A few weeks ago I went to a co-worker’s monogamous wedding. I think most poly folks at these events tend to hear things like the bible verses and the vows and take a very different perspective on them from those around us, and this experience certainly isn’t new to me. But this time around, as we neared the exchange of vows, I started wondering whether my marriage – nine years long and counting, and one that would likely be met with disapproval by most of the Catholics in this particular ceremony – actually broke any of these vows.
“I, (name), take you, (name), to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
Hell, I do all of those things. I’m guessing the priest would quibble with me over my definition of “true to you,” but if my wife considers me to be true to her, I don’t see why he should get any say in the matter.
Anyway it got me thinking about words, and labels, and the meanings we ascribe to them. I struggle a lot in my poly life to find words that fit me. I technically have a wife, but I detest a lot of the implications of that word (and ‘partner’ has different implications, but they aren’t more accurate). I’ve had poly partners I’ve called ‘girlfriends,’ and at times that feels appropriate-ish. But for others, labels are even more hopeless. There’s one person I see a lot who once described our relationship as “romantic non-sexual” – what the heck do I call that? Friend? Partner? Are we dating? Are we seeing each other? The best I have so far is ‘lover without benefits,’ and if that’s the best you have you need help.
For that matter, even if I do have a relationship where boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/partner-type labels work, what am I to this person’s kids? (Aunt?) Or to her husband? (Wife-in-law?)
Usually when I start down this road I end up throwing my hands in the air, thinking “Why do we even need labels at all? Why are they so important to me? I don’t want to put my relationships in boxes anyway.” But we use names and labels for a reason. If I’m introducing my lover without benefits (ugh) to someone, I want to be able to confer her importance in my life. Calling her a friend doesn’t approach it. A best friend might be closer, but isn’t really accurate either. And any other word I can think of implies that something is true of our relationship that frankly is not.
This is a problem that I don’t think has an ideal solution. But I’m still not sure what to do about it.