William had no girlfriends in high school, and his mother once sat him down at the table in her spotless kitchen and asked if he was gay. She said it would be fine with her. She loved him unconditionally, and they would figure out a way to tell his father. But William wasn’t gay. He was just absurdly, painfully in love with Bridey Taylor, who leaned on the piano and sang while he played, and he had no way of telling her. He was too shy to pursue other girls, even when the payoff seemed either likely or worth the agony. But he didn’t tell his mother that. It was too humiliating. He just stammered an unconvincing denial.

I can not understand what it says in the highlighted part. Could you simplify that? Is there any idiomatic hidden in it?

  • The highlighted part simply specifies two possible aspects to "the payoff" (the reward for success) that might have prompted William to overcome his shyness (though in fact he didn't). Firstly he might have made the effort to pursue some other girl if it was likely he would succeed with that particular girl (perhaps because she had a reputation for being approachable, friendly). Secondly, he might have made the effort for a particularly desirable girl (perhaps because she had a reputation for indulging in casual sex, which William might well consider a "high payoff"). Sep 25, 2014 at 20:51

1 Answer 1


The highlighted portion is saying two things. First, it relays that William was too shy to approach other girls even when the payoff (the girl agreeing to a date) was probable. Second, it relays that even when the payoff was not probable, yet was of very high value (thus being worth the pain of possible rejection), he still was too shy to approach other girls.

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