Log in

No account? Create an account
12 September 2006 @ 09:45 am
Defining a word, apparently needfully  
I want to take a moment and define the word "spouse" for you people. Apparently, a few of you out there are confused on the correct usage of the term.

Let me just give you a couple of quick links, to get the ball rolling:
"Spouse" from Merriam-Webster
"Spouse" from the Wiktionary
"Spouse" as part of the "Marriage" entry from Wikipedia

Let me please expound on this, or pontificate if you will. A spouse is someone with whom you are partnered in life. Your lives are totally intertwined. You are there for one another, you share your lives, you are individuals and yet not, part of a whole that exists because you have chosen to step forward together and say, "We are united." This entails a degree of formal recognition, in which you register this fact of unity socially at least, likely religiously and perhaps even civilly, making it a matter of law as much as a matter of your personal reality.

Please note that none of what I have said above defines marriage as being between two people alone, or necessitating a man and a woman be involved, or anything of the sort. I believe in the ability and right of consenting human adults to get married and be spouses to one another in whatever combination suits them best.


A person is not a spouse alone. Person A is not the spouse of Person B just because Person A says so. Was there a commitment ceremony? Was there a meeting of the minds with Person B? Did Person B acknolwedge this union? In public? If Person B had another spouse, was sie informed? Did sie agree? Did sie recognize the marriage between A and B? It's not always a requirement that other people married to Person B agree; there have been plenty of societies where a man could take as many wives as he liked, all without consulting any of his current wives as to their opinion of the new fiancee, certainly. I would think, however, in modern polyamory, that we might be able to agree that all of the people involved in a polyamorous situation get to have a say in potential partners, especially when the subject gets as serious as "marriage."

Let's use the term properly and respectfully, please.
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed on behalf of someone e
Lady Oak Sleeper: Wise guysfimbrethil on September 12th, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you, very much.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 12th, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
(shrug) It needed to be said.
but ain't no gyroscope can spin forever....roadnotes on September 12th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC)
Good points. I am still legally married to one man, but my spouse is another, and my soon-to-be-ex-husband's spouse is definitely not me, but rather the woman he's living with and sharing his life with now. I would be perturbed if he were to refer to me as his spouse in any way other than jokingly/footnoted.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 12th, 2006 10:08 pm (UTC)
(shrug) Reasonable situation, especially since your mention of him as a soon-to-be-ex implies that you don't plan to stay in the situation as it current stands.

Someone mentioned polyamorous spouses to me elsewhere today (the plural of spouse is "spice" according to Spider Robinson ;) and it brought up a good point. For those who cannot by dint of the current legal standing have the person to whom they are committed be legally recognized as hir "spouse," a reasonable exception can be made to my ranting arrogance. ;) (I'm thinking mostly of polyamorous and homosexual partnerships.) The legal entanglement of "marriage" as it is defined in the USA, however, belies telling people that you are "married" to someone when you are not legally bound.

This has given me a tiny glimmer of understanding on why so many heterosexual, monogamous couples resent the term "marriage" being thrown around the way it sometimes is. I've said before that I have a solution to that: the government should get out of the "marriage" business. The state has a number of compelling reasons to maintain legally-binding partnership lists; let them, but don't call it "marriage." Call all such things civil partnerships. Those who are stuck on the idea of keeping marriage to themselves can do so. The rest of us will go happily along getting handfasted, wedded, partnered, with knots tied and brooms jumped or what have you... and in the eyes of the state, we'll all simply be civil partnerships, no different under the eyes of the law at all.
(Deleted comment)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 13th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
Your choice to do or not to do. None of my business either way. :)

As for being tacky, shoot. You're in my journal space; it's hard to be more tacky than I am around here, so fire away.
kshandra on September 13th, 2006 04:30 am (UTC)
I feel that if you ain't living together (barring a stint in the army), you ain't married.

If your lives and finances aren't intertwined, you ain't married.

I was going to say that mileage varies, and note that when dafydd and I were still involved, he was inextricably involved in our finances (still is, in that his name, and not gridlore's, is on the title for my car) - but I cannot now recall having described our relationship more strongly than "as married as possible under the circumstances." It was acknowledged by all involved as a primary-level commitment, but I don't think I ever did more than jokingly refer to him once or twice as "my spare husband" (which was a nickname that had a history well predating dafydd, and originally referred to someone who I never dated).

In other words, I'm not as qualified to speak on the matter as I thought I was when I first started this comment. So I'm going to shut up now. ;-)
Life Rebooted: bemusedhopeforyou on September 13th, 2006 10:20 am (UTC)
For me, a good part of what matters is intent and *communicated* intent. If you're joking about having someone as a spare husband, that's a different matter to me than repeatedly calling someone your husband under various circumstances, both serious and mundane.

mikz has at one time referred to me as being "better than a wife". I'm not sure what that meant, given his lack of interest in the legal state of marriage -- but I suspect that it's distinctly tied into his belief that the relationship means more than the legal piece of paper.

That said, to me marriage is a commitment, and it involves a public ceremony, and I agree with twfarlan's opinion that it's important for partners to have a say about something as serious a commitment as marriage. Much as Mik and I are still entwined, whether we lived together or separately -- he is not my spouse.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 13th, 2006 12:57 pm (UTC)
Well, a joke, even a running gag, need not stand as evidence to the contrary, but I see your point.

Not sure what "better than a wife" means. Were I to be cynical, I'd say that could be meant as, "All of the benefits, none of the legal entanglements."

For several years after my divorce, having experienced the legal nightmare of disentangling myself from my then-wife, I wanted no further part of legal marriage. My opinion on that changed with time and with personal experience of a person I can't foresee divorcing. It's still just an opinion; everyone's mileage may vary. So far as divorce goes, I'm rather liberal about the topic: both/all partners have to agree to be married, but it only takes one person who has had "enough" to end that state. Doesn't matter if a husband says that the marriage is still on if the wife disagrees ... and has a lawyer to back up her perspective on the matter.
(no subject) - hopeforyou on September 13th, 2006 07:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 13th, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 13th, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 13th, 2006 10:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 13th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 13th, 2006 10:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 04:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kshandra on September 14th, 2006 01:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 01:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 12:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 02:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thatwordgrrl on September 14th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 14th, 2006 03:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 13th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
Mileage does vary. I can think of one friend who spent several years living in a completely different city from his wife, he for his employment and she for her doctoral thesis work. It was several years before they moved back in together, but they were certainly "married" by any definition.

If you're married or divorced, you're qualified to speak on the matter. If you've contributed to editing a dictionary entry, you're qualified to speak on the matter. If you're a sentient with an opinion, you're qualified to speak on the matter. If I SAY you're qualified, then you're qualified, at least in this little pocket of the Net. ;)
kshandra on September 13th, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC)
*nods* kevin_standlee and his wife live in different states because he can make more money here and she can live in a better home there.

And to back up a reference I made elsewhere, have a citation.
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 13th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
An Onion Girlkinfae on September 15th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
The only problem I would see with that definition is that sometimes, it doesn't apply.

There was a time when I would have happily married someone that I would not have lived with for years. Personally, I am not comfortable intertwining all facets of my life with another adult, but I don't think that means I should not be allowed or able to get married, or call the person I chose to get married to my spouse, even if we chose to maintain separate households. Even when I was married, my finances never intertwined with the other person becaues I, personally, find that unpleasant. I do not enjoy that, and so I do not do it-I think it brings a relationship into areas it does not need to be. If I marry again, I will again maintain separate accounts. We may split bills, or we may not, or we may split households, but I would never consider financially being intertwined as a prerequisite for marriage.

Does marriage require a public ceremony? Again, I really don't feel that it does. There are many people I know (though I am in the Army, which seems to negate some of your standards) that do not choose to have a formal ceremony, and instead simply submit the paperwork, and wait to get mail back. They are no less married. Many of them do share finances and houses, even though I personally choose not to.

You said a little up it's like obscenity: you know it when you see it. The problem with that is that everyone sees it differently. I know particularly in the poly community, the term 'spouse' differs very greatly depending on the people. Sometimes people can feel that it needs permission...but I don't think that necessarily makes that so.

Your mileage may, of course, vary...but the basic intent of my comment is that everyone is different. Some people may characterize themselves as 'spouses' when you don't feel they are..but it's their relationship, and thus theirs to decide what they want to be called, isn't it?
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 15th, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
You're correct to use "your mileage may vary." If you go by a strict legal definition, then all it takes to have a "spouse" is to submit the paperwork and have it cleared/authorized by the government. So be it.

Tell me this, however, and you'll see the main point of the post: Can you be a spouse alone? If the person you call your spouse does not agree that there is a marriage, is there in fact a marriage? I'm not talking about when a marriage is sliding towards divorce; just for this moment, let's ignore that. If one person says, "That is my spouse," and the subject of whom that person speaks does not agree that there is a marriage relationship, does not recognize that definition of the relationship, is there in fact a marriage there?
An Onion Girlkinfae on September 15th, 2006 08:00 pm (UTC)
This is actually a really difficult thing to answer. Recently (well, at least a couple months ago) I had a conversation with an old friend of mine. I had thought we were friends who had a few pleasant interludes over the years, none of them equating to sex. I found, much to my surprise, that he'd been referring to me as an ex, with whom he had had sex. This was a really odd and difficult thing to handle-whose definition took priority? I had certainly done things that had contributed to his impression of us being romantically involved as a partner, though I had no idea he would take them that way. He had done things that contributed to my impression of us both merely being friends. We ended up needing to take a three hour conversation that wound up becoming what I jokingly call 'The Ex Accords' where we worked out what we in fact would jointly agree to have been in the past. (I ceded the relationship, which meant relatively little to me as a past-tense, but not the sex, which he was willing to concede in order that there have been a past relationship)

So in my mind, I have an Official Ex that I never believed myself to have dated. This is the danger of emotionally charged words.

With that in mind, I can see the difficulty if one person believes themselves to be a spouse and the other does not. I'm not sure who is right, or if there even is a right: I think those people need at the point there is discovered to be a discrepancy, to sit down and hash out Accords of their own, if they can. I don't think one person is inherently right or wrong. The person who believes the other to be a spouse may have seen signs from the other to lead them to believe so: the other may have felt they gave off perfectly adequate signs that they were not.

Note: I'm not talking about a particular incident here, though I am aware one is going on, I'm more talking abstracts. Your post made me think about some of the broader implications than what probably/may have gotten you angry.
Traveler Farlandertwfarlan on September 15th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC)
The post was brought on by the particular incident of which you are thinking, and as such is directed at that situation. It doesn't necessarily hold up in a broader examination, and perception and perspective do matter. I would be willing to say that no single definition of anything fits every iteration of that thing.

However, no matter how much we might perceive things subjectively, if we accept the idea that we live in a universe populated by equally-subjective yet independently-existing beings, we must accept that some objective standards and definitions need to be set in order to achieve any kind of communication. Going by a legal definition or a dictionary definition is most easily agreed upon as those are verifiable and available to everyone for review. Situations outside the mainstream (in example polyamory) that defy the conventional understanding can and will challenge the standard definitions and their applicability. Still, those situations either need to be understood by referencing existing paradigms of thought or else risk becoming points where understanding and communication are impossible.

While some things are acceptably abstract enough that concrete evidence of their existance can be fuzzy (love, justice), other things lend themselves to fairly simple "yes/no" or "true/false" evaluations. In your example, for instance, from whence came the confusion as to whether the two of you had sex? Is the definition of sex different for the two of you? As in, oral-genital contact counted for one of you but didn't for the other? Some things are fuzzy, opinion-based, and open to interpretation. Some things are objective facts. In example, it isn't an opinion that a nuclear bomb was detonated over Hiroshima, Japan. That is a verifiable fact.

In the specific case that led to this post, there is no evidence that the people involved agreed that there was a marital relationship. In point of fact, there is one person in a position to know who has made a direct statement, one person who has not made a direct statement and can offer only vague comments but who has in the past used a term contrary to the understanding of the first person, and a third person, the lynchpin of the situation, who is unavailable for comment. The status of "marriage" is one of those things that is important enough that an assumption of its existence really isn't going to be good enough, especially considering that the first and third people mentioned had concrete evidence of that status between themselves.
(no subject) - kinfae on September 15th, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 15th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - kinfae on September 15th, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - twfarlan on September 15th, 2006 10:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)