Part 15: Referring to yourself as ‘I’

‘I am’. The two most powerful words in the English language. No, really. I defy you to say them, now, in your chair or on your bed or under your breath on the train and not feel a little bit amazing. According to the bit of the Bible I just read on the internet when Jesus, with his beard and his toga and his camel-leather gladiator sandals, stood on an arid hill-top and declared ‘I am’ to the desert he was letting us know that what he was was God. He was also the son of God, if I remember my primary school Easter assemblies with any accuracy, but it’s late, and I want to get this post written and fall sound asleep in my bed and dribble into my pillow, so perhaps now’s not time to get into all that. It is enough to point out that religious types reckon the words ‘I am’ connect us directly to God. And even if you aren’t a hundred percent sure that you actually believe in God, that’s pretty incredible.

The thing that makes us human beings different from horses and hamsters and one-celled organisms like the valiona ventricosa – a gelatinous green lump that lives at the bottom of the sea and is sometimes known as ‘sailors’ eyeball’ – is our ability to say ‘I’. Saying ‘I’ allows us to conceive of ourselves as individuals with the capacity for free thought. Like God, we are creators. When I say ‘I’, I am expressing that I know ‘I’ am not ‘you’. ‘I’ like mushrooms. ‘I’ like tiny mouses and muscular dogs. ‘I’ like neat whisky and the texture of velvet. ‘I’ have blue eyes. It’s really quite empowering (and difficult to stop) once you get going.

It is therefore utterly bemusing to me that as soon as people who appear outwardly confident, happy and sane find a mate they drop the word ‘I’ from their vocabulary and replace it with ‘we’. You know what I mean don’t you? It goes like this:

You’re boiling water for a cup of tea in the staff-room kettle on a Monday morning, worrying that the headache currently gnawing underneath your skull like those tiny, soft mouses you love is not the aftermath of that hangover from Saturday night, and is, in fact, a brain haemorrhage. In walks Sally. You like Sally. ‘Hello Sally’, you say – feigning the sprightly Monday morning gusto of someone not currently battling a debilitating bleed on the brain – ‘do anything nice this weekend?’ ‘Oh,’ says Sally, ‘it was lovely, we went to a wedding in Wales and on Sunday we had dinner at this sweet little Italian restaurant in York. We had such an amazing time.’ Sally is not a posh person, like the Queen, so you know that ‘we’ means ‘Sally and her husband’. You do a tight smile with your mouth closed and your nose wrinkled to hold in the scream. Your hands tighten their grip on the kettle. You now want to throw the boiling water from the kettle into Sally’s smug face, or over the wall – where it won’t hurt her but will still convey your displeasure. You also feel a little bit sorry for Sally. She has weakened herself. She is not worthy of your respect.

I’m sorry. No actually, I’m not at all sorry – I cannot respect anyone who refers to themselves and their lover as ‘we’. It’s totally pathetic. As anyone who has read any of my previous blogs will deduce, I am massively selfish. I don’t really like to share cake. I don’t like to share space, and certainly don’t want to share a personal pronoun. Particularly not with the person I’m having sex with. It’s unhygienic.

Can I give you some important life advice, potentially contradicting everything you will have been socialised to believe (I don’t really care what you answer here, I’m going to anyway, unless someone slices my fingers off before I can type the words)? You do not become a unit with no independent experience once you start going out with some numpty from the local housing office. You retain separate bodies, minds and desires. To think that you don’t is setting yourself up for all sorts of unhappiness. For example, it makes other people see you and your partner as inseparable to the point where they write you a joint Christmas card (I have literally disowned a member of my family for once doing this to me. This person had not even met my ex boyfriend. I mean, what the actual fuck?) For another example, thinking of themselves as ‘we’ is one of the reasons why people in couples have a tendency to get upset when the other one has sex with someone else. ‘But we are one’, their brain thinks, ‘how could he have put his willy into that ginger girl from the The Red Lion?’ I’ve got news for all coupled people: you are not one. He very much fancied that girl from the Red Lion, and there’s a brunette at work that he has daily fantasies about fucking over the photocopier. GET OVER IT.

So, at number 15, my single lovelies, is ‘referring to yourself as I’. Otherwise known as: retaining your independence. This is very difficult to do when you’re in a relationship. For a start, it makes your sentences unnecessarily long when you keep having to say ‘I went to a wedding with my husband’, rather than using the short-hand. And even if you do manage to avoid ‘we-ing’ yourself up in your own head, social convention is such that other people will do it anyway. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t got enough friends left that I can afford to disown the ones who send me and future lovers joint Christmas cards. Better to stay single, innit?

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