Today Slate published an essay by Hanna Rosin, provocatively titled: What Do You Call the Person You Are Probably Never Going to Marry? Your fiancé.
The essay is about the evolution of relationships — and our vocabulary to describe them — in modern America. Or, at least, that's what it seems to be supposed to be about on the surface. I can't help but catch a subtext; is the working-class ruining marriage?
At first I thought Rosin was just documenting. Then I got to this bit:
I once had a guy tell me that he and his girlfriend were “married.” Then he pointed to his chest and added: “Married, in my heart.” Which means that, technically speaking, they weren’t married.
Well. I guess Rosin is technically correct. Is it just me, or is there a touch of something there? How about this one:
Describing someone as “the guy I’m living with” or “the mother of my child” might be accurate but it’s not all that efficient, and a little clinical. Girlfriend or boyfriend belittles the relationship, and partner feels like something people in New York and San Francisco say, so fiancé fills in the gap. It conveys at least the correct level of emotional attachment, which is: something like spouse but not quite.*
Like a spouse, but not quite. Except... if the definition of fiancé is changing with the times due to all the economic and social forces Rosin sites, then where does the "not quite" come in? Oh, yes. It creeps in with the author's bias.
Question, Hanna Rosin: what about all those people who can't get married, for whatever reason? If they choose the term fiancé, does that change its meaning once again? Or is this just a working class thing (just say poor, Goddamnit, they deserve to read how you define them in plain language).
I haven't even gotten to my favorite part yet. Get ready for some casual sexism!
If anything, the liberal use of fiancé is devaluing the old term girlfriend. In the ’60s, being a girlfriend was an official status, like getting promoted to two-star general. You would get pinned, or get the letter jacket, or some other visible mark of distinction when a guy “decided” you were his girlfriend.
I just cannot. And I do not care one iota that Rosin goes on to further describe this using the phrase "girlfriend or boyfriend" in the sentences immediately following. WHY THE FUCK ARE WE TALKING ABOUT PINNING IN THIS ESSAY.
Oh, right. Values. Rosin's.
Not that there isn't anything good to say about the essay. There are definitely interesting things to talk about — especially its should-be focus, the changing way people value relationships and the definition of marriage. But whoa, so much baggage. The emphasis should be on change and evolution, not on "losing" marriage.
* Emphasis mine.