This is part one in a two (or more?) part series about radical unmarrieds. Coming up: How do you handle money?
According to Google, I invented the phrase “radical unmarrieds.” I like it—to me it signifies people of all persuasions who are not married primarily for political reasons. This article (found through Feministing) has me thinking about the old, old question of what radical unmarrieds call their sweethearts. Here’s my take, I’d love to hear yours.
For whatever reason (well, not “whatever reason.” For a very simple reason: patriarchy!), the idea of being called a wife fills me with dread and disgust and existential ick. And I don’t want a husband. I don’t think that the historical associations of those words can be changed to such an extent to make them at all palatable to me, so I choose not to partake in the activity that would necessitate using them.
But explaining the importance of a relationship that has been existing for 12+ years but has no plans to formalize itself into a marriage is tricky. I’ve decided that I don’t really care to explain the importance of my relationship to anyone, just as Jacob and I don’t feel the need to prove our love to anyone by getting married. I feel it’s more special and sacred to love each other outside the bounds of the religious-political-governmental system that we have so many problems with.
But: sometimes that paragraph is too much to say to someone when you just need to pay the electricity bill. So, here are my shorthand signifiers for the signified that is Jacob:
I switch between:
- “partner” — which I sometimes use when talking to liberals I think will understand. They usually assume after this that I’m a lesbian and though I rather like this [as we all know, I rather am a lesbian] it seems sorta dishonest, so I try to work in “he.” I never use “life partner,” though—uggg, partner is ugly enough.
- “boyfriend”—used with mainstreamy people I don’t care about, but it never comes out quite right. I always trip over it. As I pointed out last year: “To me, a boyfriend is someone you share a milkshake with two straws with while looking into each other’s eyes, not the person with whom you trade two lawn mows for two cat box cleanings.”
- Once a year or so I’ll have no qualms about using “husband.” If I just need to pay the damn phone bill and the bill happens to be in his name (we try to do all house bills in both names, but it’s worked out to be about half and half) and the operator asks if I’m “Mrs. Feinberg-Pyne,” of course I’ll say yes. As I would if he was in the hospital or something like that.
- “sweetheart,”—my favorite because it’s the prettiest. It’s also completely useless, as it is unclear what level of seriousness it conveys. But it’s without a doubt the most accurate: Jacob is sweet, and he has my heart. Easy.
What does Jacob call me? “Lagusta.” Being a crank and a contrarian, he sometimes uses “partner,” but mostly just plunges ahead with “Lagusta,” rude though it can be to people who do not know if Lagusta is a wife, a pet, or, perhaps, a lobster. (I cannot stop pointing out this link! I know I’ve already done it like five times, but I am so obsessed with it.). People catch on eventually: this Lagusta is obviously someone important to him.
I kind of like that things are chaotic and crazy in the name-your-lover department. Just as all marriages are different, all radical unmarried relationships are different. I like that people have to get to know me to understand my relationship—isn’t that how it should be?
(Update: Brittany just passed along this article about this very subject!)