closer or better off, or glad they’re alive on earth today at this moment. No one does this shit when it’s time to lock down dates for your upcoming once-in-a-lifetime vacation, or to let you know that they’ve just won the lottery.
It’s used exclusively to end relationships, vent extensive grievances, reveal terrible truths and/or offer ultimatums. When someone says “we need to talk,” you spend the next several hours or days wondering what the fuck is going to happen, what you did, what they did or what lie the two of you have been living heretofore. Then you show up for coffee somewhere, at a bar for a drink, or for the love of God, to dinner, only to hear one of the following pieces of information while awkwardly munching on some guac:
- Either we have a baby or I’m dumping you, and also I fucked your brother.
- I have cancer, but also I fucked your sister.
- I fucked your best friend, and also I fucked your mom.
- I gambled our life savings, and also I fucked your co-worker.
What’s more, if you pull this shit on someone, even if the two of you somehow you survive the truth bomb, they will remember it for eternity like old people remember when Kurt Cobain died.
For this reason, no matter the point of the conversation — even if it’s actually benign, and especially if it’s benign, which, by the way, it never is — it’s simply bad form to lay this on someone and then cruelly set a future time for a big reveal whose only true revelation is this: You’ve lied, withheld some real thing or not revealed your actual feelings, actions or intentions, and you’re about to bail.
Cultural perception tells us women are the ones most likely to spring this sort of thing on a man, since they’re portrayed as the ones who do all the relationship maintenance, always need to know where they stand and constantly request states of the union concerning the relationship and where it’s headed. In fact, one recent poll found that 80 percent of men say “we need to talk” is their “most feared” conversation opener. (For 42 percent of women, that conversation opener was “Is everything okay?” when the partner should know good and well it isn’t.) The same survey found that men and women disagree about when to have big serious talks about the relationship that go on all night: Women prefer to blindside their partners at 8:20 a.m.; men are most receptive to being blindsided nearly half a day later, at 8:15 p.m.
But all of this misses the point. Not only do men do this to women too, as evidenced by their equally terrified responses to it…
…But more importantly, this is a tactic used by manipulative people who don’t have good communication skills. You know, the kind of skills where you organically discuss issues as they arise, where your behaviors are clear and readable, where you’re good about translating your feelings, where you’re intimate enough to know, generally, how things are going.
We-need-to-talk fascists do it because it puts you on your back foot. It throws off the power balance, and you spend the day guessing what you’ve done or what they’ve done. If the news is actually not so bad or just a simple request, it’s entirely possible that, based on the laws of persuasion, your sheer sense of relief will leave you grateful you haven’t been dumped and thus willing to agree to anything.
So we hereby move to abolish the dark trickery of “we need to talk.” And going forward, if someone you love tells you they need to talk and they’d like to schedule a later time to discuss it with no qualifying details given in advance, you’re well within your rights to do the following:
- Thank them enthusiastically for letting you know.
- Schedule the time to meet up.
- Stand them up, block them on all digital platforms and move out of the country.
But after you arrive as an expat in your new home, make sure and reach out and let them know you have something really important to tell them, if they have a minute to meet up later.