SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Increasingly Significant Issue

Rick Kennerly rick at MOUSEHERDER.COM
Sat May 4 21:09:30 UTC 2002

That's a tuffy:

shack job, too crude
main squeeze, too possessive and too arrogant
roommate, too college and too temporary
housemate, too Three's Company
friend, too suspiciously vague while being hurtfully dismissive
associate, too formal
partner, too business-like (unless it's that kind of arrangement, I suppose)
domestic partner, too stiff and too evasive (are they sharing lives or just
laundry?  are their lives so compartmentalized that there are other
partners--business partners, religious partners, golf partners? )
live-in, too 80's and too in-your-face.

Perhaps Significant Other--or SO, as I hear it lately--isn't so bad after
all.  It abbreviates well, and, in shorthand and without embarrassing or
awkward explanation, conveys something about the legal, emotional and sexual
status of the relationship as well as implying a level of serious commitment
lacking in other common descriptions.  All in all, it seems to me to convey
information equal to that supplied by spouse, wife, or husband.  To muddy
the waters, however, I have heard a few married people refer to their legal
spouse as their SO (and one married may referring to his girlfriend as his
SO).  Perhaps SO is the great relationship leveler of the future, describing
all serious, committed unions of two people, without the baggage of gender,
law, or religion.

:and the difference between these
:categories is often relevant for social and institutional purposes.

Such as profound legal complexities.  In some states, if a man and a woman
hold themselves out to be man and wife, referring to and introducing the
other as such in private or in public, and cohabitate for a specified period
of time, regardless of whether they comingle funds or share banking
accounts, they have created a legally binding common law marriage, whether
they intended it or not.

So how a person describes a live-in bedroom buddy relationship can have
profound legal implications down the road, particularly, depending on the
jurisdiction , when it comes to death (of one or both, with or without
wills), taxes, debt acquired together, bankruptcy of one or the other and
children.  Of course, the more money involved, the more likely the above
scenario (think of the Lee Marvin Palimony case).

 It would seem reporters and writers have a special responsibility in these
cases to follow the lead of the individuals involved when describing the
relationship or, if the nature of the relationship were ever questioned in
court, risk inadvertently compounding a legal problem for one or the other.

Rick Kennerly

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