Sunday, November 13, 2011

Passing for a Wife

by Jeffe Kennedy

See, I pretty much figure I'm technically a concubine. I even wrote about it in my essay collection. The definition:

Concubine (kä kiub in), sb. ME. [a. F concubin, concubine:—L.concubinus, concubina, f. con- + cubare.] I. A woman who cohabits with a man without being his wife; a kept mistress. Among polygamous peoples: A ‘secondary wife’, having a legal status inferior to that of a wife. †2. A male paramour —1540.

~ Oxford Universal English Dictionary

It's pretty accurate, except for the "kept" part. I don't keep terribly well.

Though David and I have been together for coming up on 21 years, we aren't technically, actually married. According to New Mexico, we are now married, under Common Law. Wyoming doesn't have such a law, therefore, though everything between us, financially and romantically, is exactly the same, there we were not married.

With all the domestic partnership laws, if we tried to extricate ourselves from each other financially, it would be no different than if we'd married in front of a Justice of the Peace.

In many ways, I am a second wife, since the Catholic Church would rule that David is still married to his first wife and never had it annulled. His brother did have his first marriage annulled - paid several huge fees to get it and complained bitterly that if he'd murdered someone, he could have just confessed and been absolved. Apparently marrying the wrong person is a far greater crime.

You might begin to understand why I've never had a church wedding.

At any rate, I've been perfectly fine all these years with not having an OFFICIAL wedding. I like the idea that we choose to be together.

The big problem is the titles.

Now, I fully confess that, in recent years, we've totally gone to referring to each other as "husband" and "wife" because it makes other people so much happier. And, in New Mexico, it's accurate.

(Though when David says "my wife" I still kind of look around to figure out who he's talking about.)

Facebook has now added the relationship status of "in a domestic partnership," which sounds vaguely Socialist to me, as if we're Comrades taking turns standing in bread lines. But it's better than the old "in a relationship" like we used to be, which sounded like we could maybe be "out of a relationship" at any moment.

Early on, I called him my boyfriend and I was his girlfriend. It doesn't take long, however, to feel like you're eternally reliving Prom. "Significant Other" became widely used sometime in the 80s - I think it was even a movie title - but it begs the question, doesn't that mean everyone else is Insignificant?

Spouse works well in a crunch, if a bit like a census tick. Partner is bland, but functional. Mate sounds way too biological. Obituaries began using "Longtime Companion" for AIDS widowers which felt way too fraught for heteros to take on. Almost an insult to them.

My stepdaughter owns a house and has two children with an Hispanic man and he calls her "My Lady." I really like that, but feel like I'd be robbing the culture.

It's interesting to me that the nomenclature issues are ones we share with homosexual couples. Because we have not toed the societal line and complied to the "norm," whatever that may be, we are locked out of certain titles. A little daily punishment for not doing things the way everyone else does.

I confess, when we moved to New Mexico and knew we'd be meeting all sorts of new people, to whom we would not want to explain the last twenty years and our religious and political choices, especially when introducing ourselves out by the mailbox - it was a relief to go with husband and wife.

You say that and people nod and move on. No questions. Easy peasy.

It's kind of like passing for White, though. We look compliant on the surface. Not everyone can counterfeit that.

It's just a shame that there's pressure to.


  1. It's a shame that there isn't a lovely, accepted title for happy people who have made this particular choice. And you do sound HAPPY, which is what matters most!

  2. It's true, Veronica! I'll admit that, after a while, a huge reason not to make it official was my superstitious desire to preserve the happiness as is.

  3. Ha! "Concubine." Love it!

    And I literally LOL over the bread line analogy.

  4. I admit, when I don't know folks' marital status, I fall back on 'partner.' I couldn't figure out while that sounded weird, but I sort of realize that it sounded like I was referring to cowboys and that John Wayne should be involved somehow.

    And there is such a strange emphasis in society on the marriage thing. I know more people who are happy without trip to the justice of the peace than who did.

  5. You're so right, Laura! "Partner" is the comfortable, safe choice. As long as you don't add the "Howdy."

  6. For years now, I've been arguing that since the religious people get so hung up over the word "marriage", we should reserve it only for people who wed in a religious ceremony. All of the rest of us, hetero and homosexual alike, would have "civil unions", with ALL of the legal rights of marriage, we just wouldn't use that word. We could freely use husband or wife or spouse to describe our partner. The only problem would be that we'd have to say "I'm civil ceremonied to him/her". It doesn't trip of the tongue quite as easily as "married", but I'm sure some inventive person would come up with a catchy shortened phrase pretty quickly.

  7. Jen - that is such a wise idea. I like that. Then "marriage" can remain a sacred, religious thing and those who aren't invested in that can carry on. How about CC'd? :D

  8. Yeesh. Dear Gods. How about 'we're over 18, no one's getting hurt who doesn't want to be, and after that, *you* won't be invited into our bedroom, so who cares'? :D

  9. This makes so much sense to me that I'm frustrated that no one sees what an easy solution it is. Granted, religious homosexuals would still be shut out of "marriage" by their churches, but that's a fight that belongs in their church not in the civil gov't, and at least they would have all of the legal rights that they are entitled to. Meanwhile, hetero couples who still want to use the term could get married in the church, while the rest of us just go on getting hitched in legal, but not religious, ceremonies.

  10. My owner is very glad that in Dutch there is a mature version of boyfriend/girlfriend.
    We have a male and female word for friend: vriend(=male) vriendin(=female) Adding the word mijn (my) in front of either one (in most cases) indicates you're talking about your partner.

  11. My sister-in-law went through all the hoops to get her first marriage annulled as well, and even then it didn't happen. In the end, she married my brother in a civil union. (My dad actually married them, since he's a judge.)

    People should do whatever makes them happy, really. My only real concern would be legal stuff - i.e. if children are involved, or even sick/end-of-life type things. You hear so many horror stories now, even with civil unions for gay/lesbian couples where if one of them is in the hospital, the other isn't allowed to visit, etc, because they're not considered "kin".


  12. Marcella? dream on!

    You're so right, Jen. Thing is - the really vocal types aren't the ones who want an easy solution. Alas for that.

  13. Sullivan - the Dutch are so damn smart. This is why we're all moving to the Netherlands as soon as possible!

    I have three words for you Allison: Power of Attorney. *boom* Problem solved.

  14. I like "concubine." Romantic. It suits you. :)

  15. Ya know...I think choosing to marry (or not) is a total personal choice. There is certainly nothing wrong with either. To heck with anyone who says different.

  16. @Jeffe: if you do: move to Groningen. It's the best city in all of the Netherlands.

  17. That's right, MM! Isn't Heck in Texas? ;-)

    If only because there are such lovely people (and pigs) in Groningen, Sullivan!

  18. Sullivan - I love that and wish we had an equivalent. The Viking and I have the same dilemma. I can't call him my boyfriend, he is SO not a boy, and we've run through that whole gamut of partner and significant other and never come up with anything that truly fits. Really, concubine is kinda awesome. Dare you to introduce yourself out at the mailbox as David's concubine. : )

  19. Catch me on the right day and I just might...