I looked at him appraisingly across the restaurant table.
“Are you cold?” I asked, as if neutrally.
“No,” he replied. “Why,” he added, reading my gaze, “do you want me to take my jacket off?”
I shrugged. “I know it’s silly. It just makes me feel as if, even though we just sat down, you’re about to leave.”
He rolled his eyes and took off his jacket.
“Oh, that reminds me of something I wanted to tell you about!” I exclaimed.
It was about something I’d just been writing about: a phenomenon the attachment theorist John Bowlby, in the first volume of his trilogy, Attachment and Loss, calls an “intention movement.” An intention movement is a movement whereby “an animal, unable to express fully one of its tendencies, nevertheless shows an incomplete movement belonging to that tendency; for example, when in a conflict between staying and flying, a bird may repeatedly exhibit most of the behaviour of take-off without actually doing so.” Although Bowlby was a child development specialist, he was strongly influenced by ethology—the science of animal behavior—and his writing on attachment is filled with examples of animal behavior, examples I find oddly poignant.
“I think it explains why it makes me anxious when people don’t take off their outdoor jackets when they come inside,” I explained. “It’s because I interpret keeping the jacket on as an ‘intention-movement’—as an indication that the person is thinking about leaving.”
Later, when the waiter put down our main courses (pasta for him, fish for me), I casually mentioned a trip I was planning to take in October—to go to a conference.
He put down his fork.
“You’re traveling again?” he asked.
I hadn’t actually bought the tickets yet—still haven’t, come to think of it. My declaration, too, had been an intention movement, a wing flutter; and it was he who felt anxious, caught off-guard.
“This is why I’m leaving,” he muttered.
My stomach tightened. I pushed the fish around my plate.
Later we cried and held each other.
“I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing,” he confessed. “What do you think I should do? Should I move?”
“I don’t know,” I said, stroking his hair. “I think it may be the right thing for you to move. It’s sad. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing.” I paused. “But it’s also all right for you to be undecided. Maybe,” I added, “putting down the deposit was an intention movement, like flapping your wings without taking off. It was a way of trying out the idea of moving. Seeing how it felt. That doesn’t mean you have to go. It’s three hundred dollars. You can lose three hundred dollars.”
“Intention movements,” Bowlby writes, “are common in mammals, including man. They afford important clues whereby we judge the motives and likely behaviour of other people.”
The movers come tomorrow.