Today, we’re talking about making it official.
Is the title you give someone in your life important? (e.g. Girlfriend, Sister, Uncle,
POSSLQ, Sworn Enemy)?
Show notes and links:
It’s Pronounced Metrosexual: Why I say partner instead of boyfriend or girlfriend
Scientific American: Why Do We Use Pet Names in Relationships?
The Root: Does It Matter if He Calls Me His Girlfriend?
Full episode text
If you ever want to have an extended discussion on the importance of titles, then talk to individuals over the age of 25 who have an intimate long-term relationship, but aren’t legally married. I’ve heard terms ranging from “partner” to “special person” to the constant choice to use names rather than titles, or even the US census-based “Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters” – POSSLQ. Or, even if you like, open the conversation up with someone who is deciding if they should make their relationship “Facebook official.”
It’s a complicated question for a variety of reasons, including legal and social norms. Just about every primer on manners you will read indicate that when you’re introducing two people, you should provide some kind of context or information to help them inform their interactions with each other. How you refer to someone also invokes assumptions about your relationship with them, their place in your life, and even gives cues to how you expect others to treat them. After all, would you treat someone a friend introduced as their roommate very differently than someone they introduced as their boss?
Yet there are also some seriously limiting factors. After all, calling someone your “wife” or “husband” indicates that there is a legal relationship — and if your relationship is not or cannot be legally recognized, you could end up getting yourself into hot water, especially if it’s a bad situation. Which presents a very difficult situation for individuals that are not given legal access to that type of relationship recognition.