My life and the lives of thousands of others changed on June 26, 2015 when the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. My partner and I had been in a relationship for two years and we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, so we decided to get married. We’ve lived in wedded bliss ever since, but I’ve never referred to her as my wife and never will—here’s why.
Marriage hasn’t changed anything about our relationship. We didn’t get married for about a year after it became legal. We had a lovely wedding but other than having a legally binding contract stating our commitment to one another, nothing had really changed. I’d always called her my partner so I continued doing so.
Calling her my partner is more traditional. Gay people referring to their long-term significant others as their “partner” is something that has always resonated with me. For years, they couldn’t marry but their relationship wasn’t still in the juvenile “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” stage, so they adopted a new term. I’ve known that I was a lesbian since I was a kid and always expected to grow up and have a partner. It was just something that came easier to me and felt more right than calling someone my wife.
We’re equal and always have been. We started living together less than a year into our relationship and we were easily able to figure out how to cohabitate. We divided up rent, food costs, bills, gas, shared each others’ cars, and eventually got a joint bank account. We were always absolute equals, and that felt like a defining feature of her being my partner. “Wife” comes with subservient connotations that I’m just not into.
Sometimes it’s safer to use “partner.” Believe it or not, I’ve seen people react poorly to same-gender partners being referred to as “husbands” or “wives,” even after marriage was legalized. Some people have yet to catch up with the 21st Century. While I shouldn’t have to cower to the beliefs of close-minded people, calling my partner my partner has occasionally avoided some unnecessary and unwanted trouble.
It illustrates that we’re on the same team. The definition of the word partner is someone who contributes and works together with another person. Our married life is an endless project that we’re working on together. When it comes down to it, a partner is someone who advocates for you and always has your back. We’re each other’s biggest cheerleaders and I love having a word to represent that privilege.
It removes implied gender norms. OK, there are some things that can’t be ignored when you’re in a same-sex relationship. We’ve been raised with the ideas of traditional “male” and “female” roles, and when you’re a lesbian couple, people assume you lack the ability to take care of tasks that usually fall to guys. Who unplugs the toilet? Who fixes the car? Who lifts the furniture and paints the walls? Calling my S.O. my partner eliminates the idea that one of us is the “man” in the relationship. I’m scared of bugs and she kills them for me, while she hates getting engine oil on her clothes so I do maintenance on her car. We both pay the bills, we both bring home the bacon.
It demonstrates that we’re more than just lovers. Yes, we do have a great romantic life and a fantastic sex life, but our relationship is more than just that. If I didn’t have her in my life, I’d feel completely lost. We go on adventures and hikes, we play games, we garden together—she’s my best friend. Partner as a term encapsulates that too.
It makes her feel comfortable. One thing my partner has never complained about it how I refer to her. I’ve asked her if she’d prefer that I call her my wife and encouraged her to be truthful. She was very clear that what I call her doesn’t matter because it’s what we have together that’s important. I couldn’t agree more.
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