Me: I don’t eat gluten.
Them: I could never give up gluten.
Me: I can’t jog or do any exercise.
Them: I could never stop exercising.
I hear this response over and over. The “I could never….” response. And over and over I have the same response: you really don’t get it.
Let’s take gluten as an example. When I say I can’t eat gluten, even though the other person knows it’s for health reasons, they’ll say, “I could never give that up.” What do they mean? It’s not as if I gave up gluten on a whim. No one offered me a cure for Celiac and I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I wasn’t asked, would you like to give up gluten just for the hell of it?” No, this is necessary for me to live.
So when someone says, “I could never give them up,” what I hear is, “I would rather die.” Because that’s the other option. Give up gluten or die. No, death wouldn’t come immediately, but it would come eventually. And in the meantime there would be a lot of horrible nausea, pain, and other symptoms.
When someone says, “I could never do that” they probably mean that they’re impressed that I can do it. As if I have a choice. They probably mean it in a nice way. But it doesn’t feel that way. Because the other thing I hear is, “I love this thing so much, I can’t imagine living without it, but you can’t have it.” Again, I know they don’t mean it that way, but that’s how I hear it. They get it and I don’t.
Exercise is the same thing. When someone says, “I could never give up skiing/jogging/dancing/kickboxing/some-other-form-of-physical-exertion” what I hear is, “I would rather die” or “I love this thing so much that my life wouldn’t be complete without it, so your life must really be lacking.” I’m sure they don’t mean to convey that message, even though I do get the feeling they’re privately thinking it. Because what else could they mean? When I say, I can’t do that, and I really can’t, even though I want to, but my body won’t let me, then they know I have no choice. Responding that they could never give it up just shows me how important it is to them.
What if I was in a wheelchair? Some days I have been. More days I will be. So far, no one has said, “I can’t imagine not being able to walk.” But I’m pretty sure they will. Because to them, life can’t be complete without the ability to walk. Yet I’m also pretty sure that if I told them they had to choose between using a wheelchair and death, they’d choose the wheelchair.
I keep offering death as the alternative because as far as I can tell, there is no other. It’s not like I can find some other alternative through “trying harder” or some miracle cure that I’ve simply chosen to not take. This is my reality.
Every time we’d talk about my grandmother’s advancing age, she’d always say, “It sure beats the alternative!” Then she’d blow out the candles on her birthday cake. She said that every year until she passed away at the age of 94.
So from now on, when someone says, “I could never….” to something that I have no choice about, I’m going to say, “It sure beats the alternative!” and then give them a moment to figure out what I mean. I think that might shut them up.
Because even if they don’t mean it to, it hurts.
What has your experience been with “I could never….”? Do people say it to you? How does it make you feel? How do you respond? Please comment below.