Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2003 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

Lovers, Partners, and Others | When I speak of the woman I love and married 25 years ago, I refer to her as my wife. Likewise, she refers to me as her husband. The terms "husband" and "wife" are good, strong, mature-sounding words that just happen to perfectly describe a close, loving relationship between two adults. But what terms are there to identify those same two adults if they are NOT married? There is nothing yet invented that sounds right to my ears, I'm sorry to say.

There are several modern descriptions available, of course; however each and every one is patently unfulfilling. These terms run the gamut from hollow to cold to sleazy to just plain silly-sounding. A case in point: the term "lover."

Introducing a person as one's "lover" may be technically correct, but it sounds sordid and extramarital somehow. It's just not comfortable to say to your boss at a business gathering, "Mr. Fowler, I'd like you to meet my lover, Jim." It's even more uncomfortable to introduce your "lover, Jim" to your mom and dad.

"Partner" is used quite a bit these days, popularized by homosexual and lesbian relationships, but now also being used by non-married heterosexual couples. The main problem with this term is it sounds about as warm and cuddly as a law firm. When I think of partners I think of attorneys and business alliances, not a loving relationship between two adults. And "domestic partners" sounds like maids and butlers. To me, partners are two cops in a patrol car. Roy Rogers had a partner, but it wasn't Dale Evens - she was his wife. Roy's partner was Gabby Hayes. Whereas "lover" is a bit too warm, "partner" is way too cold. Even "roommate," that old gay euphemism for lover, sounds less sterile than "partner."

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And then we come to the most widely used term of all, which also happens to be the dumbest sounding term for anyone over the age of twenty - "boyfriend" and /or "girlfriend." "Boyfriend" and "girlfriend" just don't make it as terms for serious adult companionship. Its fine for Andy Hardy to have a girlfriend and Gidget to have a boyfriend, but that's it. If your widowed grandmother meets a man and starts going out with him on a regular basis, referring to an 87 year old retired stock analyst as "grandma's boyfriend" just doesn't have the right ring to it. Somehow it turns the dignity of an otherwise mature gentleman into some kind of Doogie Howser. I'm not saying that grandma might not have had a boyfriend — but if she did, it was in elementary school not at the senior center.

But what else to call them? "Manfriend" or "womanfriend" isn't any good - it comes off sounding too forced. "Significant other" sounds like one of those boxes you check on a census form. "Domestic union" is the AFL-CIO. And "soul mate" has been used to death.

So, where do we go from here? How about we go to the ol' reliable thesaurus. In checking Roget's International Thesaurus, there isn't much to fall back on there, either, I'm afraid. There are the old standby words like suitor, admirer, beau, wooer, and swain for men; and lady love, mistress, and sweetheart, for the women, but those words have no relevance in our hyper, hip-hop world. The beaus that would come to call and court their sweethearts of yesteryear are forever gone with the wind. No, there is nothing that sounds right.

We do have a crisis — we are in desperate need of new words to adequately describe our loving human live-in partners. What could we come up with, I wonder.. Do you suppose..hmmm. How do the words, "husband" and "wife" grab you? It works for me. Oh, the only catch is - you've got to be a man and a woman who are actually married to each other to use those particular terms. In today's society, that is a truly controversial concept.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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