Last week, Elton John said that he preferred to describe David Furnish as his husband rather than partner – which, he said, should only be preserved for people you play tennis with. So what should we call our other halves? Shane Watson wades into the debate…
If you saw the film ‘Take This Waltz’, particularly if you are married, you will remember the moment when Michelle Williams’s flirtatious neighbour mocks the word ‘husband’. He, the neighbour, is the future – free, open to new experiences – while The Husband represents the past, stodgy, conventional and unchanging.
This is the whole problem with the H word - it sounds seriously old-fashioned, like referring to your chastity belt or your ladies maid or your beau. ‘This is my husband’, ‘got to meet my husband’, ‘I hope that isn’t my husband…’, are all phrases I use regularly but rarely without adopting a camp ‘get me’ voice, just in case my use of the word is mistaken for dependence, or smugness (‘I HAVE ONE!’), or worse, subservience. Somehow you can’t say the word out loud without first acknowledging that you find it ever so slightly quaint and silly. The bottom line is that ‘husband’ is tainted with several thousand years of ownership, which is why, of course, there is a modern alternative.
But oh dear: the idea of calling my husband my partner is enough to cure me of any issues with the H word, at a stroke. I’m with Elton John all the way on this one. A partner is what Sarah Lund has when assigned to a murder case, and what David Jones gets at the end of Dragon’s Den, sealed with a handshake. It’s a word which suggests a practical arrangement based on mutual convenience, nothing like suitable, I’d say, for describing the person you are married to, for better or worse, in sickness and in health (Elton’s point again).
Whenever I hear a couple describing each other as ‘partners’ I can’t help thinking they must be the types who draw up lists of responsibilities and are meticulous about preserving their own interests. The P word is just so impersonal, it’s like saying ‘yes we are together but not in a carried away sense’. It’s the equivalent of Prince Charles’s awful qualification when forced to say he was in love with Diana ‘whatever that means’.
‘A husband [as opposed to a partner] is somebody that you cherish forever, that you would give up everything for’ Elton says, and – in the absence of a better word – I’d have to agree. However embarrassing the word may be it still stands for the triumph of love and hope over statistics. Both terms are flawed, but only one leaves you cold.