What do you call her?

“What do you call her?”

That’s what Rhonda said to me last Friday evening. We were at the synagogue just before the start of services. People were milling about, wishing everyone Shabbat shalom, deciding which seat they wanted to plant themselves in, and just generally beginning to savor the arrival of the day of rest.

Rhonda looked around for Jackie and then looked at me somewhat quizzically. “Where’s Jackie. Is she OK?” I told her that she was fine but that it had been a long day and she needed some rest. And that’s when Rhonda lowered her voice and barely whispered “What do you call her when you introduce her to other people?”

Rhonda and Don were an item. A cute couple who have been totally immersed in each other for nearly a year. So it seemed a bit odd that she was interested in what I called Jackie when introducing her to my friends. Maybe Rhonda was still looking for that special word or phrase that best described her relationship with Don.

I would have thought that the two of them had figured that out some time ago. The uncertainty was more understandable for Jackie and me since our relationship is in a more formative stage, full of mysteries, revelations and history yet to be written.

In various social settings I had used various nouns and adjectives intended to catch the essence of our relationship. And, like many works in progress, I would often find myself hopelessly stumbling, unable to settle on something that would convey the depth of my feelings for her, and at the same time be easily understood by others. “Girlfriend, significant other, sweetheart, partner, and my love” were just some of the descriptive terms that I had used interchangeably as I wandered through a disordered minefield of words and feelings.

“Girlfriend” seemed a bit too juvenile. Like something drawn from my junior year at Chicago’s Von Steuben High School where entertaining a young lady at the second-floor water fountain could be grounds for calling her my girlfriend. Obviously not very meaningful, plus there was nothing that prevented me from immersing myself in multiple girlfriends at the same time. Nothing that is except the wrath of whoever thought she was my one true girlfriend.

“Significant other” seemed a reasonable alternative that has been adopted by those avoiding a more legally binding relationship. Then again, “significant” did not in itself grammatically convey any degree of “exclusivity” and furthermore seemed a rather bland description of a loving relationship. Certainly it was nowhere as definitive as “the only” or “none other.” But these alternatives also seemed to fail at adequately describing one’s status. “Hi, this is Jackie, my significant other.” Significant other what? Were there other women in my life that resided several hierarchies beyond “significant” and was Jackie still on the waiting list for an improvement in status?

“Partner” was certainly worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, due to contemporary usage, it raises the question of the sexual preference of my “partner”. Was Jackie another male, a female or something in between? The gender question answered itself in those instances when Jackie was present during introductions. Even so, “partner” seemed much too business-like. I pictured the two of us sitting behind a traditional partners’ desk, toting up the day’s receipts and then adjourning to separate bedrooms. Unattractive at best, lacking in the beauty of sexual relations and wholly unacceptable.

“My love” has a mystical aura, filled with opportunity, yet leaving the question of the exact nature of that love somewhat up in the air. Or is that intentional?

“Sweetheart” has a nice ring to it but has the same shortcomings as “my love.”

“Fiancee” is a possibility that leaves an expectation of things to come. However, it normally requires a somewhat formal announcement, complete with a ring that tends to remove all doubt about status.

“Wife” is very definitive…but if that were our present relationship there would be no need for this essay.

No, what we need is something that leaves little to the imagination, slides gently over the speaker’s tongue, and provides the listener with a warm, loving image of two people in a very special alliance.

But maybe the true nature of that relationship is best left to the imagination. The imagination of listener as well as speaker. Perhaps that is what love is about. Ever evolving, ever-growing, ever being defined. A relationship that leaves the participants in a state of uncertainty, taking nothing for granted. Striving to make it as satisfying as possible for both parties.

However, if I must find a phrase that best defines our current relationship, so be it. One that expresses feeling rather than description. One that is warm. That is heartfelt. That rolls off the tongue as though it were covered with honey.

“My beloved” sounds like a winner. Wait, far too formal and Elizabethan. “My love” is better. “Hello Max, this is my love”…nope that just won’t cut it. Oh, I’ve got it. “My special lady” says it all. Crap, that sounds like I’ve got another more deluxe model in the back room.

So I guess I’m destined to tirelessly wander through a thicket of descriptive terms, never finding the perfect one. Meanwhile I’ll just look into Jackie’s eyes for that bright light that tells me “it’s ok what you call me as long as you love me.”

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