Tuesday, January 27, 2009

By any other name

The babe and I have fallen prey to the urge to merge. That’s right readers.

The babe and I are moving in together. Thursday. Into a lovely apartment that makes us swoon and makes our friends jealous.

In a few short days, the scouring for boxes and packing and cleaning will be over, and we’ll live in our new place as glorious…what? Girlfriends?

The babe’s mom made a comment recently suggesting that after the move, we would be “partners.” I think the comment made both of us catch our breath a little. We love each other tremendously, but partners? Aren’t partners people who are married? We’re just going to be girlfriends who live with each other.

We’ve talked about the terminology a little bit, not because it’s particularly important to us – more because we’re curious about the words people use to define their relationships. I pointed out to the babe this morning as we were talking about getting together with old friends that she used the word partners to talk about their…um…people. We laughed and then suggested significant others as the more appropriate terminology.

So I looked up some of the words in the good ol’ Merriam Webster. And there’s not a lot of help there.

Here’s the run down:

Partner - a person with whom one shares an intimate relationship; one member of a couple

Girlfriend - a frequent or regular female companion in a romantic or sexual relationship

Significant other - a person who is important to one’s well-being, especially a spouse or one in a similar relationship

Spouse - married person

The one point of clarity is clearly spouse. There’s no question about what that means.

But then what’s the phrasing for us gays? The babe suggested that maybe heterosexuals use the word partner to connote something pre-marriage. And if that’s the case, then is the gay community using it to connote the same thing? Or does it have more significance for us? At least those of us who don’t live somewhere where we can get married?

As for mine and the babe’s relationship, the definition of girlfriend seems a little weak. A female companion? I mean, I guess. But it’s more than that.

When my mom was dating her now-husband, we struggled with the terminology too. It felt weird to call him her boyfriend. It made it sound like they were 15. And then once they moved in together, it seemed even weirder. I felt like if I talked about my mom’s partner, people would think she was gay. (Which, of course there’s nothing wrong with, but is definitely not the case.) Mom suggested I call him her sweetheart. I suggested that I just ask people to puke.

So, what words do you use? And what do you think people mean when they use other words? Does it matter what we call these relationships?

The battle over Prop 8 and other battles like that one around the country seem to suggest that it does. But what do you think?


April said...

Congrats on the merge! I can't wait to see pictures of the new apt!

Ahhh, the terminology. I struggle with the same thing...I never know what to call Cory. After 5 years together, I still don't know. Normally, it's not an issue at all, and I really don't worry about what I call him...but then, I guess sometimes I feel the need to "validate" my relationship to the married folks out there (even though it's completely silly and ridiculous). And that's when "boyfriend" is not enough, or it just seems to undermine the significance of the relationship...Who knows! Let me know if you figure it out--otherwise, I'm going with sweetheart for sure! :)

ImNobody said...

I prefer loooova', drawled with an entirely inappropriate accent. Because if you can't be honest with a sense of hilarity, it's probably not worth being honest at all (pool boy is the alternate go-to).

Or sometimes just Darwin. Who doesn't know Darwin? Obviously, anybody who's anybody does. The name needs no introduction.

Congrats on the new digs!

saisai said...

i think you sorta hit the nail on the head with your definitions: they are vague. to lapse into legal parlance, there's no "objective standard" here--only a collection of subjective ones, held by individuals, that in the aggregate gives us general trends which we define in phrases like "important to", "companion," and "intimate relationship." the only thing to do in this sort of situation is to figure out what these words mean to the two of you, so that when you say "partner" or "significant other" or whatever you are referring to your own subjective definitions. otherwise, you're just trying to guess the subjective definitions of the person you're talking to, and that will change day by day.

did that make any sort of sense? keep in mind i've been briefing 4th Amendment issues all day so i'm kinda fried.

also, i'm thrilled for you girls and can't wait to jump into your pool. love you!

t said...

i've heard that ani (yes, i mean difranco) calls her husband her partner. i like it. i wish we could all just switch to some neutral term. in my ideal world, everyone can get "married" and everyone can be a "spouse"/"partner" and there is no such term as wife or husband. who needs 'em?

by the way, i think of you two as significant others. (which is a term i kind of dislike, just for being so long.)

Virgin In The Volcano said...

Go Sandra Oh on Grey's and just number yourselves. She's your 1, you're her 2.

Or something.

Laughing said...

I agree with everything you've said. If you wanted to be obvious about the weird words you could call her your "special friend" or "lady friend" or "special lady".

I introduced BF as my "partner" once and he stopped me and said, "Partner? Like on a project? Do we get a group grade?" Makes it feel extra ridiculous.

So I usually just call him my person. It seems to communicate that he's important without going into the complicated reality (that we have plans to marry but not in a way that would make most people call us "engaged" yet). I think the most important thing is to pick something that you're comfortable with, something that you can say without thinking. The people that need to understand will, and everybody else can get over it.

Trannyhead said...

This is a really interesting post. I just heard a "This American Life" pocast about trying to quantify relationships. The guy tried to apply corporate theory to relationships and he totally failed. He said it's just not easily quantifiable.

The linguistic take is also interesting. I know I always struggle to find the right term for homosexual partners. I mean - boyfriends just sounds so ... not what it is in some cases. It's so much more than that. But spouses, sadly, doesn't work, either. But what about in between? I guess I'd opt for partners for lack of a better term. Though of course, that means different things to different people as you pointed out.

Deb on the Rocks said...

Congratulations on your decision. Break in every room, at least twice. It's better than sage for getting your mojo right on in the place.

I refer to my girlfriend partner person in conversations as"My Baby or My Sugar." Someone once met her and called her Deb's Baby. Once at a rather formal straighty-straight fundraiser I introducer her as my "Daily Squeeze." But I like the idea of "My Lady Bedfellow." I might experiment with that.

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