February 13, 2003 - Relationship Names

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": February 13, 2003

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- labeling love. On this eve of Valentine's Day, the romance holiday, we introduce you to a couple of architects from New York City. They built a relationship but didn't know what to name it.

RS: Madeline Schwartzman and Jeffrey Miles met at the Graduate School of Architecture at Yale University in 1986.

MUSIC: "Mad About You"/Belinda Carlisle

RS: This song was popular that year. At first the terms "boyfriend and girlfriend" worked fine for Maddy and Jeff. But after a few years, practical matters intruded. Jeff wasn't sure how to list Maddy as his beneficiary on benefit forms at work.

MILES: "When they came to relationship, what do you put? So I used to put 'lover.' When I'd get back the completed official forms, they obviously couldn't recognize that in their officialese, so they would always change it to 'partner.'"

RS: "You like that word?"

SCHWARTZMAN: "I think it's too generic."

AA: "You know the thing with partner, too, is that it really has changed in common usage, where now because gays and lesbians use that to refer to their partners -- "

RS: "And it also has a business connotation."

AA: "Right, and now you hear people more when they talk about a partner in the business sense, they will specify 'this is my business partner,' just to avoid any, you know, confusion."

SCHWARTZMAN: "It's interesting that you bring that up. If I may back up to 'lover,' one other thing that happened with lover is -- if I may Jeff tell this story -- is, he had a business meeting and it turned out they discussed that I had gone to high school at Horace Mann, and so Jeff said 'my lover went to Horace Mann' and the man he was talking to said 'oh, my lover went to Horace Mann too, what's his name?' But 'partner,' Jeff and I did an architecture job together ... "

MILES: "Yes, and we were partners on that project, but of course we were partners in love also. So that worked at all different levels at that point in time."

RS: "So you've been together for about seventeen years -- "


RS: "Correct? And over those seventeen years, you've had to introduce each other. Did that seem to be a problem?"

MILES: "You know, it was a self-imposed hardship. Maddy and I could have gotten married anytime, but we resisted for whatever reasons, and after awhile, yes, it was kind of awkward and actually kind of annoying, too, to have to explain who we were to each other in sentences rather than one word, because it just shows how limited some of these terms are for people with this ambiguous legal situation that we had."

SCHWARTZMAN: "You have to start to qualify 'boyfriend' -- boyfriend of how long? So then it was like 'boyfriend of eight years,' 'boyfriend of ten years.' But then right about 'boyfriend of fifteen years,' people started getting annoyed and saying 'you can't call him your boyfriend after fifteen years."

AA: "So is it really that it wasn't your problem so much as everyone else's. Is this sort of a societal -- I mean, do we need another term?"

MILES: "Maybe this is the point of the whole terminology, to herd people towards eventually doing what we decided to do, get married, because now it's so simple. We're 'husband and wife,' legally, up and down, left and right. Maybe this whole thing is some sort of -- the lack of terminology is a way to kind of move people through the romance pipeline."

RS: "Let's just sum up here and run through some of the names that you called yourselves -- willingly or unwillingly -- through the last seventeen years."

SCHWARTZMAN: "'Boyfriend and girlfriend,' 'long-term boyfriend.'"

MILES: "'Significant other' -- that was in the late eighties."

SCHWARTZMAN: "'The guy I live with.'"

MILES: "The woman I live with."

SCHWARTZMAN: "The guy I lived with for sixteen years."

MILES: "Partner."

SCHWARTZMAN: "Then I started to say 'my guy.'"

MILES: "'Lover.'"

SCHWARTZMAN: "Then it was just 'Jeff.'"

MILES: "Oh, and we never really took on too much, but the 'fiance' thing, we sometimes used that. That was recently."

SCHWARTZMAN: "We had a reputation now for so long, so many people knew us that we could just say 'Jeff.' We didn't have to explain it anymore. Almost everybody knew and they stopped bothering us. I think that's why we got married."

MILES: "In fact, a lot of people I've talked to said 'oh, we thought you were married.' So, after a while everything kind of comes together, fuses into one."

SCHWARTZMAN: "Even my father thought, when I said 'now you have a son-in-law,' he said 'I always thought of Jeff as my son-in-law.'"

AA: "Aw."

SCHWARTZMAN: "Yeah, it was sweet."

AA: And when the time came to make it official, Madeline Schwartzman and Jeffrey Miles didn't tell anyone. They simply went down to a clerk at city hall in Manhattan two weeks ago and became ... newlyweds.

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our programs are on the Web at voanews.com/wordmaster. And our e-mail address is word@voanews.com. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Mad About You"