Thursday, December 20, 2012

There’s no checkbox for “bed buddy”

At a recent business dinner with multiple strangers and a few vaguely familiar colleagues, the conversation turned to relationships.

“You’re single, right, Tawna?”


I choked on the word, or maybe it was the roasted cauliflower.

“I’m in a committed relationship, but not married,” I replied. “Maybe eventually. I mean I’m not opposed to marriage. I was married for thirteen years, but that ended a couple years ago and—”

I stopped talking as twelve pairs of eyeballs fixed on me and I realized I’d offered a ridiculously complicated response to a simple yes or no question.

But is it really that simple?

You’ve all seen me refer to my gentleman friend. I use the phrase not because I’m protecting his privacy, but because I can’t stand the word boyfriend.

Boyfriend is the guy who pulls your pigtails under the monkey bars. Boyfriend is the guy whose name you scribble on your Trapper Keeper in third period algebra.

So gentleman friend is my chosen phrase, but it doesn’t solve everything. Filling out a routine form at the doctor’s office recently, my gentleman friend was asked to select his marital status from a list.

Married. Divorced. Single.

He picked divorced, prompting a curious response from the doctor who blinked at me and asked, “who’s this then?”

“I’m just some chick he picked up in the parking lot,” I replied. “I heard you were offering free rectal exams.”

I understand the confusion, but I’m not sure how to avoid it. Most casual conversations and routine paperwork don’t offer an easy way to describe a committed relationship in which both parties share an address, a life, and bodily fluids, but no wedding rings.

We were delighted by a recent insurance enrollment form that offered us the option to select domestic partners. Our excitement waned when the company assumed we were in a same-sex relationship.

Sometimes I just give up and lie. Writing an email yesterday to inquire about a snowshoe trip for my gentleman friend’s offspring, I referred to them as my stepson and stepdaughter. It seemed simpler that way, but I was startled when the reply referenced my son and my daughter.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. My gentleman friend is a copywriter, and crafts hundreds of blog posts for major international companies. Most are posted anonymously under corporate headers, but last week a company requested his real name and bio.

“I referred to you as my wife,” he said somewhat sheepishly. “It sounded more professional than saying I live with my kids and my girlfriend.”

“I appreciate the warning,” I said. “Though I would have preferred the term concubine.”

“I’ll remember that next time.”

Am I the only person flummoxed by the words and phrases used to categorize relationships? Please share!

I’ll be researching tax benefits for concubines.


Peter said...

My wife and I are always amused at the fact that there is no term for the person (usually male) that a wife has an affair with. The term 'mistress' is well known but using 'mister' is silly. Added to that is that there is now a term for the wife in that scenario if, and only if, the person is young (i.e.: 'cougar'). So we've taken to calling that person 'Fred.' As in: "Her Fred had to scramble out the window naked when her husband came home early."

Needless to say, whenever we do run in to someone named 'Fred' we sort of giggle.

Patty Blount said...

Yes, for me as the child of divorced parents, it was what to call my father's wife.

Step-mom wasn't right, since she did not raise me. I was 20 when they got married.

Plus, she hated me.

So, I referred to her as The Bride.

Dana Elmendorf said...

Wow, I never considered this to be an issue but now that you point it out, that's whack. Especially since you can't even use the "domestic partner" option. You should just draw in your own box on every form that says "person I get naked with" ;)

Penelope said...

I think this is a predicament many share, with dozens of different possible situations.

I was married, then divorced, then a single mom, and now married again. My husband is such a good parent to my son; people often assume he's the biological dad.

I have the same dislike for the term step-parent as you to for boyfriend, so we call my husband the bonus dad. He's the dad in our house, and our son is quite lucky that is so!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I think the use of "boyfriend" is fine these days because men no longer grow up. They play video games into their 40s

Lori Gleichman said...

My Dad and his partner Eloyice were together for more than 20 years. The first time he was hospitalized and in intensive care, the nurses wouldn't let her visit. I told her from that moment on to tell hospital staff (we knew this wouldn't be the first time he was in intensive care) that she was his wife and that solved that problem. It always amazed me that we can tell people anything and they question it, so why make rules in the first place.

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

After nearly 27 years of marriage, it was weird to once again have a "boyfriend." Now we're engaged, so fiance is the term we both use and it does seem more "grown up."

And, as far as the word for the male who cheats, I prefer "asshole" to Fred. Especially since Fred is my dad's name and my ex-husband was an asshole who cheated.

Chris said...

I always liked to say "lover" just to watch my now husband squirm.

Tammy J. Palmer said...

Funny about the Fred. My daughter was just telling me that her boyfriend's un-step-uncle's daughter calls her dad's un-wife, Fred. My siblings have all given up on marriage but not relationships so this is a common problem in our family. I like un-wife though un-husband doesn't have the same ring to it.

Jess said...

Guh yes. Obvi I'm okay with Boyfriend, although that's informally on the internet and such. I go with Partner sometimes but it's still weird. Hrm.

ella said...

I live in Quebec, and it's more common than not for your long-term domestic partner to be someone you are not legally married to. The word generally in use here is 'conjoint'.

I've also become converted to liking 'partner'. I used to dislike it because I thought it sounded too business-y, but it grew on me.

In English, I generally use 'spouse'.

RamblingWords said...

First let me say that a domestic partner is someone you live with in a doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. If you do not consider yourself to be in a "partnership" then trying to find the language for a relationship really can be tricky. You can always be like Lilith and Fraiser, you can be POSSLQs. I will always be fond of the term POSSLQ.

I am not single, I am not married, I am divorced and I live in a domestic partnership. I mark that I am divorced and then I list my partner as such on any necessary paperwork. I also list her as my roommate because that term is correct as well.

I tend not to get "hung up" on the language of my relationship. We live together. We are happy and that is all that matters. We share children, grandchildren and granddogs. It all works out no matter what we do or do not call our relationship.



k8 said...

Unrealted comment, but when I saw this, I immediately thought of you. Please take that as a complement.

May you use it in good health.

Glynis said...

There is a word for the "male mistress", it's cicisbeo (chee-chiz-bay-o). It was in use in Italy I the 18th century for the lover of a married woman who also accompanied her to social events, and so on. We could resurrect it!

Before the hubs and I were married (for insurance reasons), I called him my man. He called me his worked for us.

Glynis said...

There is a word for the "male mistress", it's cicisbeo (chee-chiz-bay-o). It was in use in Italy I the 18th century for the lover of a married woman who also accompanied her to social events, and so on. We could resurrect it!

Before the hubs and I were married (for insurance reasons), I called him my man. He called me his worked for us.

Tatum Flynn said...

Personally, I like 'squeeze' ;)

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

I agree that "partner" makes me think business partner.

Did you ever watch Sex and the City? Carrie talked about this once, she joked that instead of "boyfriend", she wanted to call Mr. Big her "manfriend." lol

Susan Spann said...

I definitely struggle with this.

My parents divorced when I was in college, and eight years later my mother remarried - her high school boyfriend, who she reconnected with at a high school reunion (he was divorced too, with a son the age of my brother).

Flash forward 18 more years: my father died three years ago, and my mother's husband has been very much a father figure in my life, and a grandfather figure in my son's life. Introducing him in public has always been odd. Calling him "Dad" isn't exactly right (I have a Dad, who was very much in my life until his death) and calling him by his first name is just plain weird
"This is my mom and this is [Name]" just felt awkward.

Also, I loathe the name "step-dad" (or "step-mom") because those people take on the full role and deserve better than that icky title.

Eventually I just decided to start saying "This is my mom and my dad" because it eliminated the need for explanations. People who need to know more will understand and people who don't - well, it doesn't matter.

As it happened, the first time I did this I noticed my "dad" tear up. Turns out, he'd always considered me a daughter, even though he didn't meet me until I was an adult, and using the "full title" meant more to him than even I realized.

Yep...struggled with it. Yep, eventually solved it.

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~Sia McKye~ said...

My brother solved it by saying his partner.

But I do like the sound of concubine, lololol!

Raley Blue said...

I'm married and I prefer the term "concubine." ;) I used to put it's complicated on my FB status just because I could, but creepy people trolling for online romance and high school classmates kept messenging, asking what happened to my boyLovey... sigh.... Can't win. Love the rectal exam line.

Raley Blue said...

Oh, and my Dad and one his serial monogamous partners were dead set we all use the term "life partners" when refering to them... not realizing everyone would think I had two dads when I said it. I really enjoyed saying it. ;)

Genette Wood said...

I just need a box for "will probably be with this guy intermittently for the rest of our lives." Or "it's complicated." "It's complicated sums things up nicely.

As far as my parents, my dad took my mom's last name instead of the other way around. I like to say my dad has a "maiden" name, since there's not really a term for that situation.