Elisabeth: What Should We Call Our Family?


Being a lady with a wife, when said wife doesn't want to be one

by Elisabeth Snell, Contributing Editor

Elisabeth: What Should We Call Our Family? | A Practical Wedding

Girlfriend, partner, spouse, sweetie, wife. What do I call the person to whom I made a lifelong commitment? Our caterer, who was awesome in all ways, did have a peculiar habit of calling K my “mate,” which always made me imagine her as a sexy werewolf ripping off her three piece suit under the demon moon. And my dad, who loves all things French, likes to call K “son partenaire” with a real Gallic influence on each syllable. But I think that really only works if you’re an amiable gentleman who likes wearing monogrammed pink turtlenecks, so for the moment, I’ve been using wife.

Last week at a conference, I ran into an old public health colleague. We exchanged pleasantries in the hallway and he asked what I’d been up to, and I told him I’d gotten married, and he responded with the world’s most ridiculous yet popular response. “Congrats! Who’s the lucky guy?”

Ugh. Can we launch a movement to stop saying this? This is dumb to say to anyone who’s just gotten married, not just the gays. First of all, it doesn’t really make sense. The person you’re saying it to is likely not your close friend, otherwise you’d know this news, so why would you think you’d recognize their lucky guy’s name? If you’re looking for a space-filler phrase, why not just leave it at a hearty congratulations? And secondly, queers are getting married all over the place now (huzzah Illinois and Hawaii!), and thus I’m probably not going to be the only married gay person you know, and you’re going to be cringing in embarrassment when I calmly respond, “I don’t think you know my wife, actually, but, hopefully you’ll meet her at some point.”

(Tangent: while we’re at it, can we also stop calling newborn babies “heartbreakers,” as in, “He’s going to be one hell of a ladies’ man!” Why are you talking like that about someone who’s fourteen hours old? That fourteen-hour-old isn’t even aware that their eyes are crossed at that very moment, let alone other potential baby dates of either gender. If you think the baby’s cute, say the baby’s cute, and skip talking about their future sex life.)

I’m being flippant, but when the subject of my recent wedding comes up in conversation, I do reference “my wife,” though this wasn’t something I necessarily planned. In thinking about why, I think I do this for two reasons. For one, it gives me a little shiver of excitement. Our marriage is only six weeks old, and I like having a wife, or rather, I like having K as my wife.

Moreover, I think it’s a little revolutionary, being a lady with a wife. “Wife” is an easy way to ensure that I provide the person I’m talking to with an instant, immediate understanding of both my sexuality and my relationship. If I say that I have a partner or spouse, you might still be wondering about their gender. And you might not ascribe our recent commitment with the seriousness that we do.

Last month the APW staff had a number of really interesting email discussions about October’s monthly theme, feminism. At one point we were discussing the ways that feminism can be strategic, like how two people can generally agree on the same ultimate goals of equality, but pick and choose different pieces of the movement to throw their own energy behind. As a queer person, I see the use of the word “wife” as a bit of a strategic one. It’s not my ideal word, sure. But I deeply believe in raising awareness, and I’m willing to use the mainstream label so that people are crystal clear about my sexuality and my family. I spend a lot of time correcting people about my sexuality, and using “wife” improves my queer visibility, even in a five minute hallway conversation. Hopefully my former colleague will have a split-second of awareness the next time he presumes heterosexuality. And that, in turn, goes a little way towards improving visibility for the queer community at large.

There’s just one problem with this strategic theory, which is that the wife in question, K, is ardently, deeply, enthusiastically opposed to being one.

Well. Now doesn’t that mess up my neatly packaged queer-ish theory.

K and I, you might remember, rarely agreed on language around our recently momentous event. She called our wedding a legally binding clambake and she called our engagement a “time when we tell our beloveds that we’re having a party to celebrate our commitment” (I am so into subverting the dominant paradigm but why is it so LONG?!). When we were talking about whether things have changed now that we’re married (short version: I think they have, she thinks they haven’t; she pointed out that we’re still arguing about semantics so see, they haven’t changed. My wife, everybody! Captain of the debate team!).

In all seriousness, though, I’m not sure you can have a wife if said wife doesn’t want to be one.

The thing is, I absolutely understand her efforts to reframe mainstream perceptions of what a long-term commitment looks and sounds like. She remains deeply ambivalent about the traditional marriage model and all the loaded terminology therein. She’s more interested in seeing society move towards alternative relationships than putting all of the value on married twosomes. But she’s fiercely loyal to me, and I don’t need her to wear the wife label to prove her devotion, the same way I didn’t need her to wear a wedding band (but I sure do like how handsome she looks with one on). I don’t doubt, for a moment, that every day she wakes up and makes the active choice to be with me, this day and all the next. And while I don’t mind identifying as a wife (a reclaimed one, obviously), I don’t really feel a need for her to call me as such. Although I firmly ruled out her suggestion to “just keep using girlfriend.”

Also? Even as we continue to ditch the baggage of the word, wife is, well, just about as far away from her gender expression as you can get.  While she does do all the cooking for this lazy broad, the only time I’ve ever seen her in mascara is a particularly fetching drag outfit from her years in New Orleans, and her greatest accomplishment will go down as the time the car service ran out of gas in Windsor Terrace and she hopped out to PUSH THE CAR TO THE GAS STATION. Excuse me while I fan myself. Hunk, yes, traditional wife, no. (And look at me ascribing wearing makeup and not liking to push cars to traditional models of femininity! God this shit is complicated.)

It’s an interesting time to be queer and recently married. I have no doubt we’ll see same-sex marriage become fully federally and state recognized in our lifetimes, and maybe in a few years “spouse” will become so widely used that we’ll drop the problematic “wife” all together. But, and here’s the rub: if the traditions explicitly exclude me, I feel weird about knocking on the closed doors.

And at the same time, if everyone else gets one, I kind of want a wife too.

Photo by Elizabeth Leitzell, from Elisabeth’s personal collection

Elisabeth Snell

Elisabeth is an MPH working in public health in New York City. Her old okcupid profile said she’s really good at: fixing socially awkward situations at parties, return trips to Ikea, whipping up excellent mac and cheese on camping trips, leaping into the ocean, being chronically late, and having Friday night adventures all over Brooklyn. In September 2013, she married her introverted, punctual K.

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  • Polygon

    Can we brainstorm gender neutral alternatives to “Who’s the lucky guy?”? I actually really like some of the connotations, like obviously your choice of life partner is the most important thing about your wedding and is totally legit to want to know about someone you’ve lost touch with. Plus it’s mixed in with a bit of a compliment without making it too creepy. However, I also like not shoving my foot down my throat with hetero-normative statements, and I definitely don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or bad about themselves, so losing that part would ideal.

    • Claire Partridge

      “Who’s the lucky person?!”?

      • Elisabeth S.

        I see your point about the immediately wanting to know more about the life partner. That’s fair! What if we keep it real simple:

        “You must be so happy/I’m so happy for you!”
        “Oh wow that’s amazing! When/where are you guys getting married?”

        That opens up all kinds of options for me to come out gracefully to you:
        “We are over the moon. You haven’t met K yet, but she’s delightful.”
        “We’re getting married at K’s house in Iowa where she grew up!”

    • Jacky Speck

      I just can’t think of a way to ask that question that doesn’t sound like prying, even if you were very good friends before losing touch.

      I lost touch with one of my best friends from high school for several years, when she inexplicably stopped returning my texts/calls. During that time she came out as a lesbian. I only found out on Facebook, when she added to her profile that she was “In A Relationship” with a woman. At some point she wanted to get together and catch up with me. We talked about a lot of stuff, but she never brought up her orientation. So I didn’t ask, because there was no way of knowing whether or not she would WANT to talk about it with me. Asking a question like “Who’s the lucky person?” would have made it seem like she owed me some kind of explanation… And she didn’t, because I wasn’t a big enough part of her life to hear it in person when she came out. Maybe she wasn’t ready to tell me. For all I knew at the time, her realization that she was a lesbian could have been the very reason we lost touch in the first place. Eventually we started hanging out regularly again, and I met her girlfriend, and everything was good, so I don’t regret letting her share on her own terms.

      Being a private person myself, I like to err on the side of respecting people’s privacy. So if someone I haven’t seen in years wants to tell me all about his/her partner, great! I’ll listen enthusiastically. But I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, and have no way of knowing what they do or don’t want to share. So I’d rather not ask for details at all unless they’re offered. It doesn’t mean I’m not interested; I just don’t want to violate your privacy.

      • Elisabeth S.

        Can I just say, I appreciate your story about waiting for the person to come to you with her updates, instead of pushing a little more. I still remember a card one of my high school friends wrote to me my first year of college where she said, “you can tell me everything, but you don’t have to tell me anything.” In fact I was not ready to talk with her about coming out, but I was grateful for the reminder that when I was, she was going to be ok with it.

  • Lynsey

    I love love love this post! As a former English teacher turned attorney, language is my jam. The words we use are so important, and there is great power in both choosing to use traditional terms to describe a relationship as well as radically different words. This shit IS complicated! Thank you for explaining it so beautifully!

  • Ella

    My (male) gynecologist, upon finding out I was getting married, asked me if I was marrying a man or a woman. I’m not sure that’s going to be a PC answer in the future (as in, who cares as long as you’re happy and loved?), but I appreciated the thought that he didn’t immediately assume everyone is in a heterosexual relationship.

    • M is for Megan

      Yeah, I mentioned “my fiance” to someone I didn’t know a couple months ago, and they asked, “What’s his name? Or her, I don’t want to assume.” Which, if not PC in the long term, is at least promising and well intentioned toward acceptance!

      • Elisabeth S.

        I like that! A simple, graceful addition.

    • Shiri

      That’s great to hear! I’d imagine it is relevant in this particular medical situation, as what sex you have sex with (and the assumption of monogamy that goes along with marriage) will have some effect on what your gynecological needs will be.

    • deeanna

      Good for your gyno! As a physician, I do think it is appropriate to ask that question (not necessarily who you are marrying, but what type of sexual partners you have ) as your sexual partners are medically relevant.

      • Meg Keene

        FAIR POINT. They’re just concerned about the health of your lady parts.

    • Helen

      ugh. I had a fight with mine, who thought I was being naive when I told her to skip the routine discussion around birth control and pregnancy that accompanies all such visits (i go to the NZ equivalent of Planned Parenting, which is normally super great). She gave me this sideways look and launched into a condescending speech. I had to interrupt to explain to her the entire lack of sperm in my life.

      • Alyssa M

        What was her response to that? Please tell me it was SOMETHING different than the incredibly offensive “but what if you get raped?” that both myself and a friend have experienced…

        • Helen

          Oh, she was actually quite good about it. Just of nodded “oh, ok” and got on with it. ps. are you serious re. rape comment? Erm… woah.

          • Alyssa M

            Very serious. I fired that doctor. Crazy thing was about six months later a friend got the same comment from a Nurse at Planned Parenthood. Apparently it’s a regular threat used by doctors in my area to manipulate women into gynecological treatment they don’t want. I’m going to a midwife now.

  • Laura C

    We had an in-person version of “who’s the lucky guy” last weekend. Went to meet a friend, who was having drinks with someone A knows slightly. A introduced me to the acquaintance just by my name, not as “my fiancee.” A few minutes later, the guy asks A “what are you up to?” A says you know, finishing up grad school, getting married in the summer. “OH! Who did you propose to???” Uhhh…her? Except there wasn’t really a proposal per se, but we are getting married.

    At least now I understand when people describe this guy as a little weird.

    The language thing is so tough. I use fiance etc because it’s something that people understand, but I feel a little cheesy doing it. Just as when I ran into some old old family friends and the man was like “you’re engaged!” and the woman said “engaged? I knew you were going to get married, but ENGAGED?” and we had this whole conversation about how yes, engaged implies all sorts of things that we’re not really on board with, but it is in fact a word that is taken to fit the general category of “planning a wedding for we are getting married soon.” Meanwhile my father, married since he was 19 years old, has expressed concerns about the words husband and wife for even, you know, straight cis married-in-white-dress-and-tux couples. And I’m like look, this land is not my land but I don’t have the energy to do much more than speak some of the language while expressing occasionally that it’s not really me. But for us, once the wedding is over it’ll be mostly settled, because heteronormativity.

    • Kayjayoh

      So the dude basically was all, “OH! I haven’t actually been listening to most of what you’ve been saying since you got here!!!”

  • Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

    The answer someone’s looking for when they say, “Who’s the lucky guy?!” is, “Someone I met at the grocery store two years ago.” (for example). An upbeat, “Gal, actually! Met her at a party!” will more than suffice as a correction, with no need to assume or inflict embarrassment on the other party. Americans – especially the smart, thoughtful ones, including me – have gotten ace at being so offended about gender and race issues. Isn’t it exhausting? I understand that words are important, but so is grace, yes?

    • Eenie

      Imagine for a year (while engaged) everyone who you weren’t well acquainted with made a gross assumption about you based on your gender. Actually scratch that, every day of your life people make that assumption. How would you feel? Yes acting with grace is important (which I think Elisabeth did), but why would you want to ever do that to someone? It’s important to treat people how they want to be treated. A simple substitution of person for guy/gal/man/lady does not take that much effort.

    • Laura C

      Honestly, condescending to someone who’s writing very gracefully about these challenges with “isn’t it exhausting” suggests that you need to consider the importance of grace yourself. Yes?

      Exhausting is being responsible for others’ responses to you being not quite what they expect. Exhausting is going into every day wondering if today you’ll get ugliness and crap for who you are. Exhausting is the fact that Elisabeth wrote about her wedding day “how it felt to walk the streets of New York and see cabbies hanging out their car windows, honking their congratulations; to smile back at staring babies and smiling passerbys and realizing, much later, that we hadn’t heard a single homophobic comment on our way from home to St. Marks.” Think about what it means to have “no stranger was overtly ugly to us on our wedding day” as a mark of a particularly magical day, and go ahead and be snide about how exhausting it is to be “ace” at being offended.

    • Shiri

      Heteronormativity isn’t a gaff to be excused or overlooked. It also isn’t something Elizabeth appears to be looking for in people’s actions. Heteronormativity is actually oppressive – it’s hurtful, exclusive, and leads to massive othering – and Elizabeth has every right to not want to be subjected to it. Sometimes, embarrassment teaches people something, and Elizabeth wouldn’t be the one inflicting it here. He did something embarrassing, she isn’t embarrassing him.

      Being forced to be upbeat in the face of other people’s ignorance that people like you exist (for whatever it is about you they’re ignoring) is what is exhausting. Being forced to come out all the time, now that must be exhausting, too.

    • Violet

      Can I try to merge these ideas? When living anything outside of the
      heteronormative/white/able-bodied/any other markers of “privilege” (loaded
      word, sorry) world, you face two kinds of ugliness and two different kinds of
      people. Macro-aggression ugliness (yelling, laws written to exclude you) and
      micro-aggression ugliness (like assumptions based on gender, and comments like
      “Who’s the lucky guy?” fitting in this category). Either type of ugliness can
      come from ill-intentioned people (Westboro Baptist Church-types). I think Amber
      might be pointing out that sometimes, well-intentioned people inadvertently
      commit micro-aggressions without meaning to. They’re trying, but they don’t
      constantly live with these challenges and therefore, don’t constantly think
      about them (that’s part of the “privilege,” in my opinion. You can put the burden
      down when you’re tired and pick it up again only when you feel like it). But I
      still think it’s fair for people to get frustrated even when the
      micro-aggression was committed by someone well-intentioned. The grace needed
      here (in my opinion) is for actually for those well-intentioned people to offer
      to others who have no choice but to carry the burden all the time. To be angry
      for them, and change for them so that everyone can be more thoughtful about
      these things. I’ll bet it is exhausting, but I think the exhaustion is
      justified. There’s so much to be done! I feel it’s my responsibility to make
      sure I’m doing everything I can to validate and help shoulder the burdens
      however I can.

      • Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

        Love this, Violet, thank you. That is exactly what I’m saying: a lot of well-intentioned people don’t mean to be offensive, and it’s a graceful response (like the one the author gave in the moment) that is going to get them thinking, not an offensive one. But you’re right; my privilege lies in being straight and being able to put down the burden of fighting for equality and just go out to dinner and hold hands with my guy without thinking much of it, and it must be so frustrating and exhausting to constantly worry about being a target.

    • Meg Keene

      You guys, let’s be nice to Amber who is both: super nice and super graceful, and adept at managing her own race and relationship/sexuality issues. So she knows what’s she’s talking about here.

      Elisabeth was being a little flip, and making a fair point. Amber is also making a fair point. I find that the degree to which we’re offended at race and sexuality issues means that people just clam up, because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. And to me, it’s more important that we’re TALKING, then that we’re getting the language exactly right.

      In short, “Who’s the lucky person,” will do just fine.

  • EChapman

    This post is fantastic! Even as a woman “engaged” to a man, I’ve felt like a misfit in wedding world and continually struggled with our own terminology (Fiancé? Eek. Beau? Betrothed? Yuk). My grandmother has yet to stop asking “So tell me again why you wrote ‘Friendship Festival’ on your save the date? People won’t even know what they’re coming to!”. I hope that terminology will continue to evolve with us societally, and we’ll be able to explore other options, but til then, keep the discussion flowing APW!

    • Gina

      Haha totally! My (now) husband started calling me his “wife” long before our marriage because he hated “fiancee” so much.

      • Laura C

        My fiance (or whatever)’s friends joke that half the time he calls me his girlfriend and half the time he calls me his wife, so it averages out.

    • jashshea

      I went the other direction and used the ultra-stiff “my intended” because fiance just felt like it didn’t fit. I hate the word spouse, so we’re using husband/wife now that we’re married and I’ve found I quite like those words. I know others aren’t a fan and I try to use terminology that the person I’m speaking to is comfortable with when I’m discussing their relationship.

      • Elisabeth S.

        I kind of love “my intended”!

    • Em

      Somewhere on APW I read a post where the author referred to her fiance as her “husband-elect” which I thought was great. Funny, and gives you a roughly accurate understanding of the relationship status. I’ve taken to calling my partner my wife-elect, but generally only with people I know fairly well since, being Canadian, the term doesn’t have quite the same immediate recognition as it would in the US. Usually I just use “partner” with strangers because, while it’s far from a perfect term, to me it signifies a more serious relationship than “girlfriend”

    • Alison O

      Seems like a lot of folks don’t like fiance(e) for various reasons, but I actually do like that when it is spoken it is gender neutral. And I love French.

    • JC

      My sisters started calling my fiance my Beyonce when we first got engaged because the word fiance freaked us all out, and we still call him that over a year later. Also funny because I’m JC (get it?) :)

  • effinclassy

    My boo and I are in the same boat with regard to language, only I’m the one that’s all “down with marriage.” (But up with my boo, because she is the best!) It’s great to read about this stuff on a wedding blog. It helps me to feel less alone! Thanks!

  • Emily Shepard

    YES about “Isn’t he a little heartbreaker?!” or implying that two babies are boyfriend-girlfriend. Just let them be babies!

    • Meg

      haha agreed. I find MOST things people say about other people’s babies to be awkward

  • Jacky Speck

    It’s hard to think of a label other than “wife” that can convey “this is the woman I’m married to” so quickly and efficiently. I definitely understand having problems with that label given your explanation about “knocking on closed doors,” but I don’t think it will be a closed door for much longer. People who have problems with same-sex marriage are starting to sound very out of touch. It might not be true in every part of the country, but at least where I am, virtually everyone seems to believe that the word “wife” belongs to lesbians just as much as it does to straight women (same for “husband” and gay men).

    And YES to what you said about not calling children “ladies’ men” or “heartbreakers”! All assumptions aside, it’s just plain creepy. Kids are not even remotely interested in sex at that age! A dad once told me that “the ladies will be all over” his kid some day, in front of the kid! He looked super mortified, like he’d rather crawl into a hole and die than ever hear his dad say that again. I was embarassed for him.

  • E

    Elisabeth (or anyone else in a similar situation),
    How do you introduce K when she is present? I don’t like being called “wife” when I’m around (I don’t really care if M does it for convenience or whatever when I’m not there) but I don’t have a good alternative. I just introduce M by name and hold hands or something so it is apparent that we are together (also not a great alternative).

    • NH

      I use partner, because I don’t care that much about making the point that we’re married, but my mom introduces my partner as “Emily, my daughter’s spouse.” Perfectly clear that we’re married, a little less gendered.

    • Elisabeth S.

      Greeeeeat question. I generally introduce her as my partner. Sometimes, I just say K, since it seems pretty obvious that we are together (and now have these matching rings). That works pretty well, except that one time a lady thought we were sisters AUGH.

    • Elizabeth

      We look alike and both of us “pass” as straight (whatever that means, you know), so we get the sister/roommate question a lot.

      If they know I’m gay, I introduce her by name, and then put my arm around her or touch her arm in a more-than-friendly way. If they don’t know I’m gay, it depends. If I just want to go ahead and come out to them / I don’t mind listening to them stammer out a surprised response, I’ll introduce her as my fiancee. If they don’t know I’m gay and I don’t feel like getting into it (old neighbor, car salesperson), I just introduce her by name and let them figure it out later (or not). I know it’s a privilege of being cis-gendered and not particularly queer-bodied, but sometimes I get tired of accompanying people through perception-shattering conversations day. after. day.

      Though getting engaged has been great. All the sudden, my relationship doesn’t feel invisible, and that’s been very very cool.

  • lady brett

    i like your k quite a bit. sensible people, that one.

    i struggle with this a lot. i love the term wife for all of the “outing” and fucking up people’s assumptions that it does in conversation, as you mentioned. but there is a slight problem in that it is a totally inaccurate reference to my person who would prefer not to have a gender assigned at all.

    i also use wife a lot because i am a nervous idiot who gets tongue-tied and relies almost entirely on habit to converse, so now that i’ve started using it it is so dam hard to change. plus, i don’t know what to change it to. i’m really quite fond of “my mister” but that is just as gendering as “wife” (if cuter). i’ve been trying to use spouse more, because it is at least gender neutral and doesn’t have all the weird baggage and confusion of “partner” – but “spouse” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

    and then there is the part of me who, thrilled as i am to be married and to be married to my spouse, thinks it’s really none of folks’ damn business and i should just introduce her by her name.

    also, your last line reminds me of this: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/everythingsanargument4e/content/cat_020/Brady_I_Want_a_Wife.pdf

    • Elisabeth S.

      I LOVE that essay!

  • Emily

    I’m curious about your dad’s use of “son partenaire,” since that brings up lots of other interesting gender questions in language and culture. I’m assuming he’s referring to your (Elizabeth’s) partner, K? Any thoughts about why he didn’t use “sa partenaire” instead? Does K prefer using masculine pronouns in French?

    • Elisabeth S.

      Ha! You know, that’s so interesting. That’s probably my error, since my high school French is all but gone, and K prefers feminine pronouns. But it does make me think about how my parents perceive K’s gender. There were a few Christmases where her stocking was filled with Burts Bees shimmery lip gloss and pink gloves (which is touching, but so awkward). I handled that by making a big deal about swapping all of her shimmery lip gloss with my chocolate orange and I think they got it. However, my dad loves calling us his “girls”, as in, “my girls are here for Thanksgiving dinner!” which I think is sort of cute and K thinks is sort of cringe-y.

      • Meg Keene

        I’m sorry. I’m tired, but this provoked a giggle fit over here, “Does K prefer using masculine pronouns in French?” PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let it be true that K prefers feminine pronouns in english, masculine ones in french, and has various other requirements of other romance languages. Because that would make my day. Suggest it to her, pleaze!

      • Kate W

        Just for variety, in French you can also say ma/mon conjoint(e), which implies serious partner, and is used for married and unmarried peeps. I don’t think it helps much with our search for alternative words that specify “wife” or a gender neutral married person word, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

        • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

          Yes, I was going to suggest the same thing as another option out there.

      • Caitlyn Hodges-Morrissey

        My southern father-in-law likes to call us “gals” all the time. Is that better or worse?

  • Meg

    I think you need to take advantage of the opportunity here to say “myyyy Waaaaaife” like Borat
    EDIT but what about “Partner” I’ve always liked that. I’d be pissed if she wanted to be called girlfriend still

  • planthead

    I just want to say that I was thinking about writing about this subject, and this is why I love APW – someone already did it, and much better than I could! But seriously with the “Who’s the lucky guy” and “But I don’t feel like a wife”. Spouse just sounds so IRS, and conveys nothing of the excitement I feel that I’m GAYmarried.

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    Ahhhhhh I LOVE this post!! I love your writing. And I’m kind of in the same boat. My fiance doesn’t resonate with the word “wife” at all…so I told her I will call her my wife behind her back, when we’re not together- because it’s exciting for me and, as you said, it sends the message of what’s going on in the relationship – making it clear it’s two females, married. And I love that and believe its important to start normalizing this stuff…so Wife makes it pretty clear. And she gets to say wife..why can’t I? :)

  • Laura C

    I’m blaming this post for the fact that when I just encountered a situation where I had to refer to A in speaking to a bus ticket taker, I choked and said “he…my friend.”

  • Karen

    Huh. The title of this post is misleading. The title says “What do we call Family” when the post is actually about “what do I call the person I just married.” Just thought I’d say this for future clarity.
    I also have many of these concerns. My partner and I will be weddinged (can’t get legally married – in another state – until her financial/legal issues are resolved, so we don’t know when this will happen) in April 2014. Neither of us are comfortable with the word wife. I think this is kind of ironic, especially when I have no problem with a dual male couple referring to each other as husband. The word husband in our culture doesn’t carry negative baggage like wife does. Very interesting.

    • StellaTex

      Maybe we should just use “husband” for everyone? ;)

      • Alyssa M

        I would personally prefer spouse for everyone… since defaulting to husband is defaulting to the male version.

  • Jane

    Having been married all of a month longer than Elisabeth, we’re struggling with the nomenclature too. My spousal unit shrinks away from being called “my beneficiary” but we can’t bring ourselves to say “wife” with a serious face. Somehow we’ve settled on “wifeybutt” as an acceptable compromise. Or just the other person’s name.

  • http://www.alisonstruve.com/ Alison Struve

    Forgive me for not adding anything relevant to this post (yes I read it) but I’d just like to squeeeee that my sister-in-law Elizabeth Leitzell’s photograph is on APW. :)
    Ok, sorry for the interruption!

    • Elisabeth S.

      We are completely in love with your sister-in-law Alison. She was one of the best parts of the whole day. Wait til you see the rest!

  • Meigh McPants

    So, I really hate the word spouse. It has nothing to do with the concept or meaning, it just has a gross mouthfeel to me (like how lots of people hate “moist”) and it sounds like some sort of vermin. You know how genderqueer folks have the word “ze”? Can we come up with something like that, a gender neutral term that means “the person to whom you’re married” that doesn’t sound so depressing? Partner is okay, but you can be unmarried and still be partners. Somebody come up with something awesome!

    • Elisabeth S.

      I feel like some other smart country like Sweden surely must have come up with something like this. Come on Sweden!

      • M is for Megan

        Well, Swedish *does* have the word “sambo” = “sam/samman” (same) + “bo/boende” (to live), which is a gender neutral word meaning committed partner you live with but aren’t married to. So common there that it has it’s own word! For spouse they have “make/maka”, but unfortunately the vowel at the end is signalling sex/gender.

  • Caitlyn Hodges-Morrissey

    You know, my more femme-leaning wife was a little surprised that I, her
    much more masculine partner, was really excited for her to refer to me
    as wife too. (I hope I looked as dapper in my suit as K does in this
    photo!) While there are other female words that make me feel weird-
    woman, for example- wife just makes me happy. I think reading the
    “Reclaiming Wife” series for so long is a part of it. I also love that after the DOMA ruling this summer, I can use it and claim
    all its legal connotations. And for me, perhaps best of all is gently correcting the more conservative people in my life who would prefer to use the term partner or sigh, friend- nope, we’re wives!

  • Laura Bennett

    Amen to the babies as heartbreakers rant! I always thought that was a really weird way to complement physical beauty–we wish you the blessing of leaving a twisted, wrecked pile of humanity in your wake?

  • Becky T

    See, I plan on using “partner” because as a bi lady marrying a dude, I LIKE that it will keep people guessing about the gender of my person. It feels much more authentic to me. Although, weirdly, I think I’ll call him husband when it’s just me and him, and I think that must be the romantic side of me that swoons at that scene in Pride and Prejudice where he calls her “Mrs. Darcy”…..so there’s that?