When I was single — which was for, like, 1,473 years — my skin would literally crawl when my married or coupled friends would talk about their lives in the “we.” Vacation going. House buying. Kid having. The cringe-inducing “we” was a sharp fingernail scraped down a long chalkboard. Dogs whimpered. Cats yowled. For me, it wasn’t simply a convenient and totally appropriate way to illustrate one couple’s existence and goings on. I treated it as semantics that served only to highlight the fact that I was alone. One half. Not whole. A lonely yin.
Not that my single life was actually so bad. I slept in the middle of the bed. I did trapeze arts. I had a rooftop garden. Shoot, I even wrote a book about being single and dating because that was my thing. I did what I wanted, when I wanted without a single check-in call to a romantic partner (though I did call my mom when I got home from a trip). I mostly found contentment despite tugs of loneliness and thought that if my single status should ever change and I actually met someone to watch reruns of Friday Night Lights with on the couch forever and ever, I promised myself that I would never use “we.” I am me and always will be.
Then, I met Eric. After all that huffing and puffing about those gross plural people, I became one. And, I started using “we.”
It didn’t happen right away. It took some time because Eric and I did the long distance thing, me in Washington, D.C. and he in Richmond. Singular lives until the weekend. About eight months in, we took our first vacation together. I’d been planning on going to Buenos Aires on my own before I met Eric. I invited him along. He couldn’t go because he hates Argentinian soccer. Could we go to Brazil instead? I believe this was the teensy crack that gave way to the ultimate shattering of my singleton world. Until then, I’d been living mostly compromise free. Apparently, I would not only change big plans for a man, I would change them for his soccer affiliations, too.
When Brazil seemed too far and too expensive, we inched our fingers north on the map. Colombia? People were now traveling there and not dying, but still. Costa Rica? Too obvi. Nicaragua it was. And so my trip to Argentina became our trip to Nica. “We” was born.
Upon our return, “we,” “us,” “our,” tumbled off my lips left and right.
We climbed that volcano in nine hours! It wasn’t worth it, we’d never do it again.
We couldn’t believe it! There was a six-foot boa constrictor wrapped around our hammock!
After that massive millipede in the composting toilet, we decided maybe we aren’t cut out for eco-tourism.
Guys, I was rotten with “we.”
By the time Eric and I moved in together in May, “we” was leaking from my pores. We, we, we, we, we, we, we. That’s all I heard myself saying when I talked about my new life. It wasn’t just about places we went and things we did together. I was “we-ing” about shared thoughts and ideas, the grossest of the grossest kinds of “we.”
We loved The Wire. So smart. So good.
I hated the way I sounded. Though unbeknownst to me, all of this plurality was me and Eric following the natural course of a healthy relationship. We were nesting, creating a life. But still, I couldn’t shake the cringe.
When I searched the Internet looking for information validating that couples who use “we” are annoying humans destined to live sad, boring lives, I found the opposite. Apparently, when people in relationships use pronouns like “we,” “our” and “us,” they had less stress and were more positive toward each other, according to a UC Berkeley study from 2010. As for the “me,” “I,” and “you” couples? Less satisfied. Not as happy.
While I hate being wrong, I appreciated a scientific study confirming that my uncontrollable “we-ing” was actually pretty great. I was growing in a loving partnership.
But the idea that I was part of this awesome winning team — not to mention the whole living-together thing — was new to me. I lived alone for the better part of 10 years and never had I lived with a romantic partner before I moved in with Eric two years ago at the age of 39. So part of my issue with this whole “we” thing is that I felt like an imposter. I’d been single so long, I never thought I’d actually not be single one day. When you date and date and date (and date) year after year (after year) and find very few connections that last longer than a couple eye blinks, you cozy up to the idea of being okay with your “I.” You might even drum up the reasons why being single is better than being coupled to beat back the hype that says married people are happier.
I don’t buy into that propaganda. People can be happy regardless of their relationship status. However, there is something wonderful about being a we, about sharing a life — even if I don’t get the middle of the bed anymore. I like planning weekend activities with Eric, grocery shopping together, and being able to look at him across the room at a party and, while neither of us twitches a facial muscle, we both instinctively know it’s time to go home. Together.
As soon as I started writing this article, my dad asked me if he could get his own email account. He and my mom have been sharing an email address since forever. A week later, and completely independent of my dad’s request, my mom asked me to help her “make” her own Facebook page. She’d been browsing and posting through my dad’s account since they discovered social media. “I guess it’s time,” she laughed. After 47 years of marriage and as we speak, both of my parents are rediscovering their “I.” Their requests initially freaked me out. I jumped to conclusions. Did this break from their pattern mean divorce? The thought of my parents separating, even as I brush up on middle age, made my heart sink. In reality, though, this is probably just their own way of balancing out their “we” that’s an adorably entwined existence of joint teeth cleanings, haircuts, and just about everything else.
I get it now. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other. I can be a balance of the singular and plural. I can “we” to my heart’s content (and feel great about it!) but also logon to my own Gmail, and whatever else it is that cultivates my “I.” The thing I’d been concentrating on since I met Eric was nurturing this relationship. Growing love. Merging lives. It’s something I worked for despite 90 miles, I-95 traffic, and 80 combined years of life issues. I didn’t have to shift allegiance from single to coupled, I think I just had to ease into this change in my life. Now, being me means creating space for someone else — even if we never step foot in Argentina together. I worked hard for the “we” and it deserves its own pronoun.
Rachel Machacek is the author of The Science of Single: One Woman’s Grand Experiment in Modern Dating, Creating Chemistry, and Finding Love. Since becoming a we, she never takes out the trash and always scrubs the toilet bowl.