There are four words that, for whatever reason, immediately case me to start worrying and preparing for the worst. You’ve probably heard them yourself, from time to time. It can be the most benign situation, but the panic is undeniable.
“We need to talk.”
Four simple words. Also found in variations such as “Give me a call” and “Come see me, please.” Regardless of the phrasing, the message is clear: you’re in trouble now, boy. When I hear these phrases, my heart starts racing and panic starts to build. I play the coming scene over and over in my head. Am I about to be fired? Did I fail an assignment? Is someone I love angry (or worse, disappointed) with me? Did my dog (which I don’t even have) die? I start with the worst case scenario, and go downhill from there.
I know this response is irrational, as evidenced by the multiple times I’ve heard the phrase and the result has been benign. But that doesn’t stop the reflex. It matters even less who says it. I don’t even know why I have such a visceral reaction. I know that as a kid I was always harder on myself than other people were. Maybe there’s some sort of internalized guilt, a fear that my carefully-crafted veneer of competence is going to be revealed as a sham? I don’t know. But it’s kind of annoying.
Or maybe it’s cultural. Throughout various forms of entertainment we’re told over and over that when someone says “We need to talk” things are going to go poorly for the person they’re saying it too. And it’s too bad, since it really can be a useful way to get information. But for whatever reason, those four words always seem to bring with them portents of doom.
I think I’m going to have to go with cultural on this one. It’s a very, very learned phrase; we see it or read it all the time, so we generally know what’s implied when those words are used. As a result, we’re conditioned both to fear them when they’re said, and use them when we need to explain, unequivocally, that something serious needs to be discussed. It’s kind of like using someone’s middle name, I think. Inherently, there’s nothing odd about using a portion of a person’s given name. But we’re trained to know that when it’s used, bad shit is about to happen, and as a result, we use it when we need bad shit to happen to someone else.
I had forgotten about the middle name thing! You’re right: it has a similar effect. Whenever my mom pulled out my middle name as a kid, I knew I was in trouble.