Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Friends, and then some

There was no silly Friday post last week as I was enjoying a brief visit up north. The trip was partly to catch up with various family and friends but also partly to attend the 100th birthday celebrations of the Handsome Pen Pal's (HPP) great Aunt.

We escorted the HPP's grandmother to the event - and didn't even get in the door of the venue before running into a crowd of relatives. I was introduced by grandma as the HPP's 'friend', which produced some sniggers from HPP and I as we are rather a bit too friendly to be classed as just friends. I wasn't too offended, I just assume that friend and girlfriend have rather similar meanings for her; my grandmother also occasionally refers to the HPP as my 'little friend', making him sound more like a pet than anything.

During the party the HPP clearly decided to hypercorrect his grandmother's earlier labelling by referring to me as his 'partner', even though he is much more likely to use 'girlfriend' in other situations. 'Partner' is, to my mind, an interesting and useful word. Broadly speaking I would say it has three main uses. 1) is when a de facto or relatively serious couple wish to mark out that they are in more than just a casual relationship - it's the kind of relationship where you love each other enough to happily tag along to great aunt's 100th birthdays. 2) gay couples who wish in certain contexts to sidestep mentioning their beloved's gender in a way that the gender specific boy/girlfriend can't. Although, of course, they can use it for reason 1 as well. Finally 3) more mature members of the dating pool who feel that it is a bit strange to refer to their new squeeze as their 'boyfriend.'

And so, in my geeky linguist way, I found it rather adorable that the HPP decided to talk me up while meeting relatives. In many ways it isn't too dissimilar to the contextually appropriate re-fabrication of truth (which some may call a lie) that I employ in referring to him as my 'husband' while working.

At the end of the day I overheard the HPP's grandmother refer to me as his 'girlfriend' - as I'd assumed, she didn't really see much difference between the two words. So all in one day I was a 'friend', 'girlfriend' and 'partner'; none of them particularly untrue but all with their own value-added nuance.

And how did I refer to the HPP? Well, I sidestepped the issue altogether and when people asked how I fitted in I would just gesture towards the HPP and say 'I'm with him' leaving it up to them to decided if I were his friend, girlfriend, partner, PA or security detail.

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