Commitments : On Their Own Terms : In Search of the Perfect Euphemism


Hello, I’d like you to meet my companion . . . no . . . roommate . . . no . . . live-in lover . . . no. What word or phrase accurately describes the woman I love and live with?

This relationship-labeling dilemma needs to be resolved for my grandparents’ sake, if not for mine. At family functions, my poor grandmother stops and stutters whenever she describes the woman who is basically “shacking up with her grandson.”

She wiggles her finger at my partner while introducing her in a manner most people reserve for extraterrestrials: “This is Rodney’s, um . . . marriage is important . . . oh . . . special friend . . . sort of.”

For the people in our lives, labels are necessary and convenient. You know, Ed’s my neighbor, Sue Ellen’s my colleague. And this woman I am standing next to is my . . .


Girlfriend: The first and last time I used this word, I hadn’t finished pronouncing it before she rammed her thumb into my kidney. In a stern tone, she reminded me that since the age of 18, she had ceased being a girl. I understand her objection. And neither I nor any member of my internal organ family will soon forget it.

Womanfriend: This is the logical extension of avoiding girlfriend . But womanfriend makes me sound as if I’m running a cult. “Say hello to my womanfriend, Squeaky. Dear, I think the cross on your forehead needs touching up.”

Partner: This word reminds me of cowboys or police detectives, not lovers. When most people hear partner , they immediately wonder, “What exactly is she your partner in ? Counterfeiting? Poppy processing?” Partner won’t do.

Sidekick: Now this label has a nifty ring. Of course, so does bachelor , which is what I would rapidly become once again if I ever used it. To her, though, it has that faint lounge-act echo: “Hello, I’m Rodney the Magnificent, and here’s my sidekick. I’ll begin tonight’s show by sawing her in half.”


Friend: Sure we’re friends. But so are the members of my softball team. And I don’t go to bed with them after a game.

Close friend: See Friend .

Live-in lover: It’s the most honest label by far. And I’m sure that after proclaiming her my “live-in lover,” my relatives would quickly revise their wills to my detriment and then flop over unconscious. But “live-in lover” does have that mellifluous, alliterative quality; it rolls off the tongue like “disowned dumbbell.”

Cohabitant: No doubt, an apt description. But one best suited for people who live in the Biosphere.


Significant other: If I ever use this term, I’ll thumb my own kidney.

Oh, I know most of you are thinking there’s an easy, one-word solution to this predicament--one involving blood tests and bridesmaids. But that word sticks in my throat like a handful of rice.

I thought about holding up a cardboard sign that reads: “Please choose one of the following options: Girlfriend, Womanfriend, Partner, Sidekick, Friend, Close Friend, Live-in Lover, Cohabitant, Significant Other.”

That’s when she threatened to hold up a sign that points at me and says: “I’m with stupid.”