Monday, May 20, 2013
By JANN BLACKSTONE
So many "older" couples live together outside of marriage and have written that no term really seems to fit when introducing a "partner," particularly boyfriend and girlfriend, that a couple of weeks ago my ex-etiquette column asked for suggestions from readers for what older couples should call the person with whom they live.
My intention was to poll my readers and together come up with a term that would eventually become good ex-etiquette.
After reading all your emails -- which took weeks, mind you, the most common response was "significant other," but many mentioned they made that choice because they had no idea what else to use.
As I suspected, some admitted that they used the term "husband" or "wife" regardless of the fact that they had never officially married, stating that they believed they were common law "spouses," since they had lived together for so long. (Seven years was the length of time most mentioned.)
News flash: In truth, there is no particular length of time required that couples must live together before they are regarded as common law spouses. It's more that you have represented yourselves as married over time. In theory, even one day (or night) could constitute cohabitation, but the longer people live together, the stronger the evidence of intent to be married. If common-law status is important to you, do some research!
After "significant other" or "SO," the most common term suggested was "my other half," followed by "love of my life." "My love" or "my honey" or "my sweetheart" were also suggested quite often.
But, most interesting were the personal stories people shared of how they stumbled on the term they use. For example, a commercial pilot said he referred to his "girlfriend" as his co-pilot, another referred to her guy as the "DA" or "domestic associate." Another explained while she was unable to speak for herself in the emergency room, her "partner" described her to the attending doctor as his "bunkmate."
"Star boarder" came up more than a couple of times and so did "mate." "Hus-friend" was a creative play on words, but my favorite to date was "significant equal." I laughed out loud when I read that one.
What I found is that it is doubtful we will come up with just one word to use when introducing older "partners." Most have their own personal love story of how they met and how they came up with the name by which they introduce each other is part of their love story. Each introduction is a way to reminisce and serves to keep their love story alive -- no matter their age.
So, knowing that, good ex-etiquette continues to lie in the way one is introduced -- in the respect and regard you offer your "significant equal" or "sweetheart" by calling them by name and making it obvious to others that this person is very important to you.
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: