DEAR MISS MANNERS: Not so long ago, when only heterosexual marriages were publicly recognized, society had easily understood terms for a person’s spouse. A lady’s spouse was her “husband,” while a gentleman’s spouse was his “wife.”
Thus, I could easily introduce a couple as “John Smith and his wife, Mary Jones,” or “Mary Johnson and her husband, William Johnson.”
However, with the advent of same-sex marriages, I sometimes find myself at a loss as to the correct form of introduction. Is each gentleman in a same-sex marriage the “husband” of the other, with each lady in a similar relationship the “wife” of her spouse?
Or alternately, is a gentleman’s spouse his “wife” regardless of the spouse’s gender, and a lady’s spouse likewise her “husband”?
I recognize that the equality or inequality of forms has taken on substantial symbolic importance these days. I would like to treat all couples with equal courtesy, but our traditional language creates ambiguities when applied to our new circumstances.
GENTLE READER: No, it doesn’t. A married male is a husband and a married female is a wife, just as two male parents are both fathers and two female parents both mothers.
Please don’t make trouble. Miss Manners is still weary from the emotion-laden battles over designations for couples who are not married. Perhaps “partner” is not the best solution (because it also describes a business relationship), but it is better than the explicit, overly cute or puzzling terms that were being suggested.
At any rate, it is now generally understood: “partners,” unmarried; “husband” and “wife,” married. Using any other terms for legally married same-sex couples would appear to cast doubt on their status and throw them back into the partner category.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it appropriate for my boyfriend to attend adult children’s and grandchildren’s birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc., events that take place at his ex-wife’s house? The child with the grandchild lives there, and all events seem to be there.
I don’t feel comfortable with him always going over there and do not think it is normal. He won’t say anything.
GENTLE READER: Not normal? To want to see his children and grandchildren, wherever it is that makes that possible?
You could argue, Miss Manners supposes, that your discomfort — or, should we say bluntly, jealousy — is also normal. However, there is a difference between open-hearted normal and begrudging normal. The former is to be encouraged; the latter is to be decently hidden, if not suppressed.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister is in her second week of recovering from a double mastectomy for breast cancer. Her husband is asking her if she has responded to well wishes and flowers, meals, etc.
Of course, she has thanked those who personally delivered these things, but has not gotten around to writing thank-you notes. I believe she needs to concentrate on getting well right now, and that most people will understand the delay.
Her husband is making her feel negligent about this; is he wrong? I love my brother-in-law, but am a little put out with him right now!
GENTLE READER: Making people feel negligent for neglecting their etiquette duties is a major part of Miss Manners’s job. In this case, she would direct it at the husband, who could have written those letters, saying, “Natasha asked me to tell you how touched and grateful she is . . .”