What does it mean to know for sure?

On the most recent episode of Al and Al Try Podcasting (my podcast with Al Siew), I mentioned how I don’t think I know the favourite restaurant of any of the people I’ve dated. I took that snippet and posted it on Instagram along with a poll asking people if they know their partner’s favourite restaurant (or former partners’), and 74% of people answered “Of course!”

The question that came to mind for me was — How do they know for sure? How does anyone know anything for sure? And what does it mean to be right?

I’m not trying to make some sort of relativist argument implying that no one can know anything for sure. No. I think one can definitely know things for sure, it just depends what the parameters of proof are.

So what are the parameters surrounding the question of your partner’s favourite restaurant?

Well, first of all, the question calls for “favourite restaurant”. Singular. That’s important.

Given that, how does one get to know anyone’s favourite restaurant? How did you know your partner’s? Is it their favourite because it’s the place they ate at with you the most? Or maybe they didn’t go there the most, but you notice that every time they go there, they talk about how great it is. Or perhaps you know it’s their favourite because they explicitly told you that it was their favourite.

But these questions only raise more questions.

Like, did they eat at that place with you the most because they’re with you? Yes, they like the place — that’s not in question — but is your presence a contributing factor? Perhaps you also like the place? Now is it possible that they might not go to the place as often if you weren’t there?

And you’d think that them explicitly telling you that it’s their favourite restaurant would make this an open-and-shut case. Ha, if only. Because now we’re asking — when did they tell you that? Under what circumstances? What was the setting? Was it right after a meal at that very restaurant, or was it on a random evening at home while they were really hungry? How many times have they told you this? And how long has it been since the last time they told you?

A lot of the people who answered the poll on my Instagram did not have the context of the question from the podcast. So here goes:

The next parameter to being right is that your partner would have to confirm what you said blindly. Which is to say that someone would ask you the question alone by yourself, and without you checking or communicating with your partner in any way, they’d ask them the same question, and the answer would have to match for you to be right.

And this parameter throws all other forms of accuracy out the window. Because it doesn’t actually matter if the restaurant you mention is the one they go to for their birthday every year. It doesn’t matter if they order from it every single night and you have the Grab receipts to prove it. Quite frankly, it doesn’t even matter if you have a document overseen by four witnesses with your partner’s signature attesting to the fact that it is, in fact, their favourite restaurant. All that matters is that your two answers are a match.

So if you write down Restaurant A, for example, and your partner writes down Restaurant B — even if by all other standards A would be the right answer — you’d be wrong. Because being right doesn’t wholly depend on you.

I want you to imagine that your partner is someone you’ve been with for — say… 5 years? Let’s say they’re someone you love dearly, someone who brings you warmth and comfort, and someone who amuses and makes you laugh. Now let’s say that for border and immigration reasons, the only way for you two to stay together is by getting married. And let’s say that the only way your marriage registration can go ahead is by getting the answer to the restaurant question right.

There you are, sitting in a foreign country, in a government office, all alone having never practiced for this. And three doors down, your partner is with an officer asking them the very same question they just asked you about the restaurant.

Now, given all those parameters:

How confident are you that your partner would give the exact same answer as you?

I’ve of course never been in that situation, but I know at least two people who have. And I know that they’re two of the most loving, attentive, and thoughtful people I know.

I also know that they didn’t get the restaurant answer right.

I’m not suggesting that just because they didn’t, that 74% of you wouldn’t either. What I’m suggesting is that before you answer — take a pause, inhale deeply, and consider all the parameters before exhaling.

At least that’s what I did.

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