The Problem of ‘Us’

I? We? Me? Us? A lesser discussed part of divorce – the confusing world of the pronoun. If you don’t know I’m divorced, various of my sentences make no sense and require you to fill in the gaps. It’s not exactly easy to drop in a question to clarify without feeling intrusive – although some people have no such qualms!

Knowing the right pronoun to use can be really difficult. It sounds like a stupid problem in a way. But in the initial stages of separation, ‘us’ has ended and now there is only ‘me’. The former trips off the tongue accidentally, coming through years of use. Getting used to being singular rather than plural is an immense shift in thinking. Uttering the pronoun enhances the loneliness. When you marry it takes a little while getting used to the opposite, and is more of a joke – ‘it’s ours darling…’. But there’s no joke in divorce, and the forced remembering to say only ‘I’ compounds the misery. Your part in a partnership is no more.

It’s a gradual transition from being one of two to a singleton. After a while it comes more naturally, you don’t have to force yourself to remember. You use ‘I’ to speak about yourself, and don’t trip over the pronoun.

But then comes the second problem of us. The present pronoun can now be uttered without wanting to burst into tears, but what about the past? There used to be ‘us’ but it doesn’t feel appropriate to say so anymore. With close friends who knew you went to that location together, it’s irrelevant, but in talking to those with a sketchier knowledge, it’s another semantic minefield. We went lots of places, had lots of experiences, we quite clearly had a wedding. Sometimes it was easier to pretend it was just ‘me’ who did these things alone, and to keep quiet when there was any wedding talk. It feels like you have to hide part of your life (read more at Four things divorce has taught me). Why would you want to talk about your wedding and the emotions of the day when it’s ended so badly? It’s surprisingly affirming when someone acknowledges your wedding and experiences, regardless of outcome.

Only more recently have I got comfortable with referring to us both if context demands it. It’s true, it happened, and that’s just part of my story. I’ve even talked about my wedding when others talk about theirs. Recently a group of us (one married, one engaged, one in a relationship, and me) were chatting over whether you cried or would cry at your own wedding. My friends know me well, and I could talk freely. What I wasn’t prepared for was the punch in the stomach feeling as I recalled that moment when the doors open for you to walk down the aisle. It’s a moment of intense emotion; I didn’t want it back, but I hadn’t appreciated that one day I would dig it up and think it over again now I was divorced. That’s one of the funny things about divorce, occasionally, when you think it’s all dealt with and just an increasingly distant memory, it socks you one, just to remind you it’s still there.

My use of pronouns is now quite obscure. There’s no rhyme or reason in my description of experiences past. Even if we were a duo at the time, my choice of words seems to be haphazard. If people don’t know my story, I keep it simple and erase whole swathes of my past so they just contain me. One day they might know, and if not, does it matter? I’m still me, creating new memories, embracing new experiences, and continuing to confuse people with my grammatical inaccuracies.

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