I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately. Until last week, the only sentence I could confidently say in French was Je suis la jeune fille*. Truthfully, that’s still my most carefree sentence, but I could also tell you that the apple is red and that I have a black cat and you have a white dress and she likes the boy and the boy eats oranges. I shall be a scintillating conversationalist en francaise, don’t you think?
I haven’t gotten to possessives just yet, but a heaping dose of Spanish during primary and secondary school has helped me fill in the holes. And I dwell on those possessives. El gato de Clara. The cat of Clara, Clara’s cat. It’s all about ownership—of course, that’s what a possessive is. But we do seem to define our world in terms of its relationship to us. My mother, my boyfriend, my best friend’s cousin Clara’s cat.
When do we learn possessives, do you think? I think it must happen right around the time people start talking about sharing, to counter-balance the desire to claim our new grammar skills (and everything else in sight). So then you have a toddler in preschool who has learned that his father has given him a ball and that ball of his must be shared with that other snotty-nosed boy because…well, even though it’s his ball, we must share our toys. Because it’s the nice thing to do.
Fast forward fifteen years, when that same boy is at a party, only he’s a young man now and he has a girlfriend (has—see, there it is again). And this young man has to walk a very fine line between the natural desire to hoard his sweetheart’s time and favors and to share her with the world. He must let her spend time with her friends and family, lest he be called a cad. And he must let her hang out with his friends, lest he be accused of not trusting her or not liking her enough to introduce her to his social circle. And hugs are OK, but no kissing, unless you’ve agreed to it beforehand. Monogamy is the default—and monogamy is not sharing, taking full possession, my girlfriend, not yours, buddy, so back off. And polygamy or polyamory—sharing, what’s mine is yours, free love, baby—is the elephant in the room, the weird thing to do.
And what about children? They come out of the womb as the mother’s child, the father’s child, and then they demand to be their own person and then they are so-and-so’s lover and so-and-so’s spouse, but don’t worry, mom, I’ll always be your baby. That is such a conundrum. No wonder humanism—personhood, freedom of thought—brought on revolutions. The ways we think of ourselves and others in relation to ourselves is mindboggling.
I just finished The Forsyte Saga on Netflix this afternoon, and I was struck by this one moment. Soames has just visited Irene to speak about Jon and Fleur’s intended engagement, and Soames is struck by jealousy and regret. He grips Irene and yells that if she had only done what she was supposed to do, as his wife, as his property, the pair might be siblings and they might not be dealing with any of this. And then Jon comes in and hollers something about Irene being his mother. And then Irene retakes control. She tells the men that she is no one’s.
There is something there, in that thought, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’ll let you know once I think it out.
*I just Google translated this to make sure it means what I think it means. It doesn’t. For 15 years, I thought I’d been saying, “I am the happy girl” when all this time, Muzzy was reciting, “I am the young girl.” Damn it.