Oh well, the youngest child is twelve years old today, in case you wanted to find some more reasons to freak out. I think she might be slightly taller than me–I absolutely refuse to find out–and she is certainly much taller than her sisters on either side. I am, in general, totally unwilling to indulge myself in nostalgic reminiscences of the past. They were all great babies and now they are great adults and that’s all fine. But oh my gosh, the way she used to stuff all her fingers in her strangely wide mouth until she was almost 7 was to die for.
So anyway, my mother sent me this quite good article this morning–“Going From Me to We is the Hardest Part of Love”–one of the clearest articulations of the difference between how people thought of love before, and how they think of it now:
The problem with “we liked it” has to do with identity. No matter how good your relationship, you’re probably not always on the same page as your partner. So speaking as a collective tends to come off one of two ways: Either you have no idea what your partner really thinks (and also don’t care), or you’re rubbing everyone else’s nose in how in sync the two of you are, practically one person. There are a lot of things I’ve changed my mind about in recent years. But few are as significant as the U-turn I’ve made on relationships and identity, in my regard for the “we” and of all the cringe that comes with it. Secular American culture puts the self and self-fulfillment at the center of life. That emphasis, already ubiquitous by the ’60s and ’70s, continues to transform all areas of life — it’s become difficult, for example, to make any argument in a public sphere that doesn’t appeal to the ultimate good of one’s own happiness. But in viewing couplehood mostly as a vehicle for individual self-fulfillment we’ve lost the thing at the core of the romantic ideal of marriage: we.
Yes. Amen. Read the whole thing. My only possible quibble is that it’s not that hard, once you get started, to give way to another person. The first few times might be hard, especially if you think it is an immoral thing to even try. But once you get going, like any habit, it is accomplished without a lot of fuss. What happens is that you become “biddable.” You become inclined to like what the other person thinks and intends and you want to go along with him or her. If only one person does that in a marriage it can work but it might also be a disaster. But if both people are biddable, it is the easiest and most gracious kind of life you can imagine.
Still, I do choke on the word “we.” I particularly hate the propensity of modern book writers to say “we” when they could say “I” or “you.” I did just finish listening to The Mountain is You which, by the title alone, seemed like it would avoid the drumbeat of “we we we.” Unfortunately, it was one of the very worst offenders. It was full of lines like (not actually quoting here because I don’t have time to go digging) ‘When we are anxious we are living in our future and not our present,’ and other sweeping proclamations like that. Almost to the rhythm of my own breath, I endured the book by reciting over and over “Speak for yourself, lady.” Who is “We?” There is no “we.” You are assuming a great deal about me, the reader. I should speak for myself and address you and you likewise. Also “we” don’t have one single present or future or brain or family or anything. It should be “our families” not “our family,” “our brains” not “our brain.”
It seems to me that as this particular culture has become more and more fractured and deconstructed and individualistic, the “we” language has reached a fever of intensity. “We” and “our” is everywhere to a maddening degree. It has to be said, I imagine, because it doesn’t really exist. Just like God had to command the people of Israel not to have idols because that is exactly what they were having.
One of the peculiar graces of a large family–or any family at all–where the people inside do not insist on “I” but constantly give way to each other, is that the kind of “we” that emerges contextualizes the “I” in some astonishing ways. It doesn’t work if you try to force anyone to get onto your side. But by giving way yourself, you find yourself orbiting around all the different members, being accommodated to and accommodating a mountain of idiosyncrasies. Each person becomes more and more like the others and more different.
Alright, I gotta go do some other stuff. Have a nice day!
Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash