IT HAS COME to Miss Manners' attention that not all men and women who lived together are husband and wife, or even brother and sister. While Miss Manners would never dream of inquiring into anyone's living arrangements, she is always pleased to hear of increased sociability in the world.
However,it seems that these people have a problem. They don't know what to call each other. The term "husband" and "wife" are not accurate; "finance" and "fiancee" lead to questions they do not wish to entertain, and the person I live with" is not only unwieldy, but ends in a preposition. They don't seem to like "why, we're just good friends," which has served many generations in making sexual attachments widely vividly clear.
Miss Manners has promised to find these people an appropriate word. In return, they must promise Miss Manners not to bore her by discussing the honesty of their relationships, or by asking silly questions such as, "What difference does a piece of paper make" (Miss Manners has a safely deposit box full of papers which makes a difference.)
In examing presen usage, Miss Manners finds two categories of words for this situation: exciting and unexciting.
Some examples of unexciting terms are "roomate," "housemate" and "companion." To use them in this sense infringes on the proper meanings of perfectly good words. A roommate is an individual who tells one's parents that one is asleep when one is actually keeping scandalous hours, but genteel person who has taken a situation traveling with someone rich but cranky in the hopes of increasing that person's friction with his or her legitimate heirs and thus figuring prominently in the will.
These words have nothing to do with romance. However, the exciting words have too much to do with romance.
"Mistress (and what for the gentlemen, pray?)," "mate," "paramour" and "lover" are too vivid for social use, and bound to be inaccurate at times, during life's normal ups and downs. Think of having to introduce your husband or wife constantly as "my lover," and you will understand the problem.
Miss Manners' suggestion is "partner." This is a respectable word for many of life's situations in which an important, if not permanent, relationship is intended. One has a law partner, a bridge partne, a partner in crime. Think of it as "marriage partner" without the marriage, which is what we are talking about, isn't it?
Miss Manners has heard objections from those who claim it sounds like two cigar smokers who suspect each other by cheating on the books, or of someone who comes from a part of the country where they can't pronounce "How do you do?" and has to say "Howdy," instead. These two reactions only serve to prove to Miss Manners how varied the use may be of the word, and therefore it now will be used, unless someone cares to supply Miss Manners with a better word.
MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q: I live downtown, and people often drop in on me without warning. Some are friends, whom I would like to see, and others are not. In any case, the dropping in always seems to catch me at an incovenient time. How can I convince these people to use the telephone first?
A: "Dropping in" is a charming, old, warm, friendly, neighborly custom which is properly despised by everyone on whom it is practiced. Under no circumstances should one let such a visitor cross one's threshold. In the absence of a butle to say that one is not receiving , one must say it oneself. "I'm so sorry, I am not receiving now," must be said firmly, after which the door must be shut firmly.
Q: What is the correct form for introducing a British earl to a Catholic cardinal?
A: Beam at them both and announce hearily, "Of course, you two already know each other don't you?" and retreat immediately.