Thursday, December 16, 2010

How should I make her feel?

Rihanna’s recently had a big hit with a song called “Only Girl (in the World)”, and I’m puzzled by the chorus. She sings:

“Want you to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world
Like I’m the only one who you’ll ever love
Like I’m the only one who knows your heart...”

Fair enough, you’ll think. Rihanna wants me to pay attention to her, and not to any other girls. But the first line is an odd way of expressing it.

If I was in a romantic situation with Rihanna, this would be more meaningful for both of us if she wasn’t the only girl in the world. If she was, this would mean that I might well not be with her because I thought her pretty, talented or whatever, or even because we had some kind of extraordinary intellectual connection. I’d want to be with her anyway, because there’d be nobody else. We’d also both know that she was very keen on me indeed, because of all the men in the world who’d rather be with her than no girl at all, she’d picked me. This would give the relationship a most peculiar dynamic. On one hand, I’d have to work much more at the relationship because of the supply and demand situation, even though she’d probably be more into me than I was into her. Perhaps there are actual relationships like this: if X has more choice than Y you might expect, other things being equal, X to like Y more and Y to have to work harder to keep X. I realise other things aren’t equal, because people with more choice tend to be more likeable. But it’d surprise me if no actual relationships were like this. Maybe you’re in one. It doesn’t sound fun. But one would expect these kind of relationships to be the norm in a world with the kind of gender imbalance which Rihanna wants her beloved to make her feel obtains.
I’m also puzzled by the interaction between the first line and the next two. If she’s the only girl in the world then she will be the only girl in the world with each property she instantiates, in these cases the properties of being loved by me at some point and knowing my heart. So she could achieve the same effect by feeling like she was the only girl in the world, that I’d love her at some point and that she knew my heart. It’s possible that at least the second line can be made to say more than this by shifting the implicit quantifier from a presentist one to an eternalist one: she wants to feel like she’s the only girl in the world now, that I’ll love her at some point and that there won’t be any new girls arriving into the world whom I’ll one day love. But the age differences or space travel involved make this interpretation implausible.

Maybe we should read the definite descriptions in lines two and three as Russellian, i.e. she’ll feel like there are no other girls who know my heart or whom I’ll ever love; and the first one as Lewisian, i.e. she’ll feel like she’s the most salient girl in the world. This suggests that definite descriptions are ambiguous between these two readings though, which I doubt. Instead we could take the first definite description as Russellian but with the quantifier restricted to very salient things, but without conversationally presupposing how salient objects would be in the context of the feelings she wants her beloved to make her have. I think that’s probably what she’s getting at.


  1. hey mike,
    i never thought of this "make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world" gibberish in this way! i think you approached it from a very smart perspective and i will use your arguments when discussing with hopelessly uber-romantic people about "the being the one and only in the world concept"

  2. To me the first line of the song sounds like this:

    I want you to love me, like I'm a hot GUY. I can't help but hearing that. And it also meshes with the other lines ('be thinking off me, doing what you li(k)e' and 'so boy forget about the world, 'cuz it's gonna be you and me tonigh(t)'