I recently married a man. If I had to describe that man by his relationship to me, his dictionary definition is “husband.” But that word creeps me out. Saying it makes me cringe. So I say it as little as possible.
It doesn’t bother me when other people refer to their husbands as “husband.” That’s the correct term. It’s fine. But I can’t say it myself. I’d rather say something else, like “houseboat.” It sounds pretty close if you say it fast enough. My houseboat is a nice man. I love my houseboat.
Why does saying “husband” (bleh) bother me? It seems like a loaded word. Somehow, when I say it, it sounds like bragging. “My husband” feels like saying “Look at me! I HAVE a husband.” Maybe it sounds like a brag because when a woman gets married, our society seems to celebrate her status as “no longer single” more than the fact that she found a special person. I don’t get it. Being legally coupled is no better than being single. It’s just different.
The increased popularity of these shirts about “becoming a Mrs.” are a reminder that even in modern times, the concept of a woman shedding her singledom is still considered one of her greatest achievements. At the Rio Olympics, Chinese diver He Zi received a surprise marriage proposal during the medal ceremony. The BBC referred to the proposal as an “even bigger prize” than the actual silver medal she won. Marriage is still seen as a prize that women win.
You might think the idea that people judge me for saying “husband” is all in my head. But I know that it’s not. The first few times I forced myself to use the word “husband,” I was immediately called out. I was told, “It sounds like you’re eager to say ‘husband.’” “You were looking for an excuse to say ‘husband.’” I wasn’t! I found it excruciating. I had to have a pep talk with myself just to force it out. “Just say it,” I begged myself. “No one will think you’re trying to wedge the H-word into conversation.” But they did.
My houseboat calls me his “wife” all the time, easily and casually, occasionally tossing in the obligatory Borat “my wife.” He’s never once felt weird about it. No one has ever commented on his “wife” usage. I find myself saying things like “My…[panic]…significant other is allergic to cats.” “Significant other” is a much dorkier thing to say than “husband,” but I’d rather be perceived as a dork than as someone who thinks being married is something to brag about. Even though saying “husband” isn’t bragging, it’s just a normal thing people say.
Here are some of the first few painful times I forced myself to say “husband.” My houseboat is an entertaining guy. I like talking about him, but it’s hard when you can’t say the H-word.
These tweets inspired comments (from men) about how it seemed like I was trying to come up with thin excuses JUST to say “husband.” I’m pretty sure I shot lasers out of my nose as a response.
When my houseboat and I got engaged, we were both uncomfortable with the “fiancé/fiancée” labels. We agreed that using a fancy French word to signify your upcoming nuptials felt snobby. It was a relief to realize we could call each other whatever we wanted, and we stuck with “boyfriend/girlfriend” through our engagement. Relationship labels convey a lot of information. Maybe I want to introduce my fiancé without derailing the conversation in favor of a forced congratulations, or worse, the stressful topic of wedding planning.
Ultimately, I just want to talk about my husband (ugh) in the third person to casual acquaintances without seeming proud or ashamed. I want to convey basic information without somehow implying that marriage defines who I am. I’ve thought about alternatives to “husband.” Obviously hubby is out. When the term “hubster” was brought to my attention I projectile-vomited so violently that three people drowned. And I feel bad about that. Among other alternatives: Hubasaurus Rex, Sir Hubbington, hub-a-dub-dub, Abra-Hub Lincoln, Hubble Telescope. There is no good option.
I'll just have to practice saying “husband” until it feels normal. And if I’m worried about sounding like I’m bragging, I might as well just brag outright. My husband wears cool pants. My husband rides his bike pretty fast. My husband could probably fight a raccoon and win.