A strange thing happened this week. I entered my apartment building’s lobby and got into the elevator, alone. It stopped on the third floor, where the laundry room is located, and a few people entered, heaving big baskets overflowing with clothes.
“Do you have enough room?” one of them asks me.
“Sure, we’re fine,” I reply.
Awkward silence, awkward silence and more awkward silence, as everyone pauses to wonder why a seemingly normal-looking 38-year-old woman is referring to herself using the royal “we.”
I wish I could say that this was the only time this snafu has occurred. But sadly, I’ve noticed my new and unsettling speech pattern a few times of late. On the phone, in the elevator, and with friends, the first person singular seems to have escaped my vocabulary.
Apparently, after almost a decade of marriage and five years of motherhood, some strange form of amnesia has kicked in. Yes, I can clearly remember all of the ways hubby didn’t help around the house this past weekend and the many items my daughter needs for winter camp, but the word “I” eludes me.
As you can imagine, I (or shall I say we?) have no choice but to ask: What the heck is happening?
I didn’t grow up dreaming of the day I could cast off the “me” and submerge myself in warm, cozy couplehood. Sure, I felt mating pressure like the rest of our species. But at age almost 30 (that’s what I called 29), I was starting to feel proud of the “I” that I was becoming.
After getting married, however, I discovered an unexpected perk. There is something really fantastic about the “we.” You’re taking shots at me? That’s cool, I’ve got backup. A new situation is making me anxious? No problemo, it’s not going to define who I am — I’m part of (and your'e not) this totally awesome “we.”
Being a member of my new nuclear family is like being wrapped a warm blanket on an icy winter’s day. Conditions outside can get as bad as last winter’s Snowmageddon, but inside, for the most part, is really, really good.
Yet I still can’t help but feel that I’m losing a little bit of myself each time I use the “we” instead of “I.” That I’m taking the easy way out and hiding behind my family rather than standing on my own two feet. Am I somehow cheating, getting a free pass, or letting down the other women who don’t have a significant other to wrap that blanket around them after a particularly tough meeting, conversation, or day?
Some of you may feel I’m being a little too hard on myself. After being nearly constantly attached to my daughter for the last five years, it only makes sense that I’m readjusting to this new phase of life where it’s appropriate to use “I” again. Or maybe that’s just what life-long partnerships are all about: the chance to soar on our own when we want to or take solace in the safety of each other’s arms as we need to.
Either way, I need to work on this "I" thing. Because regardless of my feminist guilt or the guilty pleasures of marriage, I'd prefer not to have my elevator mates wonder whether I have speech confusion, amnesia, or multiple personalities as I head home to my eagerly awaiting family.
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