Wow, there is one funky thing. I remember back when my spouse and I married and were husband and wife. It was sort of one of those having to engrain things. I was her husband, repeat, repeat until it became automatic. I imagine something similar for her too. Referring to her as my wife and not by her name was comfortable after a while, both a bit of familiarity and maybe depersonalizing too. Yet we do this all the time, my boss, my kid, my dad, my sister, my mom. Indeed, for some relationships like our parents we’re expected to always stay away from names out of respect.
One of the first things I had to get used to after regularly presenting in public as Rachel was being called Ma’am. It sounds like a simple thing but both Ma’am and Sir are deeply dug into one’s psyche. I still have to be careful not to turn when someone calls out sir. It isn’t as automatic, it isn’t as intense or as compelling as it used to be, but it is also hard to appreciate how things like this burrow into your brain.
In a somewhat similar way it has taken awhile to consistently respond to Ma’am or Miss. It’s somewhat inconsistent, Ma’am or Miss from someone who doesn’t know you at all depending on age and whether they’re trying to flatter, but Mrs, Ms or Miss from someone waiting on you who’s guessing from context.
It’s kind of cruel if you think about it. Mrs and Miss are respectively supposed to indicate married and unmarried women and therefore the status of their innocence since no unmarried woman would allow herself to be sullied like that (isn’t it quaint the lies society tells?). Of course it used to be plainer with words like maiden and the original German madchen which is interestingly enough of neuter gender.
The womens movement in the 60s reacted to all this by introducing the pronoun Ms, which I actually do find handy although I thought it a bit much at the time. Yet my circumstances have changed as has my outlook, and times have changed and much that was on the fringe fifty years ago is very mainstream today.
I struggle though with both Miss and Mrs. I’ve been addressed as both at the local pharmacy by the lovely respectful staff and I don’t quite know what to say. I don’t wish to embarrass them by making a fuss, but I would prefer Ms. Technically I suppose Mrs is right….
To me Mrs R was first my mother. It was strange when it became my wife, but that happened about thirty years ago and we’re both over it. At this point it seems to me that she owns it (and can keep it or not as we go through divorce), but as for me I really didn’t marry as Rachel, I married as D, so Mrs just doesn’t feel right whereas Ms feels comfortable. Miss is nice in a blushy kind of way but it’s also silly when you’re in your late fifties to be called Miss.
Post your comments, I’ll be interested to read them.