Down & Out, Up & Out, Out & Out: Reading between the lines on “Fine”
A single syllable, so rich in possible meanings–does it mean fine as in â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ as in â€œYouâ€™re wrong,â€ as in â€œI fold,â€ or some complex blend of the three?
Conflict within a relationship often leads to reflection about the relationship. Saying â€œfine,â€ we step out of the conflict for a little perspective. Psychologically minded people like us value such reflection. It saddens us to note that other people resist and even fear it.
And yet their resistance and fear is understandable. When people step back to reflect, they often change altitude in the process. We move down and out toward submission (Stepping back, I see that youâ€™re right). We move up and out toward dominance (Stepping back, I see that youâ€™re wrong). We move out and out toward neutrality (Stepping back, I fold). Each of these can mean resolution or trouble, depending. We take space or leave in a huff; we let bygones be bygones or hold a grudge.
â€œYouâ€™re rightâ€ can mean a nice resolving â€œI stand correctedâ€ or a troubling â€œYouâ€™re a bully and a tyrant so Iâ€™ll humor you.â€ â€œYouâ€™re rightâ€ can mean a nice resolving â€œI compromised this time, you compromise next, OK?â€ or a troubling â€œSoon, vengeance will be mine.â€ â€œI foldâ€ can mean a nice resolving â€œIâ€™m summoning my inner equanimityâ€ or a troubling â€œMy heart is growing icy cold to you.â€
We seek intimacy with compatible partners. We dream of perfect compatibility, but at best we only get close. On incompatibilities we compromise–either on particulars or on intimacy itself. In any tiff where real compatibility isnâ€™t an option, we give, we take, or we take space. You go to his movie, he goes to yours, or you go to separate movies.
Fine and other perspective-taking gestures naturally become mixed signals blending six meanings: win, lose, or fold, each as resolution or as future trouble.