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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Our before My, and We before I: A Crash Course in Relationship Linguistics

There was a time in my not-so-distant past that I was an "I", and what was mine was mine. But that was when I was single. Oh, occasionally when I was dating a fellow I'd slip in the odd "we" or "our", but never within earshot of the guy or he'd be sprinting out the door! It seems that a pronoun change says more about commitment than putting a ring on it.

But I must admit that after all these years of marriage, I find myself uneasy and on the cusp of rebellion against the customs which dictate that "we" come before "I." I once sent a birthday present to a friend of mine, a friend whom I'd cultivated and known for years prior to meeting the man who would become my husband. She's single and the present was intended for her and her alone. So when the thank you card arrived at my home addressed to both my husband and I, I was beyond peeved. He hadn't remembered her birthday, special ordered the blinged out t-shirt, or selected the poignant-yet-funny birthday card - I did! I hadn't even signed his name to the card, or used our joint mailing labels (that's right, I keep my very own solo mailing labels!). No where in that perfectly packed parcel of birthday delights had I indicated that my husband was in any way involved in this process, and yet the thank you note was addressed to both of us.
I'm still baffled by this one!

The whole "we" before "I" debate can become even more prickly when the matter involves one of the most vile phrases ever: "we're pregnant!" We've all heard that one, and some of us have even spoken those words. And, I get what the phrase is meant to convey - that Dear Old Dad has a place in the vortex of pregnancy. We've all read chapter and verse about how dads can feel left out of the process and, seeking to minimize those feelings, we go all inclusive. But, guess what, unless dads-to-be have finagled a way to gain 30-60 pounds, make their breasts tender, and strap a watermelon on so that it's resting inconveniently on their bladders and forcing them to sleep on their backs for 9 months then "WE" are not pregnant! Now, I don't want to come off as an absolutist, so for those of you who love using this phrase, please, go right ahead, but don't just save it up for pre-natal uses. How's about this: "we're having our period" or, "we look fat in these jeans." Does that sound ridiculous?? Good - case closed!

Look, I'm sure that "we" works better than "I" in some of those tricky situations that couples often find themselves confronting. For instance, it sounds much better to say, "We can't make it to dinner with you" than to say, "I can't stand your husband so I won't be joining you for dinner." And, "we're sorry we're late" is much classier than saying, "Sorry that I spent so much time begging my husband to get dressed to come to your tedious party, which made us late." "We" avoids conflict and lets people fill in the blank in their own minds as to what or who the problem is. It's a very useful united front, that is until the couple divorces, and that "we" gets dropped like a bad habit!

But still, I don't understand why the "we" persists. Hmm. Maybe, it's because the "we" must persist. Maybe it's a means of protecting our fragile psyches from the existential angst that occasionally unmasks the unknown void as our physical bodies journey towards their end. Wow, that got really deep, didn't it?? I'm just saying:)

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