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Relative Semantics | blog.deanland.com

Relative Semantics

Relative Semantics, Part 2

More semantic concerns regarding relationships and descriptions, and again we begin with background to clarify the conundrum.  Think about filling out standard questionairres -- age, gender, these are easily answered.  The choices are few, and there are rarely variations or gray areas.

But then comes marital status.  Often the choices are Single, Married, Divorced.  Sometimes the status of Separated is included as an option.  What's left out are two other possiblities: Cohabitating (aka, living together) or the status of being in a Long Term Relationship.  These two are not always synonmous.

So how does one describe one's relationship status?  And how does one refer to one's Significant Other?  At my age, it seems silly to describe this person as "my girlfriend."  A friend refers to the person in his life (living together, long term relationship) as his partner.  I'd always associated that with same-sex relationships, but theirs is hetero.  There is a suggestion that one refer to one's Significant Other as "their mate," but that sounds like a term from Zoology or a sex-ed book.  Also, if one does not have a relationship which has borne children, is mate at all a proper term?

Susan, the  woman  with whom I've been in a  Long Term Relationship (over ten years!) likes it when I describe her as "my reason for living."   That, curiously, is never an option on any of those fill-in-the-data forms referred to above.

And what of one's Significant Others' family?  Our parents are not in-laws to our relationship partners (wow, yuk, that sounds so sterile, so clinical!), as in-law status is conferred by legal status.  This also knocks out in-laws for couples in states that ban same-sex marriage.  A friend (LTR, living together, even covered by her insurance, as she works for a forward-thinking employer) refers to his Significant Other's mother as his ersatz mother-in-law.  I've used the term "would-be mother-in-law" as descriptive . . . particularly since so many people (predominantly friends, not family, as fate would have it) ask when, if, or whether marriage is in the offing,

I think of Susan's siblings as though they would be my siblings-in-law.   I refer to Susan's mother as  Ma (as do Susan and all  her siblings).  But I never call her that directly, as it would be a faux pas, given that Susan and I are not married.

And then comes the question, again, of unclehood.  Without the legal status of marriage, I am not an (official) uncle to Susan's nieces and nephews.  I know some of them, via Susan or even more directly, far better than I ever knew the nieces and nephews from my marriage.  My son hung out with three of Susan's nephews a bunch during a Summer visit to NY while they were also in town.  Afterward he asked me this question: "If you and Susan get married, would they be my stepcousins?"   He then added, "I'd like that."  Of course a strong part of this relationship is their/our common bond of a love for the great national pastime, baseball.  And that isn't just male bonding . . . Susan is a big fan, too.  I thank my lucky stars for this.

But I remain confused: how to refer to Susan, to our status, to her family, and so forth.  Comments are welcomed and encouraged.