Q. I’m having an issue with the term “we” with my new girlfriend. But it’s not what you may think. It’s not in reference to us, but to her and her ex-husband.
This “we” really hit me hard the other night when she and I were at dinner with friends. I’m not sure if I was just being over sensitive at the time or if I should just accept this about her, suck it up, and let it go.
Here’s some of the background. We are both in our 40s and have two children from previous marriages. She was married for 10 years and divorced for two. My marriage was longer and I’ve been divorced for longer. We have been dating for five months. The relationship to date has been wonderful and moving along quickly. She and I spend almost every day together with and without the kids and find it very difficult to be apart from each other.
The “we” term has been popping up since the beginning of our relationship and I’ve either accepted it or made some sarcastic remark. I’ve been OK with this until the other night at dinner.
She and I were out with other couples. One of the couples had just purchased a home and we were looking at the photographs. At one of the pictures she stops, leans over to me and says, “When we had our house built we choose not to have this.” This is when that “we” term really hit a nerve. I just smiled and said OK, but I felt my heart hit the floor. It felt like I was at dinner with a still-married friend.
Was I overreacting? I do understand that each of us has a past, and I’m the type of person who can listen without any judgments. But at what point after you are separated or divorced and in a new relationship should the term “we” refer to us and not them?
Thanks for the help!
We’d Out, Haverhill
A. Talk to her about the “we.” She needs to know that it bothers you, and you can’t keep making passive-aggressive comments to deal with the problem. Make it clear that you don’t object to her telling stories about her past (because you don’t, right?). This is about the royal “we” and what it means.
When you have the conversation, make sure you ask her whether there’s a reason she prefers that pronoun. Maybe she feels weird saying his name. Maybe she has trouble saying “ex-husband.” It’s possible she believes that the alternatives to “we” will make you both feel worse.
You’re not overreacting, but it’s time to bring this up so that the problem doesn’t become more important than it really is. The longer you wait, the more sensitive you’ll get.
I’ve been divorced from Ex #1 for over 10 years now, and I still occasionally refer to “we” when discussing events that happened during that 13-year relationship. Example: “When the kids were little, we used to stay up all night on Christmas Eve drinking Irish coffee and cutting all of the little plastic tags off of the toys.” This really has nothing to do with her current state of mind and everything to do with her prior life as a “we.” As with anything else, please discuss it with her, and maybe she can learn to minimize this vocal tic.
Dude, You just gotta tell her how much it bugs you. If she cares at all, she’ll stop. Mere offers some good suggestions as to why she might be saying it. Discuss those too. After 5 months, the ‘we’ should be you and her.
Sometimes it’s a little thing like a “we” can really sting. She probably doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. Next time it happens (and you’re not in a roomful of people), mention it — casually. On another note . . . what’s this “(We) find it very difficult to be apart”? This is still a new relationship — no matter how quickly things are moving. And there are kids involved who I’m guessing are fairly young. Spend some time apart. It’ll be good for all of you.
After nearly 20 years after my divorce from “Dave,” I will sometimes call my husband of 14 years by that name. When I am tired or upset. Why? First husband got there first and his name is ingrained in my psyche.
“We” has less syllables and is easier to say than “the ex and I.” She knows you know who she’s talking about when she says we in that kind of context. Seriously, that’s all there is to it.
As a female in a male-dominated field, I converse with many divorced men. One sign of an acrimonious relationship with an ex-spouse is whether or not they refer to her with or without a name. A story told without using a wife or husband’s name usually means that they are not on the best terms whether they are divorced or married. I would worry more if she spoke unnecessarily of her ex and included his name.
When my husband and I were engaged, several times in front of my family or friends, he referred to his late wife as “my wife,” as though she were still alive. When I brought up later that others might misconstrue the comment as his still pining for the late wife and not being ready to move on, he understood my point and has been good about avoiding it. He hadn’t even realized he’d said it, though. Do mention it bothers you.
Well, I can say I’ve been guilty of your girlfriend’s faux pas and I always feel like a jerk afterward. It does take time to rid yourself of old habits, but if she is in, and you are in, then try to wait and let this fade out. I mean, you can definitely tell her that it makes you feel bad, but just don’t read too much into it when she slips.
If someone I dated told me they didn’t like me using the word ‘we’ or how I worded conversation at all, I’d think of that as a red flag from a controlling, insecure person. Such a turn-off.
Slow that roll. At 5 months, you two seem WAY too serious.
Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.