It’s a warm feeling. The sharp, electric energy that soars through your body. The hypnotic feeling of holding eye contact that leaves your lungs breathless and your stomach hollow. Your locked eyes are like magnets pulling each other closer in proximity, yet nobody moves. Each other’s body language sends perfectly clear messages expressing the want between the two parties yet the hesitation that overwhelms both. Although the entire subway ride only lasts four minutes, waiting for your coffee in the local cafe only lasts two, or the passing person in the grocery is only a quick glance, these moments feel like an eternity. The infinite amount of numbers between one and two stretch themselves as far as they can go within those mere seconds of exchanged glances, dying down in intensity when the other partner leaves, yet never really going away.
Mamihlapinatapai: equally as difficult to define as it is to say. The word itself derives from the indigenous language Yagan from the South American region; however, the feeling it depicts is a worldwide phenomenon. Translated it means the wordless, meaningful look shared by two people who both desire initiating something but are reluctant in doing so. Billions of people across the globe experience this feeling of mamihlapinatapai and yet—for the better—there is only one word that describes this stunning experience. Within this word, a whole paragraph of feelings and emotions are verbalized. Just as many situations cannot be explained within a set amount of words, neither can mamihlapinatapai. Parts of the anecdote above can be described with yearning, wanting, longing, intimate, captivating, breathtaking, all-consuming, or even unique, though none of these words create the same impact as mamihlapinatapai. All of these describe aspects of the story, but do not encompass the entire event. Yearning means longing for something, which could be applied in this context, but it can also be used when someone longs to come home or go to sleep. Intimate is an important aspect of this feeling, however it can be used in any affectionate scenario between two people; the same goes for any descriptive word one can think of. Simply put, a word does not exist in any language besides Yagan where a scenario is described with such detail and vivid emotions within its meaning.
Besides the lack of words within this world that could properly translate mamihlapinatapai, lies the point that this word should not be translated. An attempt at translating such a unique and specific word dilutes the intensity and intimacy that was created. The specificity of mamihlapinatapai directly coordinates with the specificity of the scenario. Changing the word means changing the story.
It’s a warm feeling. The sharp, electric energy that soars through your body. The hypnotic eye contact, magnetic glances, and purposeful body language. Every aspect of this situation drags each partner closer together without any movement. Both hesitation and desire soaring through the air. It’s indescribable. It’s intricate. It’s mamihlapinatapai.