I tried to open a British bank account online the other day. Faced with a choice between opening an account with Barclay’s or Lloyd’s TSB, I did what any sensible Manhattan girl would do. I made my decision based purely on aesthetics. Having a preference for lime green, I found the Lloyd’s TSB logo the more appealing of the two, so I went with them. Once I landed on the Lloyd’s website, I made short work of the virtual application. That is until I got to question number 3: "What is your relationship status?"
First of all, why is my “relationship status” any of their business? Is a person’s money greener if they are married, or widowed? The list of choices before me were: “Single, Married, Civil Partnership, Divorced, Dissolved Civil Partnership, Widowed, Legally Separated, Common Law, Engaged, or Separated.” Truth be told, this a very fine, extremely p.c. and inclusive list, with every possible intimate arrangement therein. All except for mine. For, I am none of these. What does it mean to look at a list of relational options, and not see ones self there at all? Clearly, "More than single, less than married," is not a viable option.
The frustration I feel stems from the fact that for some reason, I have found it hard to accept my current status as “The Girlfriend.” I find myself breaking into a mild sweat, and choking on my words whenever I am forced to introduce the D.E.B. as my “Boyfriend.” The thought has only just occurred to me that all this time I could have been introducing him, as I have done here, as my “Darling English Boy.” That would be more exotic, and certainly sexier than “Boyfriend.”
Girlfriend? Ugh. I am too old to be someone’s “Girlfriend.” No self-respecting dame over the age of 35, and under the age of 60, wants to be relegated to the realm of Girlfriend. Surely, I am not alone in feeling that the terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” belong to the relationship categories of the very young (as in: “Oh, yes, Tommy, our 3 year old, has a new girlfriend,”) or the very old (“Have you met Grandma’s new boyfriend?”).
When one has reached a certain age, that terrain between youth and old age, one feels that only terms with a patina of mature respectability will do, particularly: fiancée or wife. (Heck, even “mistress” and “lover” are better, or at least more robust, than the saccharine and anemic term: “Girlfriend”.)
This may be the one US-UK cultural difference I struggle to surmount. “Girlfriend” is a very common designation here in Britain. It is not at all uncommon to meet unmarried couples that have been together for “donkey’s years,” as they say, who have a house, three kids, and a summer home in Tuscany, who still refer to each other as “Girlfriend” and “Boyfriend.” My American mind boggles.
My wonderful "Superstar Writer Friend" has done her British best to clarify this perplexing social conundrum for me. Marriage, she explained, is actually viewed pretty differently in the UK. In Britain, getting married is not the requisite relationship “deal-breaker” it is and/or seems to be in the US. For many British couples, “the big step” or the most significant acknowledgement of their long-term commitment is taking the plunge of living together and building a home. Superstar Writer Friend, and several other ex-pat Brits I know who now reside in the US, have each said it was not until they moved to the US, that they realized how much more important (symbolically and culturally) marriage as an institution is to American women, and how American women/girls are so much more in invested in it than their British counter-parts.
Marriage. What does it really mean? Of course, I often ask myself: Do I really need a piece of paper to validate my relationship? (Angelina Jolie clearly does not.) And then, an even better question: Is it marriage that I'm after, or just a wedding?
It doesn’t help that I hail from the “United States of Bridezilla,” where as little girls we are inundated from the womb with “the white dress directive.” The dress, the flowers, the cake, on and on. And, yes, I will confess, like many a true-blue, Southern-born girl, I already have “the dress” – bought “on faith” when I spotted two and a half years ago – and the bridesmaids’ dresses, too. (Okay, look, Anthropologie had a sale…and I bought easily mendable sizes.) All of this acquired, held on reserve, in storage, for the right time and the right man to come along. I have no doubt that the D.E.B. is the right man, but when will be the right time?
My Darling English Boy has assured me, has given me his promise for our future together. On New Year’s Day morning last year, he gave me a beautiful platinum and diamond band, and a pledge that we will one day wed. Because we often see ourselves as characters from a Jane Austen novel, his gift of a ‘promise ring’ was so touching, so romantic, so perfect, so us. I felt anchored and assured in his love, until a friend—who is no longer a friend—laughed, and said to me: “Yeah, well, my 8 year old son just gave his girlfriend a promise ring, too!” Or, when a waiter off-handedly commented into a conversation he was not a part of: “Promises can always be broken.” And the next person who asks me: “Has he proposed yet?” is going to get an earful!!!!
The D.E.B. has not proposed, and it will probably be quite sometime before he does. To this, I have resigned myself. I have resigned myself to be patient and understanding. Appreciating that in addition to our different cultural perspectives on this issue, there is the added complication of the “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” syndrome. We have both been married before; and I think women are far, far more resilient than men following a divorce and the demise of a marriage. The lure of the dress, the flowers, yummy wedding cake, being the center of attention, and the Pottery Barn Gift Registry gets us gals back in the saddle in no time! Yee-ha! I mean, just look at Elizabeth Taylor! To be fair, and not just because this is about my Darling English Boy, I do seriously think it is more difficult for men to grieve, re-group, and ‘move on to the next one’ after a long-term relationship has sadly bitten the dust.
So, I shall just bide my time until he is ready. I would be lying to say that I have accepted this situation without more than few moments of frustration (or random outbursts, during which I haven’t revealed the real source of my vexation), or that I have not, on more than one occasion, seriously contemplated the advice that I should consider drugging his food.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans."
For now, I shall wear the mantle of “Girlfriend” as best I can, and strive to do so more gracefully. The D.E.B and I both know what is between us, and what is in our hearts. We know where we stand, and what we mean to one another. The “ambiguity” of my “status,” and our relationship exists solely in the minds of others, and what they do not see. Which is, as Shakespeare wrote, just “the outward show” and merely a question of aesthetics.