What if... How many bad decisions have been made on the back of those two words? And by the same token, life-changing decisions, which is precisely what makes them so alluring.
There's a romcom out just now with that very title, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the heartthrob. The 'what if' relates to what would happen if Radcliffe's character gets off with his friend (the strapline is 'Good friend. Bad idea?').
I am less interested in the will-they-won't-they central plotline than I am in those two words, because, it seems to me, they govern so much of life. Whether you are a hedonist or romantic, or somewhere in between, you've probably considered doing something in the name of 'what if'. Why? Because you can't resist but to find out the answer; because – another dangerous phrase alert – you never know. The latter phrase was, incidentally, Warren Beatty's answer when asked, by Dustin Hoffman: "Is there any woman you wouldn't sleep with?" Beatty replied: "No, because you never know".
Now, I'm not saying you should start being all Beatty-in-his-heyday, but when it comes to romance you need a little 'what if' if you're ever going to take a leap of faith on a person. You need the dreamy-eyed optimism and somewhat cavalier attitude. If not, you risk becoming one of those people who sits back and broods inwardly rather than, say, throwing yourself at strangers publicly, which, for better or for worse, tends to be my approach.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a beer garden waiting to meet a friend, an old flame actually, and while I was waiting got chatting to a hat-wearing stranger on the next table. We talked a while and he seemed interesting as well as handsome, so I was keen to see him again in less harrowed circumstances. So, conscious that the old flame is imminent, what do I do? I'm thinking, what if I ask him for his email address? It's less threatening than asking for a mobile number and we have been having vaguely intellectual conversations that we may like to continue, so it's fine, right?
I get his email address and I wait. And wait. A week and a half goes by until I'm in the pub again and there he is: same guy, wearing same baseball cap, reading same book.
"Oh hi, how are you?" I shrill, dead casual, while my mates gawp on.
"Hi, hi," he replies, dead awkward.
"Did you get my email?" I ask, not wanting to ignore the elephant in the beer garden and thinking he mustn't have got my email.
"Yes I did," he replies, not flinching.
And therein lies the risk.