Friday, December 16, 2011

On being a partner, not a wife

Having been with my partner for almost 12 years now, I can honestly say intimate relationships are great. They are not without their ups and downs, of course, and certainly not without considerable effort from both parties, but, ultimately we have the same rights as married couples (having lived together for 3 years) and we, to a large extent, live the same sort of life as a married couple (whatever that might involve..). So it’s all pretty sweet really, as one half of a hetero, de facto couple. Except for dealing with society’s reactions to our relationship status. And by society I mean family, friends, colleagues and anyone else who thinks it’s their business. So, in this blog post, I make the issue of de facto relationships your business, because the one thing I’ve found increasingly irritating over the last nearly-12 years is society’s perceptions of people in de facto relationships and I do feel the need to discuss this topic. I will briefly outline what has irked me and why it’s irked me. Yes, this is not teaching-related, but it’s the holidays, so indulge me.

But every little girl wants to be a princess!

Right from the point where my partner and I realised we wanted to stay together, we decided we didn’t want to get married (for many, many reasons, but that’s a whole other blog post/10,000 word essay). So, the first annoying comments I remember were in response to me politely saying we wouldn’t ever get married. “Oh you’ll change your mind when you’re older”, “but everyone wants to get married!” and “are you scared of commitment?” were commonly directed at us (me in particular, being the female half of the couple, and obviously some sort of freak). Well, no I haven’t, and no I didn’t, and no I’m not. We’d made a decision to stay together but not to get married; this decision undoubtedly involved some/a lot of thought, discussion and commitment, so surely it shouldn’t be met with disbelieving or condescending comments. I mean, how rude and stupid would it be if someone announced their engagement and I was all, “Oh, you’ll change your mind in the next 6 months”..? Fortunately, most of my harassers have given up on this tack, which is just as well because I couldn’t handle a lifetime of it.

Won’t somebody please think of the children!

The second annoyance is possibly the most offensive:
“But what about when you have children?!”
Er, yeah…what about it? Firstly, that’s a massive assumption in itself, but how would not being married actually affect the children? That’s my response question. Very few people answer. The few answers have gone something like this: “But how will you choose whose surname they get?” and/or “They might get bullied at school”. On reflection, these are responses are rather amusing, if offensive. Choosing a surname for a child is not going to be the biggest challenge of parenting. I mean, they can have one, or the other, or both. And if they don’t like one, or the other, or both, they can change it when they reach 18. And whilst bullying in itself is definitely a concern, I doubt that ‘unmarried parents’ is a pressing social issue in East Christchurch that leads to bullying in the school playgrounds. I live in a street surrounded by decile 1 and 2 schools; my future children (assuming I have any) are not going to be bullied because their parents aren’t married. And let it be noted that I’m not even convinced that children are bullied for such pathetically upper-middle class reasons, but if they are, and if I lived in a more affluent area, I wouldn’t ever send my children to such a school – any school that couldn’t deal with such things would no doubt be both elitist and negligent. Also, bullying of any sort is unacceptable, not just bullying because of parental relationship status.

And now for the more minor quibbles I have with people’s assumptions and attitudes about defacto relationships. These tend to be more semantic, but still have a veneer of sexism/hierarchy…

It’s hard to explain this one without revealing names, so I’ll use pseudonyms instead. The de facto couple (my partner and I) are named Mr Stripey Tiger and Ms Spotty Leopard, respectively. As Ms S. Leopard, I receive at least one phone call a week (often from telemarketers, although recently had one from EQC...just as well I was in a forgiving mood or I might never see any work done to my house) that goes like this:
Caller: “Hi, is that Mrs Tiger?”
Me: “No sorry, there is no Mrs Tiger at this house.”
Caller: “Oh, um…what about a Mr Leopard?”
Me: “No sorry, there is no Mr Leopard either.”
…and then…
Me (if I’m in a forgiving mood): “But there IS a Ms Leopard or a Mr Tiger here.”
Why on earth would anyone make the assumption that I’ve taken my partner’s name? We are not married and this is very clear in everything we do as individuals, and in all documentation, including the white pages! And even if we were married (which we never will be, but just to illustrate my point), who’s to say I’d take his name?! It’s not the freaking law that the woman has to take the man’s name. It’s not the 1950s any more; women are allowed to keep their original identities once they’ve been married (albeit that our surnames often come from our fathers, blergh). Ultimately, there never has been a ‘Mrs Tiger’, and there never will be!

“But ‘partner’ doesn’t sound very romantic.” OK, well, I like it, and isn’t that the main thing? To me, it implies a long-term, permanent relationship (unlike ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ which seems more temporary to me – I know some long-term partners who do use these terms though and that’s cool), it implies equality, and it doesn’t have the historical connotations that the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ have. I do suspect that some people (ie. homophobes) don’t like the word because they associate it with gay couples, although I doubt anyone I’m even vaguely close to would actually come out and say this to me. Most people know that prejudice is up there with war, the term ‘PC’, and Tony Blair, on my list of ‘things I hate’.

So other than the above (and most likely a few other social annoyances I can’t think of right now as I write this…), de facto partnerships are pretty sweet. So come on society, show us a little respect!

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