The Meaning of Married

Embracing "husband" when you're still uncertain about "wife"

Nick’s dad recounted the following story to me the day after our wedding. As he and Nick checked out of the hotel and worked on packing up the car, an employee asked the front desk if we had retrieved the rented tux a groomsman had left behind for us to return. “I’m not sure,” Nick replied. “I’ll have to check with my fiancé.”  “Your who?” the employee asked, laughing. It took Nick a moment to realize what she meant. “Oh! My wife. Whoa. My wife.”

Talk about a four-letter word. Thrilled though I am to finally be married to Nick, “wife” is definitely a term to which I am still adjusting. “Fiancé” was not a title I was ever fully comfortable using, at least not in public. While I relished using the term in private, especially in giggly moments shortly after our engagement, referring to Nick as my fiancé in public often seemed to invite a barrage of loaded questions I didn’t always feel comfortable answering. How did he propose? Can I see your ring? When’s the big day? What are your wedding colors? Especially in a professional setting, I sometimes felt squeamish acknowledging that I was engaged. For some reason, it just felt like highlighting my relative youth, and my… femaleness? After all, Nick did not seem to be on the receiving end of such questions when referring to me as fiancé. Admitting that I had a fiancé seemed to emphasize that I was planning a wedding, rather than working toward a major emotional milestone (which was particularly problematic, as we weren’t actively wedding planning for the bulk of our long engagement). So I never fully settled into my role of fiancé. Which is sort of the point, right? Fiancé is, by definition, a transitional title of limited duration, culminating with the marriage.

And now here we are, husband and wife. The word “wife” feels heavy with negative connotations somehow. I know I’m not alone in feeling hesitant about this label. In The Meaning of Wife: A provocative look at women and marriage in the twenty-first century, Anne Kingston writes:

“If you look up the word wife in The Oxford English Dictionary, you’ll come across clues into the meaning but little illumination. Wife is a noun, a passive quantity, eager to conform to adjectival construction, be it a faculty wife, a military wife, a political wife, or a housewife. The word husband is far more flexible, functioning as either a noun or a verb… The role of wife has always defined a woman in the way husband does not define a man.”

“Passive” is not necessarily a term I ever would have used to describe myself. Just as being a fiancé seemed to define me as “girl planning a wedding,” I worry my new wifely title is going to begin to define me in ways being labeled “husband” does not define Nick.

My own ambivalence about the “wife” label aside, however, I have had no trouble wholeheartedly embracing referring to Nick as husband. “Husband” has a ring of permanence to it that “boyfriend,” or even “fiancé,” did not. Within the context of our private relationship, this change in title is not hugely significant. We’re still two people who plan to be together for the long haul and have arranged our lives accordingly, just as we did when we were engaged, and just as we did when we were “merely” dating. But to the outside world, the spousal title seems to carry a certain amount of weight, as some kind of validation or justification of our relationship.

Even when I was a lady in no particular rush to get engaged, I found myself wishing for a label a bit more compelling than “boyfriend” while lying on a gurney at in the emergency room, trying to convince a nurse to go find Nick in the waiting room. Before graduation, Nick and I were both interviewing for jobs in each other’s respective home states. When the inevitable interview question arose about why I was applying to jobs in Ohio, I remember wishing I could openly admit that I was aiming to wind up in the same state as my boyfriend. But my career counselor dismissed my plan to answer honestly. “Boyfriend isn’t permanent enough,” she advised. Moving for one’s boyfriend, apparently, almost sounds immature or reckless. Moving for your spouse seems to be considered much more socially acceptable. As long as you’re not searching for employment, that is. (The same career counselor later recommended that I never wear a ring on an interview, because it would give the impression that I’d be quitting soon to have babies. Notably, Nick has never been given career advice that was tied to his relationship status, or pertained to what he wore on his left hand.)

I appreciate that I can now refer to Nick with the society-sanctioned, sufficiently permanent-sounding, label of “husband.” (Even though I’m supposed to cover up my marriage to make sure I’m taken seriously professionally, while Nick apparently does not have to do so.) There’s no denying the tangible benefits we can enjoy now that we’re officially hitched, which makes it all the more mind boggling that these benefits are not available to everyone. Health insurance coverage and tax benefits are an important tip of the iceberg, but the cultural ramifications go far deeper. We rented a minivan for the week of our wedding to transport barrels of fresh flowers and an absurd quantity of mason jars. At the rental counter, I was informed that I’d pay an extra daily fee to add Nick as a driver—a fee that would be waived if he were my husband. I gleefully informed the rental agent that we’d be getting married that very week, and was sternly informed that the fee could only be waived if we were married on the first day of the rental. (What a buzzkill.) Now that he’s my husband, though, Nick can drive my rental cars and partake in my airline miles. I can use his discount card at our local big box store, and we’re entitled to a “family discount” on our gym membership. Though we considered each other family long before our wedding, we now have a single magic word—married—that instantly conveys our familial status in a way society recognizes as valid.

It doesn’t make sense to me that we receive all these perks now simply because we are husband and wife. It’s not like we accomplished anything warranting special treatment—we signed a form and forked over $43 to the state of Ohio. I love a good discount, but I also don’t understand why my recent marriage is of any interest to a rental car agency, airline, or gym. Tying all these benefits and deals to marriage seems arbitrary at best, and discriminatory at worst, given that marriage is not an institution to which everyone has equal access, or even wants access to.

I’m still settling into our new marital status, and trying to wrap my head around the fact that it seems to represent society’s stamp of approval on our relationship in ways I did not fully anticipate. While there’s something very sexy about referring to Nick as my husband, I am wary of yet another label that suggests things about him that it does not necessarily suggest about me. Luckily, Nick is still referring to me as his fiancé, so it seems I have plenty of time to adjust to my own new title of “wife.”

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  • Jen

    As someone who has been married a little over a month now, I totally related to this post. Thank you! I also found that Husband was much easier of a title to use than boyfriend or fiancé. As I got to the end of this essay, however, all I could think about was how I was also reaping the benefits of being married- but all of the couples in this country who still cannot. I assume we will eventually get there but… damn.

    • Erin

      Right, and may I just emphasize, or return to one of Hayley’s points about privileges denied to single people? It’s a very strange thing to realize that while I’m joining the “club,” with all of it’s perks and privileges people who are dear to me, and could really use those benefits, are denied due to the dissolution of their marriages, or lack thereof. Yes, marriage equality is crucial, but what about people who don’t believe in marriage and are in long-term relationships, divorced persons, and those who never find a suitable partner? Aren’t they also worthy of the privileges bestowed upon married couples?

      Not to sound combative, just something I’m wrestling with.

      • Jen

        I agree- and hold on while I try to reformulate my thoughts on this :)

      • Jen

        So I agree that our society is set up to think that “marriage” is the most important relationship that one can have with another. My best friend, someone who I have known for many many years, is just as important to me as my husband. Even though we don’t make decisions together about where we live, I still think of her as someone who is as essential to my life as my husband- and she of course provides many things that he doesn’t and never will be able to provide. I have spent years wondering why marriage is given more respect than anything else.
        With all of that being said, it’s damn near impossible to fight against this way of thinking in our society- and most people I discuss it with (even when finding the most liberal folks I can) seem to quietly agree without any passion to change people’s way of thinking. So yes, getting financial incentive (and some others- including the important one of who gets to visit you in the hospital) is something that I wish everyone could have no matter what their situation is- but I don’t believe that anyone will ever feel passionately enough about it to switch this. How can you stand up for a problem that people don’t think exist? At least with Marriage Equality, there is something very obvious that I can fight for.

        • I have struggled with this a lot. Many years ago I was furious that my sister needed health insurance but I couldn’t put her on my plan. These arbitrary rules make no sense. Why shouldn’t I be able to “share” my health insurance with anyone I want?

        • anon

          A friend of mine is always trying to convince people that a kind of “friend marriage” would be a good idea. Someone who isn’t your spouse but still has a legal connection to you for emergency situations. Your friend could exercise power of attorney to stop you from making any really stupid decisions and, most importantly, would be your health care proxy. His thought is that a friend is more likely to make a rational decision about life-threatening or end of life care situations than your spouse. I’ll note that he’s happily married but just thinks friends are really, really important.

          Point being, you aren’t alone in feeling this way, but I also have no idea what can be done to change things.

          • Meg

            They used to call two single women living together and basically running a house hold together “a boston marriage”. I always loved that idea but for some reason my roommate situations have never quite lived up to the Laverne and Shirley ideal I had in my little girl head. Oh well I’ll just have to settle with my fiancé moving in next week!

        • Erin

          True enough. I’m still in the engaged state and so cannot yet speak to experiencing “married privilege.” The difference between single, engaged, and married is still something I’m processing (after all, engagement is really a time of transition). There’s just this nebulous thought that single people miss out on many things (“many things” being another nebulous point, that are probably intrinsically linked to Hayley’s points of economy), that are available to couples. I agree with your point that Marriage Equality is a tangible goal that we can stand up for – and we should. But it also sucks that being single puts people at socioeconomic disadvantages.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          I mention this above, but just on the medical decisions issue, even conservative states (eg, Arizona, I’m pretty sure) have passed the Uniform Health Care Decisions Act, or similar legislation, that allows you to select any adult as your power of attorney for health care.

          The Uniform Act is a great example of the defaults and opt-outs I discuss generally. The Uniform Act has a decision-maker hierarchy for people who have not designated a Power of Attorney for Health Care. At the top is a spouse. So, that’s the default. If you register your relationship (i.e., get legally married, and in some states do the civil union or registered domestic partnership thing), your spouse will make your healthcare decisions if you can’t. But, you can also complete a form designating any other adult to be your top decision-maker. That’s the opt-out, and it’s available to all adults in all kinds of relationships.

          Likewise, a lot of states require credit card companies to let you set up any other adult as an authorized user, so, again, the law is helping all kinds of relationships be more intimate in all sorts of legal ways.

          None of which is to downplay the importance of full marriage equality, but just to push at what legal marriage means, and to inform people they have options even apart from legal marriage.

      • SarahG

        I have always liked the idea of a civil “family registry” or some kind of legal arrangement you could make to indicate adults you consider to be family. It would be complicated, of course, and would need to be tailored to the individual — but that replicates the way relationships actually ARE (complex and individual). People could still get married in their own cultural/religious/any other way they wanted, but having a family registry would stop privileging one type of relationship over all others. But there doesn’t exactly seem to be a vibrant social movement for this one, sooo…

        • Erin

          Maybe it’s coming? Sometimes I wonder what the next big social movement will be. Our parents fought for Civil Rights and the advancement of women, today we fight for Marriage Equality, maybe this is the next great movement? “Family registries” – what a cool idea.

          • SarahG

            Thanks! I should get off my butt and start a petition or something :)

          • Hannah B

            Or maybe we’ll just keep fighting those fights! After all, my own brother told me that I didn’t understand male guilt because I was a “woman, and you’re still fighting for rights n shit”…

        • Jen

          I absolutely love that idea!

        • lady brett

          yes. yes yes yes yes yes. also, i like the wording of “family registry”

        • Bets

          I would love this!

        • Valerie

          YES. I feel really strongly about this, actually. I mentioned in response to honey come home upthread that we’re actually declining to do the legal-piece-of-paper-signing thing in conjunction with our wedding, because to me the legal status is so flawed that I don’t want it included as a part of our emotional commitment.

  • E

    I hate the terms “wife” and “husband.” I don’t bristle when others use them, but something about them has caused me to say things like “This is M, we got married in October” or “Meet M, the person-to-whom-I-am-married” or something else awkward. “Spouse” sounds like some sort of rodent or a disease-related term to me while “partner” tends to make people think that I’m with a woman (and then I explain that I married a man but I’m bisexual and then I either get people who question my sexuality or think it’s irrelevant (and it’s not irrelevant, it’s part of who I am and we’re in an open relationship but I don’t always want to go into all of that)). I also find myself needing to call him something maybe more frequently because we both kept our last names (though he did change his middle to my last). *sigh* Accepting ideas for alternative terms.

    • Jenni

      What about a word for ‘husband’ or ‘partner’ in a different language?

      • Joy

        Well I find it even worse in French! Mari simply means husband but femme means both wife AND woman- as if the two are one in the same.

        • ART

          and speaking of French (though not in response to your comment), for a lady it’s “fiancée” – drives me nuts to see “fiancé” used interchangeably. Must be those years of training under Madame H. in high school…

        • Maria

          Haha – in German at least it’s fair! Mann is the word for man and husband, and Frau is the word for woman and wife (and Mrs.). You mostly figure out what people are saying in context – if they say “my/his/her ___” it means husband/wife, if they say “the/a ___” it means man/woman.

          • Bets

            That’s actually pretty badass — I’d be down with introducing my boyfriend/fiancé/future husband as “Hey, meet my man.” It would sound wrong the other way around, though.

          • Maria

            On a similar note, there’s the idea of “meet my mister” and “meet my missus,” maybe?

    • Jessica LK

      I’m with you, I dislike the terms too (though I dislike “wife” more than “husband”). And I SO wish there were better alternative terms! We’re getting married in August and I have no idea how I’m going to refer to him. We don’t say fiance(e) now, we use partner, but we’re in Europe where that’s more commonly used. But after August I anticipate awkward pauses before introducing each other.

    • Bets

      I like “This is M, we got married in October,” to me that allows other people to see M as an individual rather than someone in a predefined role in relation to me. I’m uncomfortable with “husband” and “wife”, I guess they feel really conservative and loaded to me, and I can’t help feeling like people will dismiss me just as H.’s fiancée when he introduces me as such, rather than actually getting to know me as ME. Maybe there’s some precedent for this: growing up, my relatives would talk about so-and-so’s wife (they didn’t know the wife, but the husband’s related to us), “so-and-so’s wife seems really quiet, so-and-so was always a quiet guy,” which effectually turns the wife into a non-personality.

      “Partner” is pretty common where I am in Canada too, I hear it used by both heterosexual and homosexual couples. A lot of couples I know collaborate on projects, or have founded start-ups together, so “partner” applies in multiple ways.

      • Hayley

        Oh, this is such a great point, about defining M as an individual, rather than a predefined role in relation to you.

    • SarahG

      I feel you. I am bi, and marrying a man. I always use partner; I’ve never called him my fiance and I don’t expect I will call him my husband very often, either. I prefer “we’re married” if the question comes up (at the rental car place or wherever). I do it for political reasons — although I don’t love the word “partner”, I feel strongly that people not 1. assume I am straight and 2. take me/our relationship more seriously because I say “husband” or “wife”. I like using husband/wife in private, and I am not at all bothered when other people use those terms — to each their own! — but to me, partner is the best public compromise. (It is worth noting that my partner will probably say “wife” and I don’t mind — he is describing his relationship to me, and that’s comfortable for him.) Anyway, solidarity fist bumps, my bisexual friend! We will keep figuring it out :)

  • Emily

    Wow, I’ve had eerily similar experiences. Back in 2010 I was living at home in VT for a year after college, working as a substitute at the school where my mom is a beloved teacher. One day in May, as the school year was winding down, there was some event attended by several parent chaperons. My mom introduced me to one woman, the mother of a favorite student, and we all chatted, conversation quickly turning to my plan to move to Ohio to live with my boyfriend, who would be starting graduate school in the fall. Never mind that we had been together for 3 years and lasted through several long-distance stints — the woman heard the phrase “moving to Ohio to be with my boyfriend” and directed her attention at my mom: “Oh to be young again. Moving across the country for a boy,” shaking her head at my naïveté.

    It really sucks that there’s a part of me that wants to find that woman and shove my engagement ring in her face. Because it’s not like I earned it through complying to his wishes, and that’s exactly how that vindictive gesture would be interpreted. This sparkly treasure is a symbol of our unwavering commitment to each other, and to the life we have dreamed of for ourselves and our future family since we were love-struck at 19. Honestly he never really felt like “just a boyfriend” — he was always more than that.

    We might not get a new title for SOs in the next couple decades, but I hope that when the time comes we’ll all have the presence of mind to properly respect and appreciate the very real commitment and love that can exist between two young people, and teach our kids to trust their gut instincts about their partners in the face of judgment.

    • kris

      This is a great comment, and I think many women will echo it. I, like, you, “followed” my boyfriend (from Ohio to VT actually, ha!) because he wanted to leave his financial career to go back to med school. I also felt those comments were…hurtful? (It might have been my discomfort with the word “boyfriend” to exemplify what I considered such a significant and strong relationship, so eventually I started using the term “partner” which I still interchange with fiance.) But regardless, the fact is that comments like that seem to be made to women in particular, and in a way that makes us seem like we’re frivolously flitting about the country so as to just appease our hearts’ whims.
      When we moved, I knew, and HE knew, that we would be spending our lives together, and ultimately that’s what mattered most.

      • Dacia E.

        It’s funny, because my boyfriend is doing the exact thing for me when I go to med school, and the comments definitely have a different flavor. Same condescension, but this time directed at his “masculinity” (or lack thereof, given his willingness to compromise for my career), rather than “emotional frivolity.” It is hurtful, and I feel a prick of guilt every time he gets crap for it. Why are people so damn judgmental?

        (One awesome reaction: my future brother in law, who just turned 7, was listening to our conversation with my FFIL and piped in with this gem: “This reminds me of that book in my class – ‘Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?'” Out of the mouths of babes…)

    • H

      It’s funny – I experienced the opposite. When I moved to a big city after graduation to pursue a career I was passionate about and my boyfriend stayed in the city where we went to school for a great job, we decided to try long distance, and by and large it worked out well. We were long distance for 3.5 years. During that time, I endured constant pressure from friends, family, and random strangers to move back to Smaller City to be with my boyfriend. Never comments about how he should move for me, despite the fact that I could really only pursue my career in Big City. Ultimately, after several things calmed down in our respective lives, he decided to move to my city, and things are going great. I feel like both pressures – the kind you got and the kind I felt – come from a similar place of disrespect for young women’s agency in these situations.

      • Hayley

        “I feel like both pressures – the kind you got and the kind I felt – come
        from a similar place of disrespect for young women’s agency in these
        situations.” Very well put.

      • Anonymous

        You’re never going to please anyone. My husband got an opportunity to work abroad for 6 months – long enough that I couldn’t take unpaid leave or vacation from my job and short enough that it wouldn’t be worth quitting my extremely good job and delaying my graduation just to be with him for that length of time. We were content to do a distance marriage, but husband got all the “how could your wife not come with you?” and “your wife is okay with this?” and I got all of the “You’re not going with him??!!??!?” and “You poor thing you must be so lonely.” Oh, and I just hated the assumption that I should want to move with husband anywhere and for any duration of time. Honestly, I’m not even sure of my true feelings on distance marriage anymore. I do know that I wish the world would shut the hell up about it and quit asking me about it because the people asking are always the people I least want to talk to about it, you know?

    • Lawyerette510

      *Non sequitur* because the open thread about Honeymoons was closed, but Emily, have you considered the Virgin Islands? I just saw this on TravelZoo and it made me think of you. I have no idea what plane tickets are for Ohio to there, but just wanted to send it your way–1736409/

      • Emily

        Haha! You’re so sweet – I was sad to see it closed, preventing me from thanking you again for all those awesome recommendations. Honestly I haven’t considered the Virgin Islands, mostly because I’m not considering anywhere in the Atlantic, because I’m too worried a hurricane will ruin our honeymoon. And, I’ll confess, partially because my parents consider St. John to be their personal getaway and I want to strike out on my own!

        That said – you just prompted me to sign up for TravelZoo, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for good deals! Thanks so much, again!

        • Lawyerette510

          Very good points about striking out on your own and hurricane season, 10 years on the west coast has made it so the season in general isn’t on my radar.

          There are so many deals on TravelZoo, and links to whole packages too! I actually have to prevent myself from getting on there, because it just turns into a giant K-hole of looking at bargains that I have no need for!


          • Megan

            I don’t mean to hijack this thread but do we know why are comments closed on that thread? I read through it all and it’s so well timed with our honeymoon planning and now I can’t respond as I’m revisiting it. Bummer! Off to sign up for travel zoo…

  • Stephanie B.

    “Though we considered each other family long before our wedding, we now have a single magic word—married—that instantly conveys our familial status in a way society recognizes as valid.”

    This resonates with me so much. My now-husband and I had lived together for 2 1/2 years (and had been dating for 4) when his mother passed away. I had been welcomed into the family for those 4 years, been a part of parties and holidays, and even gone on vacation with his family twice. When his mother was in the hospital, I struggled with how to identify myself to healthcare workers I interacted with. “Girlfriend” sounded like we just met last week, and “partner” (which I settled on) sounded false to my ears, like I was trying to force the world to take us seriously.

    After his mother died, virtually everyone — despite their sympathetic gestures at the time — indicated that I shouldn’t be grieving as long/as intensely as I was. After all, they said, it wasn’t like she was my mother-in-law or anything. Right.

    • Emily

      Oh that is so awful, to have your grief judged like that. I’m so sorry for your loss – I love my FMIL and if anything had happened to her in the last 7 years of our relationship I would’ve been grief-stricken, too.

    • Ashley Meredith

      Can we have a shout-out for awesome mothers-in-law? I have two who are the co-sweetest people in the world, and one of them is also the coolest person in the world. If anything were ever to happen to my husband or our relationship, I would still always want to claim them as family. And that’s not a notion that gets enough press, IMO.

      • Hayley

        Agreed. “Evil mother in law” seems to be a much more popular narrative. Not to say there aren’t evil/difficult mothers in law :) But cheers to the awesome mothers in law of the world!

    • Alex

      I’m so, SO sorry your grief was judged like that! I was in a similar situation – my “boyfriend” and I are getting married in March, and his mother passed away in October (after we’d been living together for two years) – the “girlfriend” title sounds so non-“I’m in this for the long haul.”

    • I’m sorry for your loss. She was absol-F***-lutely your mother-in-law. I wouldn’t give the time of day to with anybody who tried to tell me otherwise.

    • Hayley

      Oh, what a horrible situation. So sorry to hear you had to go through that. As if a ring or piece of paper has any bearing on your grief for someone you cared about….

  • When we moved from Pennsylvania to Missouri we were not engaged – he was coming here for graduate school and so I followed. What was the difference between the terrible job search here or there? During my job interview they asked why I was looking to move halfway across the country . . . and I balked and lied, saying it was for my fiance . . . how’s that for stupid?

    • Ann

      When I was faced with similar questions, I did answer “My partner is from the area and he wants to live close to his family.” I avoided the word boyfriend, didn’t lie, and despite the use of male pronouns, a good 30% of people took that to mean I was gay. Given that I didn’t want to work at a place that wasn’t queer friendly, that didn’t bother me. Post marriage, I still do tend to use the word partner except in business type transactions (I just bought homeowners insurance. The distinction between “husband” and “partner” matters there).

    • Sarah E

      I did the same as Ann and used partner, as in: “My partner is completing his graduate degree.” As though using longer words conveys his and my maturity better than “going to grad school.”

  • The day after my wife and I (I really don’t like that word either but I don’t know what else to use to describe moving from before vows to after) got married we went to Williamsburg, VA to stay in a timeshare we were gifted for a week with her father and stepmother. When we checked in, since it was in my name, I was the one who went in. Since it was a timeshare, they wanted to know 1) if I was married and 2) if my husband could join me for “an opportunity to learn about timeshares.” I said yes I was married and that yes, my partner (I knew the word wife would flip them out) was with me and maybe we’d find time to do the presentation. They weren’t quite sure what to say but at least they weren’t rude. I certainly wasn’t prepared to answer the “Are you married and if so where is your husband” question so quickly.
    Recently I ran across an article about using the words wife and husband for glbt couples. The author implied that only couples who were legally married were allowed to use these terms. For many reasons, including that we wanted to get married at our church, in a state that doesn’t have marriage equality, we are not legally married. But sometimes we do use the W word because there isn’t another word that denotes moving from “before making a public commitment” to after. Clearly the author lives in a marriage equality state (yet one more way in which we are divided) and doesn’t realize that sometimes people make choices that he may not understand but that are right for them.

    • Anon

      I’d love to hear if you come up with an alternative. I feel like the world Partner is really awkward, but correcting people who say boyfriend/husband with girlfriend/wife always feels like I’m intentionally drawing attention to my “gayness” which is something I’m uncomfortable with (because my sexuality in general is no ones business).

      • Absolutely. There is so much cultural baggage around these words. If a straight woman says “husband” no one thinks “she’s throwing her sexuality in my face;” we think “she’s married.” If a lesbian says “wife” people think “she’s throwing her sexuality in my face and now I have to deal with the fact that I’m talking to a lesbian.” Many times I’m in situations where I just don’t want to deal with other people’s homophobia or have the fact that I’m a lesbian even come up in conversation. And yet straight people don’t have to think about this. “Spouse” is a possibility because it’s gender neutral, people can make their own assumptions. Man this is complicated!

      • Mezza

        I’ve actually had a bit of the opposite reaction to being able to say “wife” instead of “partner.” I find it a convenient shorthand to explain that I am in a same-sex relationship, and I think it’s helped me be more open about that fact now. (I always hated the term “girlfriend” and was generally uncomfortable explaining my sexuality to people.)

        Then again, I live in a very liberal area where homophobic reactions are rare and where it’s not uncommon for unmarried heterosexual couples to use the term “partner.” I definitely see where the hesitation would come from in a different environment.

  • Katie D.

    I’m a career counselor, and that is pretty bad career advice.

    • Hayley

      Terrible, right??

  • kcaudad

    I had a similar experience at a rental car agency on our honeymoon. The rental agency guy, spotting our shiney new rings, asked if we were married. We hesistated and said, ‘yeah, we got married yesterday’. He said that it didn’t matter that we just got married yesterday; you are married and get the discount! It was weird reaping the benefits of marriage so soon…Poor rental care guy probably gets that all the time!

  • anon

    This issue has been driving me crazy lately (maybe there is something particular to graduate school that forces it). My “partner” and I have been living together four years. We’ve survived a year of long distance. We’ve both made significant sacrifices for the other. He’s about to give up his job and move so that we can stay together. We have shared housing, shared finances, attended each other’s family weddings, vacations, funerals for years. We are about to buy a car together. None of this is enough to prove to my new employer that we’re in a committed “domestic partnership” that would allow him to be eligible for my insurance. If we got married the problem would immediately disappear. And we aren’t opposed to getting married. We want to do it. But we want to do it at a time when we can enjoy it. When our friends and family can be there. When we can afford it. When we aren’t already dealing with the stress of dissertation writing, research trips abroad, moving, job hunting, health crises, etc. But the fact that I would rather have a wedding when I’m not having regular stress attacks from all the other monumental life change currently happening apparently means that our committed relationship isn’t real. He’s just my boyfriend. I might have another next week.

    • Katherine

      When my older brother was in graduate school, the university had rules for graduate housing that allowed only up to a certain number of unmarried people to live together. He & his friends got around the rule by saying that two of them were “domestic partners.” This designation was probably the university’s way of allowing for same-sex relationships, but my brother’s reasoning was that “domestic partner” was a perfectly reasonable term for ANY two people living together.

      I’m sure that it’s a lot harder to bend the rules when dealing with health insurance, though…

      • anon

        Unfortunately, yes. I’m grateful that my employer offers domestic partner benefits at all (and it’s also in a marriage equality state so, yay, on that front too). However, the bar for proving that you are married is way lower than the bar for proving that you are domestic partners. The forms require four separate pieces of documentation all of which have to be at least a year old, and one of which we can’t provide because we don’t jointly own a home or have joint debt (who knew being debt free would cause problems). We’re moving to a place without public transit (I will miss you subway system!) so we have to buy a car. Meaning that if we get a car loan, in a year, married or not, we’ll be eligible for domestic partner benefits. Unless one of us finds a better job and we move again…

        • MDBethann

          What about a joint credit card account? Since you have shared finances, that might not be too hard, and it would establish joint credit (which isn’t *exactly* debt, but might help).

          • anon

            We have a joint credit card, but sadly that’s not enough. It’s one of those “two items from column A, and two from column B” things. The column A things are all big, heavy financial things: joint loan, joint homeownership, beneficiary of each other’s life insurance or retirement accounts. We have one item that counts, co-signed lease. But the other options are all things we don’t have because 8 years of graduate school generally puts you behind schedule on buying a house, getting life insurance or (ha!) a retirement account. Find me a graduate program that offers a 401K and I’ll get a second PhD.

          • Hayley

            “Find me a graduate program that offers a 401K and I’ll get a second PhD.” This made me laugh out loud. I feel you, on being behind the eight ball financially due to grad school.

          • Ann

            If you’re under 35 and don’t smoke, a low award (~10k) life insurance policy is CHEAP. Like ~$50/year where I live. If the partner benefits would save you more than that, I’d look into a cheap policy.

    • Meg

      More and more people in those situations quietly get married in the court and then get “weddinged” later on for those very reasons.

      • anon

        I’ve had multiple friends do this for immigration purposes. It’s an option for us, but not an attractive one because we would have to either not tell my family (and hope they never find out) or deal with long term negative repercussions of their view of our relationship. If getting married was just about me and my partner we might have just done it already. But it’s also about families, and families can be soooo complicated.

        • Mezza

          I didn’t tell my family when my (now) wife and I got our domestic partnership. We did it for insurance purposes and told basically no one until years later. I think my mom was probably upset when she found out, but fortunately she realized it would have been ridiculous to say anything at that point.

          Re: your comment below – it’s annoying that your employer is so strict about proving domestic partnership. I remember being super nervous when asking for couples’ housing at grad school because they also wanted things like a joint bank account and a year of living together and/or utility bills in both names, etc, but they didn’t look at any of it (which was good, because all we had was the bank account!).

    • Katie

      Importantly, domestic partners get POST-tax health insurance benefits, while Married or Civil Unioned partners get PRE-tax benefits. This is pretty significant, since in the case of domestic partners, any money your company pays towards the insurance counts as “income” for you. #MarriageEquality

      • Hayley

        Wow, I didn’t realize that!

  • MisterEHolmes

    Regarding the ring+job interview thing, I’m fairly sure my engagement ring helped me lock down my job. It turned out the place I was applying was primarily staffed by Mormons, and I have the feeling that not being a “single lady” put me in the “not a temptation” category and made me acceptable to hire.

    (However, I am eager to see what happens where when the pregnant lady has her baby… and if they’ll pressure her to stay home with the kid. We shall see.)

  • Bets


    “While I relished using the term in private, especially in giggly moments shortly after our engagement, referring to Nick as my fiancé in public often seemed to invite a barrage of loaded questions I didn’t always feel comfortable answering. How did he propose? Can I see your ring?…After all, Nick did not seem to be on the receiving end of such questions when referring to me as fiancé. ”

    That helps me understand why I’m still uncomfortable announcing my engagement to anyone who doesn’t have to know about it. In fact, I had no idea that these questions were part of claiming the title until I told my best girlfriends, at which point the barrage began, and I realized that I didn’t want to share my proposal story or wedding plans with everyone. H. doesn’t totally get my discomfort, since every time he tells someone that he’s engaged or drops the word “fiancée” in a conversation, he gets a straightforward, hearty congratulations with no further questions.

    and THIS.

    “Tying all these benefits and deals to marriage seems arbitrary at best, and discriminatory at worst, given that marriage is not an institution to which everyone has equal access, or even wants access to.”

    I’m uneasy about that too. The “perks” of being married come with a lot of presumptions about what a husband and wife’s needs or best interests might be, and it seems strange that those needs are predetermined by an outside body rather than by the couple themselves. I feel like these arbitrary, but in some cases potentially life-changing (such as emergency medical decisions or immigration) legal and social rules, can make the institution of marriage more about the paperwork than the personal and emotional commitment that we make, more about a social validation that really shouldn’t matter to our actual relationship, but does because it affects your way of life in tangible ways.

  • laddibugg

    The thing is, boy/girlfriend can describe a relationship of three months (a time when you are still getting to know each other’s quirks and stuff, and are probably still in the honeymoon stage) or of 3+ years. So, to me, it isn’t reasonable to assume people you don’t know automatically know that you are in the latter group. Marriage or other partnerships are a sign of some sort of permanence–theoretically one could say ANYONE is their partner to get certain benefits, but usually you can only marry or join with one person. I say this as someone who’s been with their partner for almost 4 years, and sees herself with him for the very long haul. However, those that do know you should know the depth of your relationship.

  • Molly Kopuru

    Newly married and the “wife” thing is very hard for me to get used to. Heck, I don’t even feel married most of the time, and I definitely am. It was pretty strange when we were preparing to make the long drive out to Colorado this past week and my husband asked the rental car company if I needed to be added as a driver. They said, “Is she your spouse? Then no.” It’s little things like that that definitely drive it home.

    Still, it’s a bit weird.

    • MDBethann

      The rental car thing is surprising to me, because at the Hertz rental counter in Munich’s airport, we were charged extra for the 2nd driver for our 4 day car rental, even though we were good and married even when I made the reservation (my parents had the same experience in the UK 10 years ago – they had to pay to add my mom as a 2nd driver). I’d love to know what rental car companies give free second driver status to spouses!

      • lady brett

        we found out last week that enterprise also extends it to anyone who’s cohabitated for 5 years, so we squeaked into their definition of near-enough-to-married by about a month. and i think that’s our first official experience with marriage benefits (of the concrete, not cultural, variety)

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I think it varies by region, not company. Hertz added my now-husband as a second driver for free long before we were even engaged, at LAX. I think spouses and RDPs must be added for free according to California and several other states’ laws. It’s a consumer-protection issue. A second driver increases the risk of an accident, but all the insurance policies cover spouses automatically, so when car rental companies charge to add a spouse, they’re not charging for any extra service or liability. But in other states/countries, the insurance is set up differently, so it can make sense for them to charge.

        As for why Hertz didn’t charge me to add a friend, there are both goodwill and discrimination issues. Absorbing the minimal extra liability may be worth it to not offend customers by inquiring into the nature of their relationships, and the laws about registered domestic partnerships are so varied, they may fear being hit with a discrimination suit if they don’t give full benefits to even the most casual of partners.

        • H

          That’s exactly what happened to us Molly. We were on our honeymoon picking up a rented car, and we said, “Do we need to add me as a driver?” “Aren’t you married?” “Yes.” “No.” It was actually Hertz for the record. But I think it’s also about being a legal entity. There’s no extra liability. If either of you gets in a wreck, you’re still suing the same entity.

        • Hayley

          Yeah, it must be regional, because Hertz was actually the rental company I was referencing in the post! There actually was a domestic partner exception buried in the fine print, but it was kind of awkward explaining the details of our relationship and living situation just to save a couple bucks.

      • Molly Kopuru

        We used Avis.

  • Lauren from NH

    We are not even offically engaged yet, but T and I like throwing around fiance in certain situations for the social capital. With the auto insurance people over the phone, with rental car situations so we can sign for each other (that’s probably not legal, but hell it’s convenient), whenever we have to designate each other on a form and the relationship choices are friend, family, fiance or spouse. I actually feel kind of opposite Hayley and most commenters that I don’t mind husband and wife between us, but I don’t know about using that socially after we’re married. I can reinterpret these terms but I get the impression everyone else is holding tight to the steotypical traditional yuckiness of these terms where husbands and wives hate each other and constantly undermine each other and ruin each other’s happiness…no thanks! No ball and chain bs in our marriage! Who knows though. I certainly expect to be proud as shit to be married to the guy so perhaps that will override everthing else.

  • honey come home

    “It doesn’t make sense to me that we receive all these perks now simply because we are husband and wife.” I agree with this on an emotional level, as I’m not yet married to my partner of eight years. It does feel somewhat insulting that my relationship isn’t valued the way others’ relationships are when in practice and feel and function there is little difference.

    But, I DO think it’s important from a legal and structural point of view. I want the law to recognize familial relationships, and to treat the responsibilities that a married couple pledges as valid and legal, that it recognizes a family’s needs (or role) as distinct from an individual (car rentals, maybe, or hospital rights or airline miles). It’s another way of recognizing that marriage is about agreeing to take responsibility as a team and for each other.

    Though, granted, sometimes the family discounts are just marketing (hello, gyms!).

    In any case, I think that’s a

    • Erin

      Great points and perspective. Thank you :)

    • Valerie

      So, a complementary perspective for you, that reaches a different conclusion:

      You say “I want the law to recognize familial relationships, and to treat the responsibilities that a married couple pledges as valid and legal, that it recognizes a family’s needs (or role) as distinct from an individual.” I agree. The place where I take issue is that the law doesn’t recognize or fails to support a multitude of familial relationships. For example, adult siblings in a joint living situation, polyamorous people in a multi-partner relationship, extended family units, and of course in many states same-sex couples.

      In fact, I feel uncomfortable enough about this failure of the state that we’re choosing not to participate in the legal institution when my (straight male) partner and I get married in October. Eventually, we may truly need some of these benefits, at which point I’m not above going to a courthouse and signing a piece of paper. But I’d rather keep it separate from our emotional commitment, since to me it’s been made into a mercenary practicality.

      • LOVE this!!

        • Hayley

          Valerie, took the words right out of my mouth. Recognition of family relationships is great – it’s the definition of which family relationships will be recognized that makes me uncomfortable. .

  • “It doesn’t make sense to me that we receive all these perks now simply because we are husband and wife. It’s not like we accomplished anything warranting special treatment—we signed a form and forked over $43 to the state of Ohio. I love a good discount, but I also don’t understand why my recent marriage is of any interest to a rental car agency, airline, or gym. Tying all these benefits and deals to marriage seems arbitrary at best, and discriminatory at worst, given that marriage is not an institution to which everyone has equal access, or even wants access to.” —–THIS. SO. MUCH. I have been trying to figure out how to say this for years. Great!

    • Erin

      This pretty much sums up what I was trying to get at in my conversation with Jen. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still excited about the discounts, but why can’t they be available to everybody?

      • Jen

        Lots of people get discounts- some restaurants offer “children eat free”, some grocery stores have senior discounts, and some movie theaters offer discounts for military. If a business wants to offer a discount to someone who brings on another person, then by all rights the business should have that right. Offering a discount to everyone can’t exist- because then it is considered the normal price. And choosing to allow folks to add on a non-married associate to their insurance/discount card/rental car could (and I am sure would) be confusing/annoying/really difficult when folks decided they wanted to change that person on a whim. So in that way, I understand why it works that way- even though on an individual level it can be extremely frustrating.

        • Erin

          I understand the logistics and certainly hear your point. I think that the discounts offered to married people frequently cited in this article, and throughout the responses, are less the point than is the bigger picture that society gives definitive benefits to married folks and not so much to single folks. You made a great point about Marriage Equality and recognizing the unions of all persons who want to get married. Truth!

          And where you were lead to think about one form of inequality, I was led to another. Society does not recognize singletons in the same way they recognize, to quote Helen Fielding, “smug-marrieds.”

          The discounts cited are limited representations, symptoms, or manifestations of how society recognizes marrieds while excluding those who aren’t or can’t.

          • Jen

            I agree with your points, but isn’t there something also to be said about the fact that it is estimated that 80% of people will be married at some point? Sure, they also will be single (as everyone is single before being married) and possibly divorced/widowed- but the vast majority of folks DO end up getting married- which is probably what helps create our society to view marriage as a major “goal” in life.
            With that being said, I would love to think of our society giving “single” folks the same benefits- but what changes would you propose that would be feasible?

          • Erin

            It’s a tough question and honestly, I’m very quickly over my head here. But I would begin by advocating for a more equitable system of taxation- one which does not favor marriage over any other relationship status. The Affordable Care Act was a big step towards gender and marriage equality, so anything that supports and advances access to care irrespective of employment or marriage status is progress. I don’t know, what
            do you think? Other APW readers, do you have any suggestions for unmarried
            equality? (Also, in thinking about your question, I googled Equality for Single
            People and found this fascinating website, which I only briefly reviewed:

          • ElisabethJoanne

            I think at the end of the day, it has to be all-or-nothing. We either have legal marriage or we don’t. There may be aspects of legal marriage we want to remove, but it’s hard to remove some without removing others. For example, we could change the tax law, but would that be fair without changing the marital property laws?

            Let me explain how that would work just for my family: My husband is unemployed, which means our/my tax burden decreased significantly when we got married. But in our community property state, he owns half of my income (or, he and I both fully own all my income). Would it be fair to tax me like an unmarried person while also requiring me to share my income like a married person? Also, emotionally, while marriage is many things, there are many days when the most important thing marriage is to us is that forced sharing/mini-socialism. So I’m not in favor of removing both the shared property and tax aspects of legal marriage.

            That said, private entities, including businesses, can take steps to recognize/support all kinds of relationships. For example, the gyms I know give couples’ discounts to any 2 adults sharing a membership. They’re not legally required to; it’s just good for business. They’d probably keep it up even if we got rid of legal marriage.

          • anon

            We could remove the legal status of marriage and the accompanying tax breaks and have laws which would allow you to claim your unemployed husband as a dependent, lessening your tax burden in a way which would be available to everyone regardless of marital status.

          • Hayley

            I think this is a really good point – the difference in implications for government recognition of marriage for purposes of some benefits, vs. private entities offering discounts, is huge. Both important on different levels, but still very different topics.

          • Hayley

            I was wondering if the 80% figure is applicable to the United States? Because I know marriage rates vary quite a bit country to country. And now I am wondering if many other countries have as many benefits/discounts associated with marriage…would be very interested in finding that out!

          • Hayley

            Yeah, it’s definitely indicative of a bigger picture issue. Honestly, it isn’t something I noticed much prior to getting married, but now I am noticing it all the time. (Also, A+ for the Helen Fielding reference!!)

        • Hayley

          Of course, a business has a right to offer a discount to someone who brings on another person – I just don’t understand why so many businesses only recognize that other person if they’re a spouse. Also, I see the military discount as a bit different, since that is thanking someone for their service, rather than rewarding someone for getting married. Same with child/senior citizen discounts – these are phases everyone goes through, so while the discount still seems a bit arbitrary (i.e. did the child do something to warrant a discount?), it strikes me as less troubling since it’s not rewarding someone for a very personal choice. Though I agree with you in that confusion could/would arise from allowing everyone to select who they want the discount/benefit to apply to.

          • MDBethann

            I’ve always figured that lower child prices/admissions/etc is because they won’t get as much out of the experience, but then again, the adults accompanying them probably won’t get as much out of it either (which is why I think amusement parks geared specifically towards little kids, like Sesame Place, should charge less for adults than they do for kids – adults can’t go on many of the rides!). I figure seniors get discounts because of fixed income, but these days, lots of people have fixed incomes, no matter what the age.

    • RJ

      Discrimination on marital status: flat out illegal in New Zealand in most cases – it’s a breach of our Human Rights Act.

      • Hayley

        Interesting! I wonder if this is the case in any/many other countries.

      • Kimberley

        I live in NZ too and find a lot of the discussion here on rights/entitlements/duties endowed on married people vs those who are single or in a not legally recognised relationship simply mind boggling.

  • Cara

    Now that I’ve been married for about 9 1/2 months, the different titles feel less important somehow. Like, yeah, I guess I’m a wife now, but really I’m just me. And it’s crazy to think that people would see me as a different person because I am a wife, have a husband, and am married. My friend has been dating her boyfriend for like, 4 years, but they aren’t engaged. Does that make them more frivolous and their relationship less deserving of respect? They’ve owned a home together and have a dog for longer than me and my husband have.

    I’ve always had trouble with titles though. Boyfriend/girlfriend seemed too young and not serious. Fiance seemed too formal/rubbing my wedding in your face. And now wife/husband feels too old or grown up. (Partner feels too sterile, like a business partner or something, and Spouse feels like I’m checking boxes on a form, so I haven’t really used those terms). I’m nervous for the day we have kids, because “mom” feels like it’ll be another weird title to adjust to, one that will take a lot longer to accept. Can’t I just be me, or do my relationships to others really have to define me so significantly?

  • Hope

    I decided to try out calling my husband “hubby” as a pet name, thinking it sounded cuddly. All was well until he tried responding with “wifey” and it turned out I hate that. To my ears wifey sounds belittling.
    So now I can’t call him hubby because he’ll respond with wifey. I’ll just have to stick with sweetcheeks ;)

    • laddibugg

      sorry….i had to ;-)
      I hate ‘wifey’ too, for various reasons.

    • MDBethann

      Right before we married, my husband and I learned somewhere that in French, the pronunciation of “wifi” is “wee-fee” so for some silly reason, he started calling me “wee-fee” (since it sounds so much like “wifey” and it stuck and it’s just a funny thing between the two of us. Usually we end up calling each other “sweetie” or “honey” like we did before marriage, but I do like to refer to him as my “hubby.”

      I personally don’t mind “wife” because in our relationship, the term doesn’t have those connotations – we share household chores pretty equally and (except for trash & mowing), it isn’t gender based. I’m also fully on board with APW’s whole “Reclaiming Wife” concept, which is one of the main reasons I continue to visit APW even after 2 years of marriage.

      • Hayley

        Privately, within our relationship, “wife” doesn’t bother me – I guess because I know exactly where I stand in our relationship, and very similar to you, it’s a really equal partnership without strictly “traditional” gender roles. (Actually, “wifey” doesn’t bug me either, and Nick calls me this as a term of endearment on occasion.) It’s only when using the term to other people that the connotations bother me. I LOVE wee-fee though – that is awesome.

        • MDBethann

          Thanks. My husband has lots of fun with wee-fee. Though now that we’re expecting, we’ve been trying out “mommy” and “daddy” to help us get used to those titles. Fortunately we have 3 cats who are our current “babies,” so we don’t sound totally ridiculous saying it.

    • Hayley

      This is so funny. When I was little, I remember seeing the word “hubby” on some tabloid at a grocery store – something about some starlet leaving her hubby for a new man. I remember asking my mom what hubby meant because I had never heard that word before. “Hubby” always had negative connotations to me because of that! Sweet cheeks sounds like a good alternative!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Thanks for starting a great discussion. Here’s the thing: My legal training teaches me that even legally, married people can be less “married” than people who never registered their relationships. They can very carefully keep finances separate. They can set up someone else as their power of attorney for healthcare. Of course, the registration of the relationship doesn’t tell us anything about the emotional closeness. We all at least know of legally married people who are emotional strangers to each other. Likewise, legally unmarried people can, in most states, set up each other as power of attorney for healthcare and have cohabitation agreements to commingle assets. And, again, we all know people with unregistered relationships that are more emotionally close than most legal marriages. So I try not to make assumptions about the emotional state of a relationship based on the legal state.

    What the registration of the relationship does is signal to others, mostly to strangers, that the couple wants to opt into some default rules. They want others to presume their property is shared (though they may have private agreements to arrange things differently), that one can act as the agent of the other for things like healthcare decisions in the event of incapacity (though they may inform their providers of a different decision-making system) and even some financial transactions. Therefore, there are two different roads to legal marriage equality. One is to eliminate these defaults, for marriage to cease to be a legally-recognized relationship. The other is expand the kinds of couples to whom the defaults are available.

    • Laetitia


    • Dawn

      I appreciate your logic here.

  • Laetitia

    Maybe this has been said further down (I didn’t make it through all the comments), but here’s my view. Actually I do get that the married status brings along some “privileges”. In the eyes of the state, you do accomplish something: you create society’s basis nucleus, you set to take care of one or more persons, if you have children, you contribute to the population of the country, which to a great extent secures that that country will continue to exist in the first place (sounds a little pathetic-patriotic, but it is or at least was often the basic idea behind the privilege a system grants you). Can you be just as committed, just as much family etc. etc. without having signed the papers? Sure. Can you be legally married and not committed? Sure. But the state can read minds and hearts even less than people can. So I get that these privileges are tied to some externally verifiable element (which, in case of children linked stuff could be – and thankfully in my country is – well, the children). The thing is that marriage isn’t (merely) a private thing, legally (at least where I write from, on the other side of the Atlantic, and at least for now). All religious matters aside, if I do get married, I do so to give my relationship a public status. If I do not – that’s the way I see it (and the way my legal system does) – it’s because I do not want that status. For which I might have perfectly valid reasons, but then I also accept that I do not partake of all the privileges that go along with that. Of course it’s tragic if I can’t visit my boyfriend in hospital just because we’re not married (and maybe we’re reasonably not, simply because it would be too soon to be, or because with
    tragic irony he had an accident one week before the wedding): but there, there is no perfect system that will make it always right for everyone in any occasion. And let’s not forget that marriage does not only come with rights you didn’t have before, but also with duties, legally. So I think the fight to get the same rights (and duties) to anyone wishing those rights (and duties) is blessed; but I find the possibility to choose IF want those rights and duties not so bad either.

    • Sarah

      I was trying to find a way to say this; totally agree on every point.

    • I can’t say that I completely understand what the Hayley’s specific beef with this system is, but my beef is that you don’t need to participate in the abstract, artificial entity of marriage that society has created in order to be a family. Getting ”married”, sending a notice to your state or province, getting a piece of paper and inviting all of your friends to celebrate is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t define a committement of a family.

      • Alyssa M

        It doesn’t define it, but it legally registers it, so you can partake of the benefits…

    • Hayley

      I agree there’s no perfect system, and you’ll notice my post did not propose a solution, obviously :) I think you raise a really good point that “the state can read minds and hearts even less than people can,” and a case-by-case analysis of the validity of individual relationships isn’t feasible. But that doesn’t make me any more comfortable with the fact that family is, in many cases, defined as a legally married couple. To use the examples you gave – like many couples, Nick and I were committed to taking care of each other for life long before we were officially married, nothing would have stopped us from contributing to the population if we chose to do so, etc. – so I am not entirely comfortable with the fact that legal marriage is the accepted signifier of our commitment.

      • Alyssa M

        My confusion is that (legal) marriage exists solely AS a signifier of commitment… it is essentially registering your family unit with the government… what would you prefer be that signifier? Nothing (aside from your own quite legitimate choice to abstain from it) stopped you from legally signifying that commitment from the moment you were personally committed. Historically, that’s what people did. As soon as they were committed, as soon as they were “family” they got married. The difference now is just us (my partner and I have certainly done the same thing) choosing to postpone the legal step.

        I know a LOT of people who have this complaint about marriage, but personally I think it’s the BEST argument for removing gender as consideration for marriage, and perhaps even for allowing multiple marriage. As it stands now, governments around the world are simply refusing to allow registration of non-traditional family units… and since the personal, private, emotional, religious aspects of marriage don’t actually have a bearing on the legal contract… that’s incredibly wrong.

      • Laetitia

        Sure, I can imagine your feeling and emotionally understand it, even if it’s not the way I feel. Maybe (probably) the whole marriage conception is changing, maybe in a couple of decades it will be seen as a merely private matter – and the legal benefits and responsibilities will be tied to childbirth, or to a more simple burocratic procedure like legally recognized unions, or even cohabitation (that was a constitutive matrimony elemnt among the Romans). That’s what I think I hear when I listen to people not understanding why so much comes with marriage, or when I listen to people (lots of friends) who feel commited but see no need to get married. I suppose a shift to private is taking place. If so, the law will follow, with some delay, as it always does.
        I must admit that the “marriage is a private matter” is not my personal emotional standpoint. I’m all for marking the milestones in life and it’s very important to me that there is a moment when I make a solemn commitment to my partner before our community. To me it’s not just something beautiful or romantic, and in my personal case not even a symbol of a commitment that already exists. It’s constitutive of a commitment. (If we were already there, we’d be married already).

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    As a woman, the title “wife” is full of negative connotations but as a black woman, the term is extremely important to me as well as the status. It’s kind of an interesting line I toe. There are times when I hate the sexist crap that comes with the term, but there are other times I rock the term as a badge of honor and maybe even with a little bit of “fuck you,” because I’ve been in situations where people expect me not to be married (in a negative way), especially even more so now that I have a kid.

    • Hayley

      Really great point. Don’t get me wrong, the status is, in certain situations, a point of pride. It’s just complicated, in certain other contexts.

    • ambi

      You are so right, La’Marisa-Andrea! I have noticed recently that people tend to use “child’s father” or worse, “baby daddy,” when speaking to or about a woman of color, rather than assuming that the man is her husband. I work in a courthouse and I recently flipped out when I heard a coworker ask a woman if the man against whom she was seeking an order of protection was her “baby daddy.” I made very clear that we will NEVER be using that term in this court again.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        You know, these assumptions and beliefs about black women in terms of not being married isn’t something I really noticed until I became pregnant. Prior to that, I had a lot of complicated feelings with the term wife. It’s a loaded term and one which I rejected quite often. I would go through periods when I wouldn’t wear my ring bc I didn’t want the cultural baggage that comes with being a woman who is married. But when I became pregnant, particularly when I could no longer fit my wedding ring, I started noticing how my lack of wearing a ring brought a different kind of cultural baggage. I remember going to a new doctor and when his nurse was checking me in, seemed surprised when I said I was married. And this was in a hospital that services mostly people of color. Surely they encounter black women and other women of color who are married. I could not have been the first. Why was it so surprising? We do get married. Many of us do.

  • I think that the word “husband” indeed comes with a definition and indeed does define a man. My husband has a set of responsibilities and roles that he gained when we got married, same as I gained my set of roles and responsibilities when i became his wife. Granted, we sometimes shirk and switch those responsibilities, especially since I am the breadwinner and he is a house husband for the summer between semesters, but I think it defines our responsibilties to eachother and our family as well.

  • JSwen

    Man, we must live in different worlds – that said, I really appreciate hearing your perspective. It makes me consider how I would feel in those scenarios given that mine is so different. I rarely get barraged with questions after I utter “fiance” and I’m already on his employer’s health insurance (as a dom. partner), I could add him to my big box store membership because we have the same address, we got the family rate at the gym because of the same address…

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Yeah, it’s really interesting to me what the boundaries are in different communities. My co-workers asked to see my engagement ring, but never asked about wedding planning. My mother talked about my wedding a ton at work, though. And I got questions from professional associates about all sorts of things (religion, family background, and the wedding) when I’d travel 100 miles east of my office for work.

      But the only business that’s ever cared about our marital status was our health insurer and obviously our tax accountant.

  • Funny, your perception of the word Husband. If you look up the word, it actually means the leader of the house. To me, calling my partner as my husband implies that he owns me, is responsible for me, and that I follow him around. I don’t anticipate on referring to my spouse as Husband very much.

    Also, maybe it’s because I live in a forward thinking province, but here in Quebec, you get all of the ”marriage-related discounts” if you live together for a year. We’re not married yet but we just filed our taxes together, I have supplemental health insurance through his employer (covers prescriptions and little things since basic health insurance is covered by the province), we’re on each other’s life insurance and we can both drive for free when renting a car.

  • Jade

    I always find discussions of nomenclature interesting, but particularly this sort of thing. I’ve never had an issue with the terms wife and husband (possibly due to the way they were used while I was growing up, it never seemed any different than aunt/uncle/sister/brother) but I can’t stand Mrs. It really bothers me that my form of address changes upon marriage and his doesn’t. I started using Ms. about a decade ago and will probably stick with it until I can replace it with Dr.

    • Anne

      I agree with this completely. The terms “husband” and “wife” in my family generally didn’t have any sort of gendered assumptions that went along with them when I was growing up (they simply happened to be different based on one’s gender), but “Mrs.” really, really bothers me. Perhaps it’s one of the (many) reasons I didn’t change my last name, but even if I had, yeah, I can’t wait to receive my doctorate so it’s NEVER something I get called accidentally. I suppose I’ve always found the gender inequality really icky — why should anyone be able to discern my relationship status from my title when the same doesn’t go for my husband?

      • Hayley

        I am not a fan of “Mrs.” either. Gahhh, now I need to go get a doctorate! :)

        • Ms PhD

          Not just any doctorate! PhDs in most fields only use the title professionally.

  • rodgerpm

    When my fiance and I – we’re both guys – started wearing engagement rings people took him more seriously at job interviews. It was assumed that since he was tied to somebody else, and especially once he explained that I’m in school and will be for he next several years, that it was safer to hire him than a single person. He wouldn’t be staying for just a year to get the experience, he wanted a job to support our budding family with and job interviewers recognized and appreciated as much in that it meant less turnover for them if the job fitted well.

  • Haley

    This was excellent, i agree wholeheartedly. Thanks.