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In the USA, where I live, it is becoming increasingly common that men and women are making committed relationship decisions, but choosing to remain unmarried. However, they live together, raise children together, and otherwise appear married. They are simply not legally married and they are okay with it and so are most other Americans. It is obvious that they are highly involved with each other and the depth of their relationship is akin to a long standing marriage.

I am having trouble determining what to call men and women in this kind of relationship, relative to the other. I might say "my friend's girlfriend," however, I would also use this same term for whatever the relationship of two 14-year-olds is. It seems to me that my friend and his relationship with his girlfriend deserves higher recognition.

Lately, I have resorted to calling these women ladies. I might ask my friend "How is your lady doing," or say about a party "Bring your ladies." I like this because the definition of lady implies a high 'social' status and removes any negative connotation that the women are morally devoid because they are not married, yet live with a man. Oddly, someone told me recently that it sounded sexist when I referred to a few friends and "their ladies." I don't even really know how to approach that.

It wasn't until just now that I have no ideas at all for men. Just "lady" for women.

marked as duplicate by coleopterist, Andrew Leach, tchrist, Mitch, Kris Mar 13 '13 at 12:57

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  • @coleopterist But I want a word that is more than 'concise' and 'inclusive'. I want to convey that because these persons are special to my friends they are also special to me because I liken their relationship to my marriage. All inclusive is just too annoying and takes passion out of words. – fredsbend Mar 13 '13 at 9:42
  • You are welcome to edit your question and detail why none of the answers in the other questions are suitable in your case. As it stands, your question is currently a duplicate of at least one of those two. It's also possible that a suitable word or term that satisfies all your criteria is simply not available. – coleopterist Mar 13 '13 at 10:04
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    'Ladies' is considered a bit uncool nowadays, a little cringeworthy. – Mitch Mar 13 '13 at 12:20
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    In the UK at least, calling someone a lady is fine. It's your description of them as 'your ladies' that may be a poor choice, whereas "are the ladies coming?" would be perfectly acceptable. – Carl Smith Mar 13 '13 at 12:23

Too long for a comment, but not necessarily meant as an answer, since it's very geographical, so be easy on the downvotes:

Just a few days ago I discussed this concept with a US native speaker. I live in New Zealand, where we call the "significant other" just a "partner". It may well be your married spouse, your long or short term boy-/girl-friend, or your same-sex relationship other half. Male, female, doesn't matter. It's the person you share your life with. Married or not, legally binding or not. Who cares. Invitations state to "bring your partner", which extends to whoever is your significant other.

To the US native I was discussing this with, though, the word "partner" seemed to be heavily leaning towards a homosexual relationship. (But then, they felt that "pot plant" was growing marijuana :-))) In NZ it definitely is NOT (either marijuana or gay) . It's just a "politically correct" way to name your, ehrm, partner. And you can present the host of the function with a pot plant without any legal consequences.

Ah, to live on an island in the South Pacific.

Long story short: don't know about the US convention, but in New Zealand English, "partner" covers all aspects of relationships and can safely be used in any context to refer to the person you (currently) share your life with.

  • Thank you for the response. The US native's reaction to "partner" and "pot plant" are extremely common. Google pot plant and try not to see the marijuana pictures. I personally do not like partner because that is already taken in terms of business, dancing, music accompaniment, and many others involving action only. Relationships are not an action; they are something you live. It is too widely used already and its definition is too restrictive, imo. – fredsbend Mar 13 '13 at 9:36
  • Fair enough. I wasn't expecting to deliver the perfect answer, but wanted to share how this topic is handled in New Zealand. I'm aware that other countries and cultures will have differing connotations for "partner" (and "pot plant"). – teylyn Mar 13 '13 at 9:45
  • In the US the plant would be a 'potted plant' – Oldcat Jan 16 '14 at 20:01

Partner: it works for male or female members of a relationship and has been the correct term in the western US for a decade or so and is generally accepted throughout the rest of the US.

Lady: sounds rather old-fashioned and rather sexist.

  • Can you expand on why Lady sounds sexist to you? That is actually why I asked in the first place because someone else said the same thing. – fredsbend Mar 14 '13 at 8:02

In the UK, we usually just say something like "how's the misses?" or "how's your misses", regardless of marital status. We also often call partners the other half, regardless of marital status or gender, as in "are you bringing the other half?" The term your better half is often used jokingly.


There is a word that sums it all up: concubinage.


Concubinage is an interpersonal relationship in which a person engages in an ongoing relationship (usually matrimonially oriented) with another person to whom they are not or cannot be married. The inability to marry may be due to differences in social rank (including slave status), or because the man is already married.

Yet Oxford Dictionaries say that a concubine is “a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives”.

Where I live (Romania) this term has bad connotations appended to it. It's used (in the news mostly) only when bad stuff happens. Like:

A man strangled his concubine after disagreement on who deserves to win on Dancing with the Stars.

This isn't too much help but it would be a good sociological experiment to see how people react if you refer to them as concubines.

  • Yeah. I think I would have just about the same reaction as Bi*** or Ho. That is far to dangerous an experiment for me. – fredsbend Mar 13 '13 at 9:46
  • Haha. You're probably right. But this is the word that captures that type of relationship. It's people's fault that it's not accepted. Offense is always taken, not given. :) – SmokerAtStadium Mar 13 '13 at 10:01

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