Love Handles: Life Partner, Companion, Lover, Husband, Girlfriend

By Rich, B. Ruby | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), October 28, 1997 | Go to article overview

Love Handles: Life Partner, Companion, Lover, Husband, Girlfriend


Rich, B. Ruby, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


WHAT DO YOU CALL THE ONE YOU LOVE DARLING? SWEETHEART? Partner? This lesbian-gay nomenclature crisis is getting serious. Roommate, we know, is over; that brings back the '50s and Eisenhower. Once lover did the job, but today it's too transitory. Significant other was sort of charming but didn't stand a chance in the terminology sweepstakes. Some lesbians and gay men are still bravely holding out for husband or wife, tried-and-true labels that carry a bonus aura of camp. Do they rush out and buy a minivan to match?

In the obituary pages of the newspapers, that space where official recognition has come to stay, the word of choice is companion. No, thanks: To me, that suggests someone who's paid for his or her company, a la Cunanan. Long-time or not, I'd prefer some other designation. In legal circles, of course, none of these words carries the power of domestic partner: It's the magic term that can deliver health insurance, pensions, or rent-control-apartment inheritance.

That brings us to the word du jour. For reasons I can't fathom, a consensus somehow sneaked through that partner should be the obligatory term for this most serious of relationships. Why didn't anyone consult me? Didn't they stop to think how business partners often treat each other? I hardly think that's a model for us to emulate.

Then there's that lesbian favorite, life partner. I first heard that one at a conference on progressive philanthropy on the day the Gulf War broke out. One of the progressive philanthropists raced for the phone bank. "I have to call my life partner," she explained, beating me out for the last pay phone in that precellular universe. Your life partner? Honey, I wanted to cry out, you're not dead yet. Come back in a decade and get that term revalidated--assuming the same woman still matches it.

I myself choose to have a girlfriend, a word that to me conveys a warm feeling of affection and attachment. But the woman in question disdains my choice of terminology. She thinks it sounds like a high-school dating word, hopelessly adolescent, and prefers to call me her friend. I find friend utterly bland and non-committal--except when she's speaking Spanish. …

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