I Wouldn’t Want to Know: An honest look at a woman’s fear

When I was seven years old, my favorite album (and by album, I mean vinyl) was “Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits.” I knew all the lyrics to “I am Woman”, and I belted them out with gusto. I had no idea it was a feminist rallying cry. Maybe my mother didn’t either, wrapped up as she was in her new-found Christian faith and finding her role as homemaker to be a calling both sacred and satisfying. I’m sure my father knew. Regardless, it wasn’t that song that I played over and over. It was this one:

“I Don’t Know How to Love Him”

[Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar]

I don't know how to love him

What to do, how to move him

I've been changed, yes really changed

In these past few days, when I've seen myself

I seem like someone else

I don't know how to take this

I don't see why he moves me

He's a man. He's just a man

And I've had so many men before

In very many ways

He's just one more

Should I bring him down?

Should I scream and shout?

Should I speak of love

Let my feelings out?

I never thought I'd come to this

What's it all about?

Don't you think it's rather funny

I should be in this position

I'm the one who's always been

So calm, so cool, no lover's fool

Running every show

He scares me so

I never thought I'd come to this

What's it all about?

Yet, if he said he loved me

I'd be lost. I'd be frightened

I couldn't cope, just couldn't cope

I'd turn my head. I'd back away

I wouldn't want to know

He scares me so

I want him so

I love him so.

I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, hugging my knees to my chest, eyes squeezed shut, tears stinging beneath the lids, crooning out this mournful melody, and feeling a nameless something that overwhelmed me from the inside out.

I wonder at that now. It astonishes me that I could have been so affected by something I barely understood.

I knew the song was about Jesus, but to this day I can’t explain how I knew. I had never heard of “Jesus Christ Superstar”, nor had I been taught the mythology of Mary Magdalene’s romantic love for Christ. But even at seven, I already felt the elusiveness of Jesus – and the terror of letting myself love a man who might not love me back the way that I wanted him to.

Now I understand more.

The fictional Mary Magdalene in the song is a prostitute, a professional at navigating the world of men. Seduction is her marketing scheme, and her body is the tool of her trade. You could say she is accustomed to being used by men, but she doesn’t see it that way. It’s simply a contractual agreement, an exchange of goods for services. It’s not personal.

But Jesus is personal. The way he looks at her makes her see herself differently. He stirs feelings in her, which is alarming because she thought she stopped having feelings years ago. She is off balance. Afraid.

Should I try to seduce him, she wonders? Bring him down so he’s just like the rest of them and I can get safely away? But she can already see how that will go. If she tries to tempt him, he will not succumb. It won’t be because he is rejecting her. It will be because his love for her is far deeper than skin. He loves her actual soul.

Her response to the possibility of Jesus expressing this love to her is frantic. “I couldn’t cope. Just couldn’t cope… I’ll turn my head,” she says. “I’ll walk away. I wouldn’t want to know.

I would guess that to many this response makes no sense. After all, it’s the opposite of Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”. In that movie, the prostitute is a sad, lost soul. When she finds true love, she is redeemed and can live happily ever after. It’s the Cinderella story for grownups.

So why is Mary different? Why walk away from love?

The song tells us. The reason is fear.

This fear can be rooted in a feminist ideal, as this song certainly was. I think the song expresses the possibility that for some women, losing themselves in the love of a man is worse than losing the man.

But the fear can also go deeper, having nothing to do with feminism, yet still everything to do with being a woman. Mary knows that the one thing that has always given her power over men (her sexuality) has no effect upon Jesus. This robs her of her sense of control. It puts her off balance, and she does not like the feeling. But here is the biggest obstacle to Mary: To be loved as a soul, not a body, is incomprehensible to her. She can’t wrap her mind around it, so she cannot receive it. She knows so little of her own soul, that for Jesus to love it would be simply imaginary to her. Not something real. Not something she could trust.

Mary’s sense of herself was so physical, she thought nothing spiritual could fill her. Her idea of love was so sexual, nothing platonic could satisfy her. Her concept of reality was so tangible, nothing intangible could be anything but wishful thinking and dreams.

For Jesus to tell her, “I love you”, would be to taunt her with the impossible.


If there were something out there that was everything I could possibly long for, but had no hope of ever possessing, I would be with Mary.

I wouldn’t want to know.