It’s no surprise that a recent social statistic is showing that people in general are increasingly favoring non-marital relationships. What with the increase in the divorce rate in the last couple decades, the desire to pursue professions and careers over raising children, and the real-life economic advantages of remaining single (or rather, not married), marriage simply doesn’t seem to be all that attractive as it once was. For my own various reasons I am a divorce statistic and I was also part of that growing divorce sub-set of having done so after 30+ years of marriage. Everyone has a reason. But the one thing everyone shares following a divorce is the status of being single… and sometimes falling into new relationships.
If you have been like me in having been declared single after over a quarter century of marriage then you likely can understand the strangeness in being tossed back into the dating scene. I’ll reserve describing that fun and games for another article. But suffice to say that right now I am in a committed relationship with someone near my age and we are in love and enjoying life as best as we can. But not having been 60 years of age before and having a girlfriend I find myself in a relative quandry as to how to present our relationship to others. I’m not referring to some moral interpretation necessarily, but rather in simply making casual introductions.
For example, the other day we were in a restaurant and met some friendly folks and after a little back-and-forth I introduced myself. “My name is Doug… and this is… (slight mental pause) my girlfriend, Arlee.” Now, my momentary hesitation was not due to some reluctance to express our relationship role in the traditional sense but rather I felt a slight uneasiness is using the term “girlfriend”. You see, the last time I ever introduced a “girlfriend” was many years ago in my early 20’s… when having a girlfriend is appropriate and expected. Having a girlfriend, or being someone’s boyfriend, is understood to be a temporary relationship. In other words, it’s a kind of transitional role, and socially not taken seriously as being long term. Either you will split up or ultimately marry… but more often it’s the latter. Girlfriends and boyfriends do not necessarily indicate to what degree the relationship is in; are we dating or living together? My relationship as it exists now is pretty permanant to me at this juncture. I mean, we live together as companions, share the expenses, we even love each other. But there’s no interest to marry because there’s no need to marry… either for our own moral reasons or for economic reasons. Yet, I introduce her as my girlfriend.
This dilimma becomes even more defined in the day-to-day routine. My girlfriend had to enter the hospital as a precaution following a minor traffic accident and when I went to visit her I was hesistant at declaring my relationship to her. I suddenly had to come to grips the possibly, “I”m here to see my girlfriend.” was not going to fly with the head nurse. “I’m sorry, sir, only family members are allowed.” rattled around in my head. So I told her, “I’m here to see my significant other.”, leaving her to make her own conclusion from that… and it worked.
I know, you are probably thinking that there are forms that can be filled out in advance for medical empowerment and powers of attorney, yada yada. Well, waiting for someone to fiddle through some file to corraborate my relationship claim at an urgent moment is not acceptable to me given the myriad of emergency medical maladies that can befall us at this age… or any age for that matter. But there are no such advance forms for real life social or practical situations. When my kids brought home someone they elevated to the role of “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” I was naturally conditioned to presume that this relationship would likely change by next Saturday. So it’s no wonder I am having a problem trying to present my relationship as a committed, long term living arrangement by two mature adults.
So.. what IS a good description of our relationship? There’s “life companion”, but that label seems a bit defiant and opinionated given the current same-sex marriage movement (makes me think of bra burning, or something). “Soul mates” might suggest some level of advanced relationship but even that term seems a little pretentious and “hippie-ish”. I’m not sure I’d want my soul mated. “Friends-with-benefits”… not sure about that one (does that mean we are friends, yet my partner gives me paid vacations and free medical?). “Significant other“… I’ve used that one many times and it does have a certain advantage in that it confuses people enough to get the benefit of the doubt by default that maybe we are married. But that term is a bit trendy and will likely mean something totally different next month. “Maritally deficient”, while accurate, sounds like we need to take more vitamins. “This is my committed companion, Arlee.” No… sounds like I’m describing her psychiatric status… or in the least, she’s the only one committed to our relationship. “I’d like you to meet my lover, Arlee.” Too Shakespearean (and not sure I’d want to implant the image to some stranger of a couple my age naked and banging some headboard… even if it is plausible).
I have a feeling that until I can find the right terminology for describing our relationship roles to others, I am resigned to balance the verbage or surrender to, “She’s my girlfriend.” Oh, sure.. I suppose I could solve the whole problem and just get married. My parents, God rest their souls, would certainly approve.