I hear it all of the time – “We want to live in the suburbs” or “We are not ready for children yet.” People throw the word “we” around like confetti, but this always makes me wonder about the dynamic of the speaker’s relationship. What I hear is “I want to live in the suburbs” or “I am not ready for children yet,” and I wonder whether the mate (even when he/she is standing there nodding in agreement) actually does agree. Because when talking about how someone feels or thinks, “we” is one of the most dishonest, or at least uncertain, words in the English language.
The only person I can speak for with utter and complete confidence is me. And sometimes I am even hesitant to say with certainty what I want, particularly when it concerns the future, because what I want can (and often has) changed. So, naturally, I feel as though I am treading on thin ice when I talk about what someone else wants or thinks. My mate has the opportunity to reveal her own thoughts. Rarely does anyone need assistance to relay an opinion or a feeling. What would be my interest in robbing her of that opportunity? Yet, it does not appear that everyone shares my hesitancy.
It may seem petty for me to pick a fight with a seemingly harmless pronoun, but we put ourselves (and our mates) in precarious positions when attempting to speak someone else’s mind – or heart. Sure, the word “we” makes us sound (and even feel) connected to another person. And it’s great when you’re talking about tangible things – like what “we” did or accomplished. But in our zest to appear cohesive and together, individuals may also influence our partners’ decisions, which is manipulative, even when it is not intentional. Even if it something you have discussed and agreed on, when you tell other people, particularly people who are important to your mate, what “we” want, you make it harder for your mate to change his/her mind, or to speak his/her mind, if this isn’t really what your partner wanted in the first place.
For example, let’s say I want to have another child, but my mate is on the fence about it. She agrees to try for another baby anyway, and even keeps her true feelings to herself, because she knows it’s important to me. Or perhaps, when she agreed, she did want another baby, but she could later decide that she’s not ready to go through the pregnancy, sleepless nights and diapers all over again. Either way, my desire may not be her desire. But if I tell our family and friends that “we” want another baby, I’m setting her up to lose face in front of all those people if she changes her mind. This is not my intention, because I truly think it’s what she wants. But because I can never be certain what is in her (or anyone else’s) heart and mind at any given point, it is still manipulative.
At best, no two people agree about everything; that is perfectly normal and absolutely OK. And there will certainly be times when you and your mate are on the same page. But neither you nor the listening parties can be certain when that is the case. If you speak for yourself, and yourself alone, you will be much more honest with everyone in the long run.
I am not suggesting that you act suspicious of people who talk about what “we” want. After all, most people mean no harm by it. It’s status quo. But status quo isn’t always best. So, when you (the one person you can control) feels tempted to “we” your partner, question your motives, and consider the much more powerful and honest alternative – “I.”