Dawn and I got married in June 2014
when because I was pregnant. We had been together for eleven years at that point and had never really intended to get married. It just wasn’t an institution that either of us was interested in participating in. Like many couples we were committed and monogamous and had been together for so long that legal/public/spiritual recognition felt unnecessary. For me, marriage also represented the stronghold of heteronormativity on our culture; participating felt like complicity (this was shortly before DOMA was overturned by SCOTUS). However, when you are bringing a little being into this world, some ideals end up doing by the wayside to make room for practicality and keeping your family as safe as possible. Knowing marriage would help with the legalities involved in establishing Dawn as Levi’s parent, we said our vows in front of our officiant (our midwife) and one witness (a dear friend), ate some pub food, and headed off for a weekend of biking in Vermont.
My generally chosen terms for referring to Dawn, both before and after marriage, were “partner” and (less often) “my other half.” For me these words denote the strength and truth of the relationship. We are partners, equals, working side-by-side in life (and this now includes parenting). We are also two equal halves of a whole–interdependent (something I thought I’d never believe in/agree to, but that’s a story for a different day/post). However, both of these terms clearly leave out any clarifying information about gender. In speaking to strangers, this frequently left me/us in an uncomfortable dance of trying to communicate without gender pronouns until I found (or more often, created) a reasonable moment to drop one in.
After one particularly uncomfortable encounter with a colleague who asked if my husband was excited about my pregnancy and my response of, “Oh – I don’t have a husband…,” (resulting in wide deer-in-headlight eyes from my colleague), friends urged me to start using the term “wife” so as to avoid confusion and general discomfort for me and my interlocutor.
I was very resistant. The word “wife” makes me squirm. For me the Despite the actual etymology of wife being woman, for me it is still inextricable from its mid- 19th Century usage to indicate the status of spouse, but the spouse who lost all rights in the process. The word for me connotes ownership and property. I never wanted to be somebody’s wife.
And yet, here I am, watching the world rapidly come to accept, heck – even embrace, the marriages of gay couples and with that acceptance, the word “wife” is flying off the tongues of everyone around me. My students ask me about “my wife” without flinching. Mothers at my son’s daycare ask about “my wife.” Colleagues and friends introduce Dawn as “my wife.” And yes, even I find myself using the word to avoid all those uncomfortable missing gender pronouns described above. I’m not sure how long naturalization of word into one’s vocabulary generally takes, but as I approach the three year anniversary of my wedding, I am still gritting my teeth at every use of the word.
I recently joined an online community of moms and had to create a brief profile. Here is what I wrote: “Old(er) mama to an adorable little guy. With my partner for 14 year, married for almost 3. Recovering perfectionist and productivity obsessive.” And with that use of the word partner, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, Ya know what…? I don’t have to use the term wife because that’s the norm. I’ve never done anything else for that reason. And with that, I decided to start (again) using the word I find most appropriate for my relationship. My partnership.
Now I just need to run this by the wife…. 🙂