NOTE: I wrote this on May 27-28, 2013, fewer than three weeks before my wedding. After years of happy cohabitation and deep doubts about marriage as an institution, I unexpectedly found myself engaged to be married and terrified of becoming The Wife. The subject was too scary to discuss, let alone publish. I never told my family or old friends, though Stephanne Taylor patiently heard me out. Years later, I’m ready to come clean.
More than a year ago, my What Do You Call Your Significant Other? post got a stack of intriguing, varied replies. One key thing has changed since then; I’m about to get married.
Until I became one, I never gave the word fiancé much thought. Whoa ho ho, the Internet did, though. A surprising number of writers/bloggers despise the word with a fury usually reserved for gum found on the underside of furniture. They’d rather be harpooned than answer to “the F word,” to say nothing of.. eew… uttering it themselves. Here are a few sentiments on the subject:
“Boyfriend/girlfriend” is so low key, mellow, unassuming, and friendly. Fiancé screams, “HA! HA! I am better than you! My relationship is so great, only a French word can describe it!” (The Frisky)
From the moment we were engaged we talked about not wanting to use the word “fiance,” but what are we to do!? There’s no other term for it that didn’t give us the wiggens; betrothed, intended, future spouse? Nope. Uh-uh. Too formal. But the fact remains that he’s more than a “boyfriend” but he’s not a “husband” yet. (Offbeat Bride. Article also suggests alternative terms.)
I think it’s high time we come up with a new word. One of my bridesmaids used to refer to her fiance as her “husband-elect,” which I’m a fan of. (The Knot)
I kind of cringe when I have to say it to people I don’t really know and lately, I’ve been finding myself saying “my boyfriend,” then quickly, quietly adding “or fiancé, whatever.” The word just sounds so pretentious and fruity, and it inherently implies a kind of smugness about marriage that I find embarrassing. (Jezebel)
While I understand these reasons for dodging the F word… personally, I find it novel. We’ll only be engaged for two months total, so I won’t have to (or get to) say it often. (Incidentally, 19 days to go!)
Note that all the above articles were written by women and the same goes for nearly every comment. Do any male readers have strong opinions on the matter? Do women care more about the word than men, or do they cover the topic more often, or just write the most popular articles? Or what?
Many argue “hey, fiance is just a word, and it’s the CORRECT word for your situation. Why fuss about what other people MIGHT think of you if you use it? Relax, will you?”
Not me. As a person with many, many nearly arbitrary linguistic preferences (gray, not grey, Geoffrey yes, Jeffrey no, doughnut but never donut) and even numerical preferences (7 has more personality than 9, don’t you think?), I’m not one to cast stones. Also, my aim is terrible.
Back to words and connotations.
“Husband,” as a word, poses no problems for me and is miraculously light on cultural baggage. While there are plenty of unpleasant husbands out there, the word itself doesn’t instantly call them to my mind.
Wife, though… that word gives me cold sweats. As often as not in this culture, The Wife is the ball and chain, the battle axe, the bitch who selfishly, magically prevents her husband from ever enjoying himself in any way, who embarrasses him publicly by harping and nagging, by failing to look sufficiently sexy, by treating him like a naughty child. Lot’s wife. The seven-year-itch. In the dark side of my mind, wives bite their tongues, soothe male egos, fake orgasms, and comply, comply, comply. The stereotype is that women fight to get married, men fight to get away.
Now, I’m too smart to believe that a tiny wedding ceremony will turn me into a snarling banshee. Still, I will be a wife now, so whatever negative connotations the word ‘wife’ carries could become my problem.
These are a few of the articles I’ve been reading on the subject:
What’s it mean to be a wifey? (Bucking the Wave)
Is It Time to Retire the Word ‘Wife’? (Huffington Post. Thoughtful essay; deserved a better title.)
What Does the Word ‘Wife’ Mean? (Fink or Swim. This one’s positive, which is refreshing, despite its misleading allusions to Belkin’s article)
And, for the other side of the story, Do I Have to Call Him Husband? (A Practical Wedding)
Readers, are you uncomfortable with the words fiancé or wife? When you hear the word “husband” what springs to mind? What DO you call your significant other?