“Wait. Is he your husband or isn’t he?” my co-worker asked after hearing the hesitation in my voice.
“Well, he is. But I don’t like calling him that.”
I’m married. I have no problem letting people know, and I wear a ring around my left finger to indicate it as so, but I do have a problem using the word husband.
Years ago, when I still opposed legalized union for myself, a friend of mine got married. Soon after, she posted a photo of the guy she’d been with for years, but instead of calling him “Jason,” this time, she called him “My husband.” I was shocked. Horrified. We all knew who he was and we knew they’d married — pictures of the wedding had been posted on Facebook — so why the need to blatantly tag him, to replace his name with a label?
I texted her.
“It’s just so weird to me to see you calling him your husband on Facebook.”
“Um. Well, he is my husband now.”
“Yeah. I know. But he’s also still just Jason.”
“I know. But he’s also my husband. I’m just calling him what he is.”
It’s been a few years, and now I find myself legally tied to a man, and I feel a little bit like a dick. Why did I question her? She was logical and she was right. He was, in fact, her husband. She was simply calling him what he was. And my husband, Nic, is my husband.
So why do I go the distance each and every day to avoid calling him that?
Nic is my Nic. My person. My friend. My very best friend. My gamechanger. My life-starter. My life partner. It’s like he can’t be condensed into the word husband. He is too many things. Besides, I like to say his name. I like to hear the letters float through the air. "My husband"? It just doesn’t do.
From a young age, we place weight on relationships. "Just talking to," "seeing," "hanging out with," "sleeping with," "dating," "seeing exclusively’ — the descriptions are all over the board. We lay it all out there. "I’d never really be with this guy, but I’m having fun." We say things like that. We live life like that.
We learn that the word with the highest weight on it, is husband. (Or alternatively, wife.) Legally married partner. Bound by heavy metals. Solid gold bands.
Anything less becomes treated as such. Boyfriend has cancer? Well, he’s just a boyfriend. It’s not like he’s your husband or something. Guy you’ve been seeing took off on you? Well, it’s not like you owned land together. Get over it. There are other fish in the sea.
As a society, we dismiss the partnerships that haven’t been crowned with a tiara, a veil, a white dress in attendance. We disregard thriving love that hasn’t thrown itself across a dotted line. And, I, for one, refuse to engage in this act.
Commitment is commitment. Sometimes it comes with ceremony, and sometimes it is quiet. Commitment is nestled deep within a soul, its contours invisible to those outside of it.
No one relationship is inherently worth more than any other. Nic didn’t mean less before our ceremony or during the lapse in time between that and getting the papers signed. He doesn’t mean more because we took that step. I despise the idea that he could or should. He meant everything the moment I saw him. He meant my whole life was going to be different and was going to feel different — that I was going to have to figure out how to really tie myself to another human being because that other human being was worth it, that I was going to have to go along for the entire ride no matter what was involved. He meant that I would open myself to a thousand things I’d never been open to, marriage included. (Though there was no way in hell I was giving up my last name.)
Every now and then, I play with the H word to see what it feels like. “Oh! My husband loves brown ales!” I say to the woman next to me in the grocery line. “My husband and I just love sushi!” to the woman I’m serving coffee. The effort it takes is enormous. I can feel bile rising up just behind the vowel-consonant mash, and I don’t know whether to abandon my course and stutter something unintelligible or say it out loud anyway. Sometimes, I force myself in great spurts — I’ll say it to six people in an hour, just to make it seem more true.
And there we have the truth. I say it to convince myself that it’s true. I have a husband. I bought into a version of some conventional dream. I have a fucking husband. It’s true.
I suppose Nic is my husband. But more than that, Nic is my person. My friend. My very best friend. My gamechanger. My life-starter. My life partner. I will call him whatever I want. But mostly, I’ll call him by his name.