When ‘we’ means ‘you’

“Why do you say ‘we,’ when you really mean ‘me’ – that I should get the car washed?” The Wife asked, rather annoyed.

March 27, 2011 00:03

herb cartoon hug 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With Purim behind us and Pessah right up ahead, I thought I was being the responsible adult when I mentioned to The Wife last week that we should get the car cleaned before the onset of the great pre-Pessah rush at the local car wash.

But I was wrong.

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“Why do you say ‘we,’ when you really mean ‘me’ – that I should get the car washed?” she asked, rather annoyed.

“Well, Honey, you know how it is. Half the country vacuums a year’s worth of crumbs out of their cars a couple of days before Pessah, and because everyone waits until the last minute, everyone ends up spending about three hours in line, ready to pounce on anyone who looks even remotely like they might jump in front of them.

Besides, the price for a car wash is always jacked way up right before the holiday. I thought if we get it done now, we won’t have to worry about it later.”

“But why do you say ‘we,’ when you really mean ‘me,’” she said again, obviously missing my very well-thought-out and considerate point.

So I repeated the point again, using other illustrations of how there are certain things in this country – like buying school books, purchasing a lulav and etrog, or going kayaking up north – that everyone does at the exact same time of year, leading to an unpleasant experience of long lines and short tempers.

“Trust me,” The Wife replied. “I know what you‘re talking about. But don‘t say ‘we,’ because you don‘t mean ‘we.’ This isn‘t the royal we, and you‘re not Prince William. You mean me, that I should do it. Say what you mean. Communicate. Be direct. Don‘t manipulate.”

The Wife then launched into a litany of times when I said “we,” but actually meant her.

“Why do you say ‘we’ should call the new neighbors and invite them for Shabbat, when you mean that I should do it?” she said.

"Why do you say ‘we’ should call the electric company to straighten out a bill, when you mean I should do it? And why do you say ‘we’ should go grocery shopping because we’re out of milk, when you obviously have no intention in the world of doing it yourself?”

Hmm, interesting points those, albeit a bit troubling. After nearly 25 years of marriage – our anniversary is in a week – The Wife was on to me.

See what a quarter of a century can do?

“I dunno,” I said, my eyes downcast. “I guess it’s just a manner of speaking.”

No, saying “dunno” instead of “don’t know” is a manner of speaking, she said. Saying “pop” instead of “soda” is a manner of speaking. Talking with a southern accent is a manner of speaking. What I was doing, she insisted, was bucking responsibility.

Language, indeed, is a marvel: The switching of one small pronoun provides enormous cover. “We should do the dishes” sounds so much better, so less demanding, so less threatening, so much more magnanimous, so much more 21st centuryhusband than “you should do the dishes.”

Besides, I argued, having been married for so long, having shared so much, having raised four children and having gone through the proverbial thick and thin, we were a unit, flesh of one flesh and all that.

"We, me, you. What’s the difference, really? We are one,” I said, sounding like an advertisement for the Greater Boston Jewish Federation.

TWENTY FIVE years is, indeed, a long time. It’s funny how one’s concept of time changes. I remember in college when my folks celebrated their 25th anniversary thinking that 25 years was an eternity, and wondering how it was possible to wake up to the same person for so long.

Those were the days when I also wondered how one could keep one job longer than the three months of summer vacation. And then – boom – there I am on the same playing field.

These romantic we-are-one musings, however, were interrupted when The Wife raised an even more salient and disturbing point: How could it be, she asked, if I professed to love her so dearly, that I would want to dump all those little things I hated doing precisely onto her? Why indeed? I mean, would Romeo ask Juliet to clean the balcony. Would Woody Allen ask Soon- Yi Pervin to clean his glasses? Would Homer Simpson ask Marge Bouvier to clean the chickens (well, he probably would).

My first instinct was to say that this was just the way I was wired, what I picked up from my surroundings. But I knew this deterministic explanation would not fly with The Wife, who also happens to be a psychotherapist. No, that explanation was too easy and superficial. I was going to have to delve deep down and comb the inner chambers of my soul to come up with a better answer than that.

And while I was down there delving around, she said, I should try to figure out why I do the same thing to the sweet, unsuspecting children, like asking them to go borrow things from the neighbors – something I loathe and adamantly refuse to do.

“Perhaps it’s because you, and the kids, don’t mind doing these things as much as I do,” I spurted out, thinking of the time when we were courting and The Wife (then The Girlfriend) said she’d do the dishes, and that she actually liked doing the dishes because she found it relaxing.

“Wow, this is going to be great,” I had thought, only to learn soon after that she didn’t meant it, and that the things I disliked, she disliked as well – which is actually one of the reasons we have proven to be so compatible.

“Or perhaps,” I said, “there is a streak of selfishness that runs through us all, and we would rather have someone else do something aggravating, in order to save ourselves the aggravation.”

Finally, she smiled. And then she asked when “we” were going to plan a getaway for our anniversary.

I got on it the next day.

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