The Inevitable Grammar Discussion


Okay, you guys, pronouns. In relationship writing, this is a well-trod area. And yet the subject still makes me feel sort of strange. Specifically, the I vs. We debate.

When I was single, or even when I was not living with a boyfriend-type person, I thought that people who said that “we” are going to do something, or had fun at something, or were really glad to see you or whatever, that they were being deliberate in their usage, and driving home the point that they have a significant other. I even interpreted it as some kind of insecurity, the subtext of a sentence like, “Yeah, this weekend we went out to dinner then we saw a show, then on Sunday we ate some Thai food,” as being, “I HAVE A BOYFRIEND AND WE DO THINGS TOGETHER. I AM NOT SINGLE. I AM WITH SOMEONE. WE ARE IN LOVE.”

Now that I’m half of a one-bedroom apartment, and also, let’s face it, a lot more relaxed about stuff like that, I realize that the plural pronoun just becomes kind of a habit when you spend a majority of your non-work social time with the same person. For a while I made a point to say, “Frank and I did this, then I did that, then I met my friend and did this other thing.” But that is more labor-intensive, and frankly, inelegant.

So slowly I’ve grown accustomed to the “we.” Especially as more and more of my friends have become halves of pairs and even (gulp) spouses, it’s stopped feeling weird and pushy. Still and all, though, it’s difficult to determine when it’s normal to use the plural and when the singular is appropriate. Observe this example from the other weekend. Two married people were talking about their dog:

GIRL: If I leave her alone too long, she starts tearing stuff up. I’m worried I’m going to get home and she’ll have torn my couch into a pile of feathers.
BOY: Torn our couch into a pile of feathers, babe. It’s our couch.

Now I get it, it’s for comic effect. I’m not trying to rag on them or anything. But honestly, my couch is both my couch and our couch. I don’t have any other couches, yet I am not the sole owner of the couch. If I were referring to my own couch and it was the one I shared with roommates, I’d probably say either “my roommate’s couch” or “my couch,” depending on who supplied the couch in the first place.

When it’s a jointly owned piece of furniture, which in their case, being marrieds, they all are, it is technically their couch I guess. But it feels to me strange to rob your vocabulary of the singular possessive entirely, just because legally you’ve agreed to share everything with some other dude. I mean, when I’m talking about my desk at work I still call it “my desk,” though technically it’s my company’s desk. Our desk, you know. All of us at the company.

So there’s the conundrum. To my mind, and perhaps this speaks more to my natural distrust of joint ownership than anything else, I think the singular is appropriate unless the other owner of the furniture pertains specifically to the conversation. I’ve never been able to afford to live alone, and if things keep going along as they are, I perhaps never will, so maybe it’s just something weird about me.

But even for someone who was thrilled about being a joint furniture owner, it gets linguistically weird at some point, and I wonder where exactly that point is. Our mail? Our email password? Our panties? At some point, despite the legal co-ownership that is marriage, the two human beings incorporated by that contract have to have some things that they view as solely their own. And for those of us not so legally encumbered, things are even more complicated.

I guess the solution is, as always, do what makes sense at the time and don’t worry too much about it. It’s just an issue I’ve always felt a little strange about, and never entirely come to terms with, relationship-wise. Maybe the approach of Valentine’s Day makes me even more sensitive to possible smarminess than usual. I don’t want to discount Frank’s participation in life, or ownership of goods, but my couch and my cats and my books and my record player are still mine, regardless of whom they actually belong to.

Like I said, pronouns. Complicated.