Some days I feel for Don Quixote. It may be just a windmill, but it looks like a giant to me.


It was such a good word, and now I'm beginning to loathe it.


(Definition from Merriam-Webster online.) To me, the word "partner" has always meant definition 2a: one associated with another, especially in action. That actually covers most of the other definitions as well. My daughter and I make up a team on WordChums; we are partners. If together we owned an ice cream shop, we'd be business partners. If we decided to rob a bank to finance that ice cream shop, we'd be partners in crime. It's a good, descriptive, practical word.

But lately I've been seeing it used as in the following two quotes from a book I read recently.

We need to understand how we can support and connect with our partners, sons, fathers, brothers, friends, and children....

Certainly women—mothers, sisters, partners, girlfriends, daughters—also shame men about their masculinity and power....

Do you see what's happening here? Mother/father, son/daughter, sister/brother are recognized as distinct entities, but husband/wife is gone. Even the inclusive "spouse" is gone, replaced by "partner," definition 2d, which is not at all the same thing.

Certainly my husband is my partner in that sense, as well as in the more general sense of 2a, and for that matter most of the other definitions. But "partner," in more recent usage, is far too broad a term, boiling down basically to "the person I'm having sex with on a regular basis."  The marriage relationship is so much more than that.  (I tried substituting "the person I love and am living with," but as that can include children and other family members, it's clearly not what is meant by this sense of "partner."  Sex seems to be the obvious distinction.)

Most pernicious, it seems to me, is that "partner" loses the ideals of exclusivity and permanence. Marriages may fail at either or both, but the intent and the ideal are there from the outset. Partnerships are generally formed for a limited, specific purpose, and with the understanding that they can and probably will be dissolved at some point. A nation's allies will change; dancers will "cut in," my daughter may decide to she wants to be on her aunt's team for the next WordChums game; maybe a business partnership will split into two or three different companies.

One term implies a lifelong, exclusive commitment—not only to a person but to that person's family and especially to any children of the union. The other implies that eventual dissolution is normal and even to be expected. They are not interchangeable.

That's a giant worth battling, even if the world sees only a windmill.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 9:28 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 705 times
Category Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Here are my two cents:

When Don Quixote charged the first windmill, he was knocked off his horse by one of the gyrating arms. He took a very serious fall, which ultimately contributed to his death.

He refused to listen to Sancho Panza, (the Voice of Reason), calmly explaining to him that they were windmills and not giants.

My half-brother has lived with his partner for more than 20 years. In spite of Obergefell vs. Hodges, they have chosen not to get legally married. Their partnership does not deny lifelong, exclusive commitment, to each other and to each other's families.

Your view of the meaning of the word partner also discounts English Law's Common-Law Marriage. Many, many long lasting, successful, committed unions have been of this nature.

Posted by Diane Villafane on Tuesday, July 04, 2017 at 8:30 am

Whew. Is it true you're not considered a serious blogger till you've had your first death threat? :) It's a good thing I know you're my friend.

But please note that I did not say that partnerships cannot be lifelong and committed. Business partnerships can even last from generation to generation. But semantically, a partnership and a marriage carry different expectations.

It certainly is none of my business what label your half-brother gives his relationship. A partnership that has lasted 20 years no doubt has a lot more going for it than a marriage that breaks up after two. But that's neither here nor there as far as my point is concerned.

My quarrel is with what I see as a misuse of language, one that over-generalizes—and thus obscures—the human situation.

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, July 04, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Diane, I believe one way to phrase the point my Mom is trying to make is, if you add "partner" to the list of relationships, at least don't take out "spouse", "husband", and "wife". She has as much right to want to insist on being called someone's wife as anyone else does to be called a partner.

Posted by joyful on Tuesday, July 04, 2017 at 5:45 pm

Heavens! I did not issue any death threats! I was just pointing out that tilting at windmills does imply carry hazards.

Don Quixote is a work which I hold in very high regard. It is required middle-school reading, and is revisited in much depth in first year of college in all Hispanic countries.

Perhaps your semantic issues are justified, but to me at least, the use of "partner" carries the ring of equality in relationships, where the husband is not necessarily the master of the house.

Everyone's experience is different. My life experiences inform my points of view. Words carry baggage. Many people feel wife and husband carry a lot of negative baggage. Spouse, well...


Posted by Diane Villafane on Thursday, July 06, 2017 at 6:34 am

My respect for your middle school just skyrocketed.

Posted by SursumCorda on Thursday, July 06, 2017 at 6:50 am

That is private Roman Catholic middle school. Public education in Puerto Rico has been a disaster since about the 1950's...
Homeschooling is not yet a widespread thing here. Most couples must work outside the home, often with more than one job, just to make ends meet. And most children go to public school because private schools are unaffordably expensive.

Posted by Diane Villafane on Saturday, July 08, 2017 at 6:09 am
Add comment

(Comments may be delayed by moderation.)