Finding a language for our shared life

A reflection by Sarah

“Will you be looking for a new roommate?” he asked me.

At first, I wasn’t sure I had heard the question correctly. Bemused, I requested, “Could you repeat that?”

“Will you be looking for a new roommate?” my friend David queried again. “I mean, if Lindsey can’t find a new job in (our city) and has to move away, you’ll need someone to live with, right?”

You might be reading this exchange and wondering whether or not this person has ever known that Lindsey and I are a couple. Am I “out” to this person? Does he even know me well enough to know that Lindsey and I come as a pair? Have I ever had a conversation with him about our relationship? Surprisingly, the answer to all three questions is “yes.”

Less than a week before this exchange, Lindsey had lost a job. Two days after Christmas, less than a week after our holiday road trip, and right in the middle of a six-week gap in my income, the rug had been pulled from under us and we were scrambling to find additional sources of funds. The first few days after the news came were devastating. No hiring manager looks at resumes and cover letters between Christmas Day and New Years Day, maybe a bit longer, and we knew it. We depend equally on both our pay checks to make ends meet, and we had no idea if we would be seeing another dime until my next check in February. We were scared, and there were many tears and hugs. But there were also many moments of grace and blessing. Lindsey still doesn’t have a new job yet, but from the very beginning of this situation our friends have been supportive beyond description. Everyone has wanted nothing but to be as kind and helpful as possible. We couldn’t imagine that anyone we know would see the job loss as a “just Lindsey” problem rather than a “Lindsey and Sarah” problem. That’s why I was a bit taken aback when David asked his question.

I’ve grown accustomed to the reality that most people don’t know how to describe my relationship with Lindsey. To be completely honest, we also struggle with finding the right words, and that was one of our motivations for starting this blog. It’s not unusual for us to encounter misunderstandings, even among our closest friends. But in the moment when David asked his question, I felt hurt, frustrated, and a bit angry. I had known David for years. Why didn’t he get it? Why didn’t he understand that Lindsey and I are a team, a family, not just two long-term roommates with no level of commitment beyond the annual lease on our apartment? Why would he think that Lindsey could decide to move at any time without my moving too? I took a few minutes to reflect, then tried to step back and understand David’s perspective. I wanted to probe more deeply and get a sense of the disconnect we were experiencing.

“David,” I asked, “If your wife lost her job, would you be preparing for her to move to a new city and seeking a new roommate for yourself?”

“Of course not,” he asserted. “Because we’re married. I see where this conversation is going. Your relationship isn’t the same as a sacramental marriage. You’ve told me before that you don’t see it as a sacramental marriage.”

I nodded. “That’s true. But Lindsey is the single most important person in my life next to Christ and the saints. Commitment to each other is an essential part of our relationship.”

We spent the next hour or so talking about marriage, partnership, and friendship. Words I frequently use when describing my partnership (love, family, togetherness, traditions, home) came up. Words and phrases I prefer not to use and find awkward and unfitting (platonic relationship, covenanted friendship, just friends, sexless relationship) also arose in the discussion.

This encounter reminded me that the English language has so many limitations when it comes to describing concepts of love, closeness, and commitment, and none of the existing western social norms for relationships provide verbiage that adequately describes the life Lindsey and I share. We are friends, yes–the best and closest of friends. But we aren’t “just friends.” Our commitment to each other isn’t the same as our commitments to other people who play important roles in our lives. We also don’t consider ourselves married or on the road toward sacramental marriage (for reasons upon which me may expound in a future post), but we have chosen to do life together, and parts of the way that manifests are similar to the practical aspects of marriage. Sometimes I think it’s best that we don’t have a concrete definition for our relationship. The mysteriousness associated with defying definition can be freeing and empowering. At other times, I long for a way to express more fully in words how we feel about each other and what that means for our shared life.

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4 thoughts on “Finding a language for our shared life

  1. This is a very interesting post, in that during the debate on gay marriage, After some reflection, I came to believe that the word “marriage” should not be used in discussing legal topics about the partnership. This is just because of the baggage that the word “marriage” has from a religious point of view. Christian sexual morality has so much meaning tired up in “marriage” that it should not have been unexpected that a firestorm of criticism was unleashed when the gay marriage dialogue began.

    Looking back, a term like “domestic partnership” could serve as a super classification for those relationships in which two or more people actively work to create a home, family, etc. But, that term had already been appropriated in the debate. But, aside from that, I was looking at wide variety of relationships that attempt to create a loving home community or family that don’t correspond to just heterosexual couples. Ther are those in the polyamory world that see “family” in households having 2, 3 or more partners trying to build a life journeying together. A term other than marriage would jettison the baggage of the word “marriage” and would provide a framework in which they all could get the legal benefits that had, heretofore, been reserved for those who are husband and wife.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Ed! Your comment has really zoomed in on the challenges associated with legal language and highlights just how clunky legal language can be. “We consented to establish a contract of domestic partnership” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. In a future post, we will be discussing why we think legal protections are so important. Here, we’re wondering more about what language we can use when talking socially.

  2. I find your blog very refreshing and enlightening. I find through your and Lindsey’s openness and vulnerability, you are both answering many of the questions I’ve had but never asked. I have a number of friends who identify as L,G,B,T, &/or Q… Some who live celibate single lifestyles, others in committed legal unions, many that I know are Catholic, some are not. I’ve had sincere questions seeking to know more about their beliefs, values and lifestyle, so that I may better understand. That being said, I tend to hold back my questions because I realize that LGBTQ individuals who are open about their orientation get A LOT of questions and A LOT of judgment. As such I have kept my questions to myself and instead focused on seeking to understand through just listening if/when they choose to share. I find you have already answered a number of my questions in your blog, and with only a few entries! ๐Ÿ™‚ I look forward to reading and gleaning more ๐Ÿ™‚

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