Monday, January 23, 2006Recently, in conversation, someone commented that using the word "partner" to indicate "significant other" implictly assumes a same-sex relationship. I disagreed, since I personally know several heterosexual women who refer to their long-term boyfriends as their "partners." The response? "No way. A straight person would never use the term 'partner,' because everybody knows that's code for 'gay'."
Hmmm. After giving it some thought, I realized that we might both be right, in a sense. At least in my experience, there seems to be a recent shift in the term's use falling along gender, political, and socio-economic lines. While I personally haven't encountered men who use the term "partner" to refer to a female significant other, I do know of some and I'm convinced they exist - at least in Blue States. My observations: women who use "partner" to refer to a male significant other tend to be:
- Younger, although in a few cases they were women over 50
- Urban dwellers
- Politically liberal or moderate
- They were in a long-term relationship with the man, but not necessarily looking to marry. In that case they would use either "boyfriend," with its assumptions of transience, or that mantra of hope, "my fiancé." However, in one exceptional case, the woman referred to her husband as her "partner," perhaps seeking to avoid the more agricultural connotations of the word.
Go ahead: call it a "yuppie feminist thing." Maybe if more straight women begin to use the word "partner," some brave men might follow suit and call their female significant others "partners." At least it's a hell of a lot better than the term demographers coined in the 80's to refer to unmarried heterosexuals living together: POSSLQ's (Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters). That's pronounced "poss-əl-cue." And if you happen to know of any straight men who call their girlfriends "partners" (and I don't mean when they're referring to 'sex'- hyphen - partners), feel free to tell them they're on the vanguard. And let me know, just in the interest of academic research. :)