What Do You Call The Person Who Shares Your Life?

Couple lying in bed, side view (focus on woman)
Couple lying in bed, side view (focus on woman)

My 60-something friends Barbara Levin and Richard Luros recently celebrated their first wedding anniversary. But they've been together a lot longer.

For reasons involving pre-nups, adult kids, and finances so complicated that they make the fiscal cliff crisis seem simple, they preferred to simply cohabit in a jointly owned home for the past 10 years or so. But during a serious health scare last year, they put aside all the reasons for not tying the knot and tied it. They were married unceremoniously in the backyard in the presence of four friends and the bride didn't wear white. They left the next morning for Boston where Richard's treatment -- successful we are happy to report -- kept them for months.

But getting married solved not just one problem -- how to give Barbara spousal privileges in matters concerning Richard's health -- but a second one as well: They no longer had to figure out what to call each other.

For years, Barbara introduced Richard as her fiance. It was technically true since he bought her a hefty sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds years ago. But the problem with the introduction of your "fiance," she pointed out, is that it invariably leads to the question of when the wedding will be held.

"We weren't in any big rush," said Barbara, "so there would be this kind of dead pause in the conversation." Fiance suggests the invitations are at the printers even as you're still debating the reception menu.

"Partner" feels like a business arrangement and "domestic partner" is what you write on the health insurance form at work. Both seem to diminish the emotional commitment you've invested.

But pretty much nothing feels as dumb as introducing a 70-year-old man as your "boyfriend," says Carol Cronenweth, a Malibu, California real estate agent with a long-time "whatever you want to call him is fine." His name is Michael and they have no plans to join a wedding registry any time soon. They share a residence, travel together, and engage as part of the same family unit.

According to the New York Times, what to call the unmarried man or woman who hogs your bedcovers and shares your heart is a problem that resonates loudly with the 65-and-older crowd. The paper notes that "special friend" or just "friend" are "just too ridiculous."

Even the U.S. Census Bureau got in on the act. In 1980, it made its first attempt to name these cohabitants so that they could count them. It came up with "person of opposite sex sharing living quarters" -- which abbreviates to POSSLQ and is pronounced "possle cue." Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?

We asked Carol Cronenweth how she felt about introducing Michael as her "possle cue."

"I'll stick to Michael," she said.

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