Of course, my familiarity with the dictionary tells me that a wife is a married woman. But the historical baggage of my foremothers who were forced into marriage for reasons of political alliance, inheritance, servitude, and depth of dowry also permeates my psyche.
My own mother gave up a successful career in 1958 to become….a wife. She was a darn good one, too. She was lovely and loyal, determined, and divine. Dinner was always on the table at 6, cookies were hot out of the oven, and her devotion to home and hearth is eternal.
And my gal? She can pick up a snake in the woods, use power tools like a pro, raise a bumper crop of arugula, embroider a placemat, and whip up a soufflé in a jiffy. She’s just not a wife.
Spouse? That works for an equity line or a blood transfusion, but just seems too legalistic for daily use. Lover? Not in front of mom. Friend? Cop out. Significant other? Spare me.
My love and I were together 11 years before we could legally wed, and our relationship progressed from a crackling attraction to a few blissful years of adventurous travel and eating at trendy restaurants. We went to graduate school, established careers, and made the decision to adopt two beautiful children and sign on for a hefty mortgage. Marriage protected us legally and financially.
By marrying, we could also demonstrate to society’s skeptics that my love and I were equally capable as straight couples of changing diapers, mowing the grass, and dashing from the schoolyard to the commuter rail.
So, why can’t she just be my wife? The reality is that feminism has influenced my generation, too young to have really been pioneers, too old to not to have benefitted from the dismantling of the notion that a wife is there to obey her husband.
But, another reality is that, despite progress, gays and lesbians routinely face rejection from family members, discrimination in the workplace, and denunciation from the pulpit. We trust others based on specific situations. Using the terms wife and husband forces us to always be out, vulnerable.
There are occasions such as a fundraiser for a favorite liberal candidate where my wedding ring has an aura of clout. Introductions are seamless, easy. There are other times, though, where I have to make a snap decision about the mindset of a stranger and I don’t ask or tell about my marital status.
A few weeks ago, I bought a car form a dealer on the Lynnway. Ronnie, the salesman, and I had to wait around for the usual approvals and reams of paperwork. During that time, Ronnie showed me pictures of his own lovely wife and daughter. I learned a lot about their trip to
Aruba, and how tough it was to pay the college tuition bills.
At noon Ronnie broke his sandwich in half, a fresh mozzarella and prosciutto sub from Bianchi’s in
. I told Ronnie about my girls, how they love spaghetti Bolognese. He said, “That’s my favorite, too. Your husband’s a lucky guy.” I produced a fake chuckle. Ronnie was kind, funny. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that it was my wife that was the lucky one. I just can’t use that word. Any gender-neutral alternate would have been all wrong. So, I changed the subject. My language had failed me. Revere
Or was it me that had failed Ronnie?
Would the easy banter between Ronnie and me have evaporated had I mentioned my wife? Would he have been supportive? Did he prescribe to mean spirited talk radio? Given the chance, would he vote to take away my right to marry? I’ll never know. I hedged.
After almost seven years of marriage and 18 years together, my commitment to the love of my life is strong. Maybe someday, I will be able to make her my wife.