I have a boyfriend, my boyfriend has a dog, my boyfriend’s dog has been ill, and I have been taking him to the vet. I’ve fallen madly in love with the chubby pup, and my schedule allows me to shuttle little Bingo to his many appointments much more easily than my boyfriend, so I’ve been assisting.
Bingo has a few things going on in his little canine self at the moment, and is on a number of prescription medications. Throughout his treatment process, the vet visits have been really frequent, and I’m learning that veterinary medicine is far more advanced than I had thought. (Did you know dogs can get MRIs? I didn’t.)
I’m confident that Bingo will pull through, which is the most important thing. Now that I’ve said that, let me air my petty grievance that the staff at the vet’s office insists on calling me my boyfriend’s “wife,” him my “husband,” and addressing me solely as “Mrs. Miller.” (His last name.*)
And I can’t stand it.
The first few times this happened, I didn’t think too much of it. I just laughed and gently corrected them--they see lots of people in a day, and I suppose it’s a simple enough assumption to make, but still. I have no problem genially saying “Oh no, we’re not married… my name is Pia Glenn… Pia is fine…” etc.
Now, significant time has passed since my first visit there, I offer a correction every time, and it’s like they don’t even hear me. I've learned the names of each staff member, I walk into the office and say “Hi, [employee’s name],” and I always touch my chest and say my name in a gesture that I mean as I know you see lots of people in a day and you might not remember my name, that's fine, it's Pia…and they say “Hi Mrs. Miller!” I begin every call with “Hi [employee’s name], this is Pia Glenn calling about Bingo Miller, and they cheerfully reply, “Oh hi Mrs. Miller, hang on, I'll get the doctor…”
I get that certain jobs require a sense of familiarity that might not be fully genuine in every exchange, and that’s fine. They are great at their jobs of caring for animals, and learning the full name and marital status of every single pet parent has a place in that excellent care giving, but it's not a requirement, nor is it necessarily even possible. Someone might have cemented me in their head as “Mrs. Miller” on our first visit and simply be too busy to make a subsequent mental revision. But all 12-ish staff members? With constant correction? C’mon.
And why is marriage the default? The very few times my boyfriend and I have been in the office together, I don’t recall us being even remotely affectionate toward each other; we don’t engage in PDA to begin with, and it’s not the most romantic environment. Neither of us wears a ring of any sort, let alone wedding-ish ones, and yet every receptionist at Animal Health, Inc. would like to pronounce us man and wife.
We bear a passing resemblance to each other; we could be siblings. Newsflash: we could also be siblings without a physical resemblance. I could be his assistant; he could be mine! We could be international spies whose only relationship involves us both using Bingo in our schemes and it’s no one’s business as long as they’re tending to the dog.
I wouldn’t even mind if they didn’t remember me at all. What confuses me, however, is that they do remember my name, it’s just not actually mine, I’ve asked them repeatedly to not use it, but it keeps happening.
When I’ve felt myself suppressing the urge to get snippy about it, I (naturally) blame myself first: I wondered whether their misnaming was striking some deep, suppressed bachelorette sadness within me, but nope. Sure, at one point in my life, I was sketching wedding dresses and fantasizing for fun, but that’s behind me. A genuine gut check and review of issues troubling me confirms that that’s not it.
“Mrs. Miller” just isn’t my name! The name itself is not accurate, and the title adds a relationship status that is not mine. I have no doubt that the genuinely kind staff at the vet’s office is not intentionally and expressly trying to erase my identity and shatter my autonomy. Nor is this even remotely like the downright heinous and vicious dead-naming that many trans people face. I also grant the veterinary folks the fact that they focus on the precious animals, and not the pesky humans who provide their transportation and pay their bills. It's kind of adorable, in a sense, that they enthusiastically greet the dog by name the second we walk in the door but have no idea what my name is. Well, remaining anonymous would be adorable. Being “Mrs. Miller” is annoying.
It reminds me of the aggressive enforced familiarity of certain facets of the hospitality industry, particularly at luxury hotels. I recently spoke with a representative for one of the most high-end hotel chains in the world, and expressed my amazement that the archaic tradition of always greeting guests as “Mr./Mrs. [Last Name On Room Reservation]” still persists.
Sure, they want everyone to feel like they’re at home, and feel like a VIP, blah blah blah, but there are so many other ways to give distinct, personalized service that don’t involve rolling the dice that you’re misidentifying someone or pushing the narrative that any woman with a man is either his wife or his wink-wink hired companion, also to be called “Mrs. Whatever” because those are the rules.
When they get it right, it’s golden. I recently stayed at an exquisite hotel, and the person making my travel arrangements informed the hotel of my quite specific nut allergies. Any meal I ate on the property had been vetted for presence of pistachios and macadamias, and at one dinner a server even leaned in and helped me navigate the menu, offering an impressively sotto voce “the kitchen is aware that certain nuts are to be avoided…”
All of that goodwill was shattered when I called down to housekeeping for more towels and was immediately called “Mrs. Glenn.” Yes, that miffs me too—there are other options! Miss, Madam, or how about Ms., which exists pretty much for this exact scenario?
The gay male couples I know who travel frequently play little games and make bets as to how they’ll be addressed, with one half of the couple surely losing his name for the duration of the trip. It’s so foolish, and the falseness of the name-assumption game belies the very sincerity these staffs are hoping to impart.
If I were ever to become Mrs. [Anyone], and I took their name, the world could let the Mrs.-es fly. Until then? “Pia” is just fine.
Promo image credit: Sean/CC