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Recently a guy introduced his significant other (a female who was present) to me by saying “this is my partner”, and it took me some time (and after seeing them together) to figure out that she was a significant other instead of any other forms of “partner” - a business partner, a tennis partner, etc.

My understanding of the term is that “partner” is often used to refer to a homosexual partner, which is apparently not the case here; or, when the partner being mentioned is not present, I guess one could say “my partner and I went shopping”, in which case, the “partner” could be taken as either male or female.

But when the person herself is there, isn’t “partner” too general a term to use? would you have figured out right away that he meant a significant other? Or is this an accepted usage within any specific region? (this is in the U.S.)

thanks, Martine

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While it is true that "partner" is often used to refer to a homosexual partner for lack of a more specific yet appropriate word, it can still be used to refer to a spouse. In the situation you described, however, I probably would have been slightly confused for a few minutes as well, for most people would use the word "wife" instead.

Sean2 March 5, 2005 @ 5:27PM

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I am a woman, and my partner of seven years (a professional animator who goes by "Phaedrus" online) is a man. We are in a permanent committed relationship. We are not married, but our families say we might as well be. We use the word "partner" only when the person we are speaking to is aware that we are a man and a woman.

A columnist for the Atlanta Journal, if I recall correctly, is a lovely older fellow who calls his wife his "partner" because he sees his long, happy marriage as a full partnership. To him, the word "wife" implies an outdated and demeaning property status.

I have a gay friend who is in a permanent relationship with another man. They call each other "husband." A woman I know who is in an analogous situation calls the woman with whom she shares the relationship her "companion." With legal marriage becoming increasingly available to homosexuals in this country, most people I know, whether gay or straight, want to call the person to whom they are married their "spouse," "wife," or "husband."

I remember when it was in vogue to refer to your partner to whom you were not married as a "significant other." (Phooey. Nobody uses that anymore except to get a laugh.) The government currently uses "domestic partner" to refer to the person and "domestic partnership" to refer to the relationship itself, I believe.

In short, it is really the responsibility of the individuals in a given relationship to clarify what they mean when they use the word "partner" (romantic, business, etc.).

It does make the range cowboys in Texas sound kind of funny when they go around calling each other "Pardner," though. :)

speedwell2 March 8, 2005 @ 9:04AM

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I agree. The use of "partner" does render confusion.
I never use "wife" unless followed by my wife's name ---Michelle.

Gerry_Merchant March 8, 2005 @ 1:52PM

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On a more political note, partner can also be used to question heterosexuality as a given. Whether the speaker is het, homo, or bi, the message is: "Don't make assumptions about my sexuality." I have found "partner" used very often in this area, an area known for both idealism about extending the rights of all people and overweening political correctness.

CCC March 9, 2005 @ 10:12AM

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Why do so many people assume that the case mentioned involves a married couple? Some heterosexual couples use "partner" because it's accurate (as opposed to using "wife"/"husband" if they aren't married) & it doesn't sound as junior high schoolish as "girlfriend" or "boyfriend."

And I agree w/the last comment: some people don't like assumptions to be made about their sexuality. Bisexual people, especially, who are with an opposite-sex partner, often are assumed to be straight--which is inconvenient & frustrating. Using "partner" can help nudge people past their own outdated assumptions.

Johanna March 22, 2005 @ 3:02PM

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