According to recent statistics – some of which I read and some of which I am making up, though I think the ones I read can be found in a New Yorker magazine which unfortunately was subjected to water abuse in my bathroom where I tend to read the New Yorker and so had to be thrown out, this having taken place about six months ago, although it may only have been four months ago and could have been as long ago as a year ago, all complicated by the fact that it may not have been a current issue when I was reading it, so you’ll have to take my word for it. “What kind of scholarship is this?” you might well ask. “Shoddy,” you might well reply and you would be right. Further, you might ask, or even demand, what kind of interjection is this that goes on for 150 words, only four words into the sentence? And to that I would say, if you’re even still reading, to paraphrase who was it, Lesley Gore, who had the hit song “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, etc.” in the early ‘60’s (ha ha, I was able to check this one out, it was Lesley Gore and the year was 1963!) that “It’s my blog and I’ll ramble if I want to, ramble if I want to, etc.” Damn, this seemed like such a good idea when I started out. Does that ever happen to you? On any account, I felt terribly guilty about my lack of fact-checking and so spent a laborious three minutes in the Googlean labyrinth and was able to verify that at least in some parts of England what I am talking about here, or what I am about to be talking about, if I would just get on with it, is true – more and more people are choosing to live alone these days.
We might infer from this startling statistic that this means that more and more people are in fact single, but this is where things get a tad murky, because it would seem to me from my experience that, to quote the Gershwins, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
And this is where my research into the I/we shift comes into play. As far as I know, I am the pioneer in this field, the trailblazer, the visionary on the vanguard, as it were, but while I have identified this phenomenon, preliminary research would indicate that it has, in the parlance of the day, traction. (At least it does with my friend Pete, who like me is a single man, and who is so vitally interested in the I/we shift, having encountered it a few times in his own life, so that nothing would do but I write this blog post sharing my findings with a larger public. Speaking of Pete, I might add that he actually has some experience with the we/I shift, but to say more would be to tell tales out of school, as they say, and so discretion would dictate that I say no more, and leave it at that.)
Essentially, the I/we shift occurs when one is talking to someone who is presumed to be single – first person singular, or I – but who soon reveals, linguistically, that he or she is in fact part a couple – first person plural, the dreaded we.
Consider, if you would, the following conversation which is quite a bit like a conversation I had just the other day. I was standing on a street corner winding my watch, when I was approached by a lovely young woman who was either walking her dog or was being walked by her dog, depending on which one of them you talked to.
ME: My, what a lovely hound you have there!
SHE: Thank you.
ME: Is it a short-haired-near-sighted-snorfling-Belgian-water-mutt?
SHE: No, it’s a French bulldog.
ME: Ahhhh, sorry, I tend to get them confused. It’s a handsome dog on any account.
SHE: Thank you. I’m so glad I got her.
ME: I guess you get lots of exercise walking her?
SHE: Oh yes, I walk her three times a day. I’m actually getting into shape!
ME: I can see that. Do you not have a yard, then?
SHE: No, we live in an apartment.
Let me interject here. At this point of the conversation, having encountered the first I/we shift, I was on uncertain footing, as I didn’t know if the we referred to by the young lady meant herself and the dog, or herself, the dog and some hulking, brooding geologist with his head shaved, you know the type. The kind of man of whom one and all might ask, “What the hell is she doing with him??” Oh, the imprecision of the English language. Although I knew we were heading into choppy waters, I none the less sailed on.
ME: Yes, I too live in an apartment, I guess most of us down here, do.
SHE: Well, I’m hoping to get a house some day.
ME: A noble aspiration.
SHE: (dreamily) I love having a yard so can putz about and sunbathe.
ME: (swooningly) A lovely image.
SHE: We’ll have it soon enough. Just as soon as my boyfriend finishes his engineering degree.
There you have it, gentle reader. Not only the completion of the I/we shift, but the added insult of inclusion of the dreaded “B” word. I should have known.
This was a rather slow-developing I/we shift, and of course the longer it is prolonged the more painful it becomes. But I often hear it in one or two sentences, to wit:
I went to Banff yesterday, I love it there. We love hiking, I love my boyfriend.
Not quite so drastic as that, perhaps, but alarmingly close.
It all makes me wonder, are there any single people left out there, or are we always taken somehow, by someone, to some extent?
On any account, there you have it: the I/we shift. Check it out for yourself, tell your friends, remember where you saw it first.
I’ll leave it for my old friend Tom Waits to mop things up.
Thanks for reading . . .