Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend Lets People Believe He’s My Husband… and I Wish He Didn’t”

Ring

I have a terrific boyfriend. We move together very smoothly when we’re alone as well as when we’re in large social gatherings, church, political events, film sets, etc. We’re basically together most of the time, and it’s all good. We seem like we’ve been together forever. In reality, it’s been sixteen months.

My problem is when people assume then that we’re married. We’re both in our fifties, so maybe that’s why it happens so often. People will ask me something about my “husband,” and he’ll get the “your wife” question. This doesn’t bother him at all; he just continues the conversation as though we’re married. I feel impelled to clarify every time with a laugh: “He’s my boyfriend.”

He thinks I should just pretend for that moment that we are married and leave it at that. It’s no conflict between us — he doesn’t mind what I do one way or the other. But I guess I kind of mind that he’s not correcting the impression that we’re married. Maybe I’m having a knee-jerk reaction to not wanting to feel pressured into a decision that to me is fraught with implications. I’m not even sure I’ll ever want to sign on the dotted line. There are too many financial repercussions. And he’s still only legally separated from his former wife. They’re in the throes of a drawn-out property settlement. We’re not living together yet–although that may happen soon. I am wearing on “that” finger a ring he gave me, but it’s not “the” ring.

Should I just pretend that we’re married when those moments arise? Is it more important to make the other person feel comfortable by not pointing out the mistake? Or is there something better I could say? Since I’m campaign manager for a local candidate, it’s mostly at the political events that this is an issue. I don’t want to weird people out unnecessarily, but I also don’t want to give an inaccurate impression. There’s precious little truth in politics already! Thanks for your help. — Not a Wife

When people refer to your boyfriend as your “husband” or to you as his “wife,” they aren’t so much making the assumption that you’re married as they are assuming that you’re a couple, and in that sense they’re correct. If you were, say, his daughter and someone referred to you as his wife while your boyfriend didn’t rush to correct him or her, that would be weird. But you’re not his daughter – you’re his girlfriend, and your boyfriend recognizes that, when people make the (incorrect, but understandable) assumption that you’re married, it’s really just a semantics choice and most of the time it isn’t loaded with any more meaning that what you might give it.

Of course, there are times when it might be more necessary to make sure someone has an accurate impression of your relationship status. Like, I don’t know, when you’re filling out a census report or when you’re filing your taxes or, possibly, when you’re both quoted in a newspaper article about 50-something couples who are either married, living together, or just dating. Other than that, I can’t see what difference it makes. To other people anyway. To you it matters, and that’s fine.

If other people assuming you are married to your boyfriend causes you some anxiety and makes you feel pressured, then address the underlying cause of that anxiety with your boyfriend. If the word “wife” and all its implications gives you pause or makes you feel claustrophobic, talk about that. Talk about what your expectations are in terms of your relationship and what you both want.

It sounds like there are some holes in your communication and you’re filling those spaces with a lot of assumptions of your own. Maybe your boyfriend has no desire to get married again either. Have you discussed it? Have you discussed whether moving in together is a step toward marriage, or is it just a step? What does your future together look like? What do YOU want it to look like?

I think once you have some clarity about these issues, you’re going to feel a lot less anxious when someone refers to you as your boyfriend’s wife. But if you aren’t, or if you feel like not correcting the assumption that you’re married makes you a liar, a simple, “Actually, we’re a couple, but we’re not married,” should suffice.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

42 comments… add one
  • Portia

    Portia August 5, 2014, 10:21 am

    Sorry, I can’t get past this – why are you wearing a ring he gave you on your ring finger???

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    • LadyinPurpleNotRed

      LadyinPurpleNotRed August 5, 2014, 10:22 am

      Yeah…for someone who doesn’t want to be called his wife…she’s sending mixed signals.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra August 5, 2014, 10:32 am

      I got a promise ring (gross) from my ex and I wore it on my left ring finger for years. I did eventually switch it to my right ring finger, but it lived on my left hand for a loooong time. I actually bought myself a ring to replace it when we broke up to remind myself to always put myself first — I love that ring a lot. If I got a non engagement ring from any boyfriend from here on out I would wear it on my right hand. Of course I don’t think in your late 20’s boyfriends think about “promise rings” haha.

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      • avatar

        joanna August 5, 2014, 10:44 am

        Sorry to seem so dense but I don’t know the proper protocol for this. The engagement ring goes on the left hand and the wedding ring on the right? Or is there a different way to do it?

        I never plan on getting married and I’m always paranoid any ring on a ring finger will seem like an engagement/wedding ring.

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      • avatar

        jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 10:47 am

        Traditionally the engagement and wedding ring go on the left hand 🙂

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      • Portia

        Portia August 5, 2014, 11:02 am

        I think there are quite a few people that get confused by this, usually younger males in my experience but I’ve gotten it from others too since I wear rings on my right ring finger. I was recently talking to a friend from Brazil who told me it was customary for both partners to wear a wedding band on their right ring finger during engagement and move it to the left during the ceremony, kinda like the tassel on a graduation cap.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 11:20 am

        I can never remember either, joanna. I just bought a ring at a flea market and it fits the best on my left-hand ring finger…. that’st the wedding finger, right? (I can never remember if it’s the left-hand or right-hand.) Shoot, think of all the men who now don’t approach me because they think I’m married…. no one, ha.

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      • avatar

        Coconot August 5, 2014, 11:33 am

        Actually you never know. I am married and was meeting a bunch of friends at the bar. A friend of a friend was flirting with a few of the other girls and my previous little ego was bruised because I wasn’t being flirted with (not that I wanted to be flirted with necessarily, I just wanted to be worthy of flirting if you know what I mean). Anyways an hour later my husband joins us and the flirty guy was like oh so this is your husband; I noticed your ring when we got introduced. I was so happy to hear it wasn’t that I was too ugly to be flirted with!! Moral of the story is that sometimes people notice rings and having one on your left finger could prevent them from approaching you.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 11:46 am

        in my case they never even get close enough to SEE the ring, ha.
        *
        but point well received. i’m now gonna do some finger exercises so i can squeeze my new ring onto my middle or pointer finger. 🙂

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      • MissRemy

        MsRemy August 5, 2014, 12:59 pm

        Are you right handed Addie? The fingers on your dominant hand tends to be slightly larger than the other!

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 1:18 pm

        yup, i’m right-handed. and this flea-market purchase just fits perfectly on my left-hand ring fingers. so whaddayagonnado.

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      • Kate B.

        Kate B. August 5, 2014, 12:12 pm

        Yes, some people do. I take it as a point in favor of someone if they do.

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      • avatar

        shakeourtree August 5, 2014, 11:59 am

        I have a nice ring that only fits on my left ring finger. I was wearing it yesterday, and my boyfriend was adamant that he didn’t want people thinking we were engaged. Probably didn’t help that it was actually a gift from an ex.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 12:02 pm

        see, i guess it shouldn’t come as a shock that people care but i really don’t think of that finger as anything special. and then i never remember to check other people’s fingers b/c i can’t remember which finger it is anyway and even if i were to remember IT’S THE ONE ON THE LEFT HAND well then you’re looking at someone and the hand on the left isn’t their left hand so if i see or don’t see a ring I STILL GET IT WRONG. very hard, this ring business.

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      • avatar

        MsMisery August 5, 2014, 1:05 pm

        I hope people don’t care or notice TOO much! I have a cheap Kohl’s Celtic knot ring on THE finger, cuz that’s where it fits. It’s been there for years. It doesn’t look anything like a wedding or engagement ring (except possibly to my nerdly peers who play a lot of D&D).

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      • avatar

        shakeourtree August 5, 2014, 2:21 pm

        I thought his objection was silly. Everyone who knows us knows we’re not engaged, and why should he care if people we don’t know think I’m married?

        I’m thinking about getting it resized to fit on my fat right hand, but mostly because I feel like it might be bad juju to wear an ex’s ring on my left hand. I should probably let go of it completely, but it’s pretty.

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      • Lyra

        Lyra August 5, 2014, 11:57 am

        Yes, typically it’s just engagement/wedding bands that go on the left finger. I was young and stupid and all “oooohhhhh I got ring from my boyfriend!” and I chose to wear it on my left hand. We had been seriously talking about marriage too and I guess it made sense to me at the time? At the end of the relationship I was wearing it on my right hand on purpose…I was sick of people asking if we were engaged yet. I actually think for “promise” rings (again, gross…why, Lyra? Whyyy?) they are to be worn on the right hand.
        .
        I think it’s time to dig out that ol’ promise ring and sell it for some $$$.

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      • Kate B.

        Kate B. August 5, 2014, 12:10 pm

        Depends what country you’re in. In many European countries, the wedding and engagement rings are worn on the right hand. Here in the US, it’s usually the left.

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      • avatar

        sarita_f August 5, 2014, 1:41 pm

        Short answer – depends where you are in the world. In America, traditionally both engagement and wedding rings go on the left ring finger. Other countries often the engagement band is worn on the right hand ring finger and moved over to the left hand once married. Sometimes both the men and women wear engagement rings.

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    • avatar

      kalipso August 5, 2014, 12:17 pm

      Maybe it only fits that finger. My left hand is a couple of sizes smaller than my right, because of an injury when I was a kid.

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  • avatar

    peachy August 5, 2014, 10:24 am

    Your complicated situation of being with someone who is not yet divorced (no matter what the reason), wearing a ring that looks rather like an engagement ring, possibly moving in with him soon, and not even being sure you’d want to sign on the dotted line with him – which you couldn’t do anyway because, oh yeah, he’s married – makes your quibbling over a totally understandable assumption by strangers at a party the least of your concerns, don’t you think? Don’t move in with him right now; you’re obviously conflicted.
    But to add another fillip of interest to your situation, you are a campaign manager for a public figure and the strangers who make assumptions about you are potential donors and voters for your candidate! How delighted they and your boss would be if your relationship with a married man were to become an interesting topic of conversation. Stop bringing your married boyfriend to work parties where you are representing a candidate.

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    • avatar

      lets_be_honest August 5, 2014, 10:28 am

      Don’t you think there’s a big difference between married and legally separated?
      .
      LW, just correct them if you want to. This doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. People mistake my boyfriend for my husband or my daughter’s father all the time. Sometimes I correct them, sometimes I don’t. I doubt people care either way.

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      • Miss MJ

        Miss MJ August 5, 2014, 10:37 am

        There’s definitely a difference between dating someone who is legally separated but who does not yet have a fully finalized divorce (although that process is underway) and dating a married man. Depending on where you live and the people and property involved, sometimes getting divorced can take years. People move on before it’s over.

        But, really, LW, I would be less concerned about what other people think about your relationship status and more concerned with my own reservations. That’s the real issue here, not what label someone attributes to the man you’re with.

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      • avatar

        MissDre August 5, 2014, 12:26 pm

        Yeah, agreed. My mom has been legally separated now for nearly two years. They can’t finalized a divorce until some of the terms of the separation agreement have been met, and it all has to do with financial stuff, which is taking a while to clear up. But seriously, she hasn’t even seen him in like a year and a half so I’d say my mom has moved on.

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  • avatar

    joanna August 5, 2014, 10:41 am

    I think people mistake you two for married because of your age. “Boyfriend/girlfriend” seem too casual of words to assign to a serious couple. You could use “gentleman-friend” and “lady-friend” but that seems like a mouthful. I’ve taken to using the term “partner” in formal conversation to mean “serious relationship but not officially married”. I then say something with a gendered pronoun (i.e. “He and I have been together about 4 years,”) to let the person I’m talking to know his gender. I find if I don’t do that then people assume I’m gay.

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    • avatar

      ktfran August 5, 2014, 10:54 am

      YES! Correcting someone by saying “no, he’s my boyfriend,” just seems weird and slightly immature. Even at 34, I don’t know that I would do that. I like partner. Or Wendy’s phrasing.

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    • Portia

      Portia August 5, 2014, 10:58 am

      Bassanio used to use “partner” more in a professional setting, but they almost invariably assumed he was gay. Doesn’t help my real name could be male (although far more often female), so pronouns would be important.

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    • Kate B.

      Kate B. August 5, 2014, 12:18 pm

      I do the opposite. I like “boyfriend”. I don’t like “partner” at all. It’s too generic for me.

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    • avatar

      Tax Geek August 5, 2014, 12:52 pm

      When I hear “partner” I think business partner.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh August 5, 2014, 10:42 am

    Yeah I’m with Wendy that it sounds like it’s more than just people calling you husband/wife when you’re not. If you can’t talk to him about that, you’re probably not ready to move in with him.

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  • avatar

    lindsaybob August 5, 2014, 11:04 am

    It doesn’t seem like it really bothers the LW that people mistake them for a married couple. She said that she just corrects people who do and it’s no big deal. What seems to be the problem is that the LW’s boyfriend doesn’t correct people when they assume they they’re married and she would like him to.

    I agree with everybody who says it’s not a big deal, but at the same time if there’s one person you should be able to make the occasional irrational request of even when things aren’t a big deal it should be your partner. So I say just have a conversation with him where you lay out why it bothers you, acknowledge that he’s not doing anything wrong by not correcting people and that you’re not saying that he is, but ask him if he will please do so in future because it would make you feel better. I don’t think you should make a big deal about it if he says he doesn’t want to correct people, but if it would make you feel better I don’t see why you shouldn’t ask him.

    Also, the ring is quite likely the cause of at least some of the confusion. Why don’t you put it on the other hand for a while and see if that reduces the number of assumptions?

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  • avatar

    Holly August 5, 2014, 11:05 am

    I think people are mistaking the label because of the fricken ring (seriously, I feel like that’s a giant billboard pointing to the source of your problem.) Stick it on your right hand and watch the issue happen a lot less frequently.

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    • avatar

      LC March 4, 2017, 7:02 pm

      Actually I understand completely where she is coming from and I don’t wear a ring on THAT finger and for good reason. I hate when ppl assume we are married and it happens all the time with everyone just about it. The way I see it is that to allow the concept or assumptions just gives a man the idea that since you are already getting the title by everyone why make it legal. I have even heard it said before. I am simply the girlfriend and when he puts a ring on that finger with a planned future of marriage then I will be his fiancé until we sign on the line making us spouses. Until then I don’t want it by assumptions! I’m deserving of more!

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark August 5, 2014, 11:27 am

    By all means — you should be VERY annoyed, LW. And I ‘d train your boyfriend to immediately blurt out: “My wife? God no! That’s just some rebound chick I’m banging!”
    .
    There. Your non-existent problem? Solved! And you’ll be the talk of political events and churches everywhere you go… Win/Win!

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    • gigi

      gigi August 5, 2014, 11:39 am

      Choking on laughter at that thought!

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 11:41 am

    I think it would be weird if the boyfriend was letting friends/family believe they’re married when they’re not. But if he’s not going out of his way to correct all the other randoms he encountesr – grocery store clerk, flight attendant, whatever – that’s no big deal. In fact I think it would be weird if he did go out of his way to correct those people. You’re never going to see them again and they don’t actually care – they just assumed and probably felt more comfortable saying “sir, you and your wife can board now” (or whatever) than “sir, you and that woman you’re obviously in a romantic relationship with but there is absolutely no way for me to know one way or another if you’re married or not so really don’t read anything into my assumption either way or not”. … Phew, see how exhausting that was?

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 11:44 am

      Also, honestly, I would be more put off if my boyfriend did immediately correct people. “What?! My ‘wife’?! Ha! You think I’m married to HER?! Hahaha, god no. Not married, whoa, just dating.” I’d think, “Hey, is it insulting to you that someone would think you would marry someone like me?”

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    • fast eddie

      fast eddie August 6, 2014, 9:33 am

      Your legal status is nobodies business but your own. Marriage is legal contract with some privileges to survivor benefits. Beyond that it’s whatever you make of it.

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  • avatar

    2_J August 5, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Haven’t read through all of the comments, so sorry if someone already brought this up, but, i had to say something. Off subject , sort of. You know the “phrases people need to stop saying” forums..LW states that they have been together for 16 months <————— soooooooooo irritating. Don't know why this irks me, it just does, same as mothers and their children, my son is 23 months old,, ugh, look you two have been together a little over a year, and the son is almost two. for the love of god….

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray August 5, 2014, 12:47 pm

      Haha, I so agree. The good news is people seem to stop counting in months after 2 years. I have yet to hear a “my son is 26 months old.”
      *
      Except my puppy is 9.75 months – that’s OK for me to say.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna August 5, 2014, 12:40 pm

    I wouldn’t worry about “saying the truth” here, since most people are probably aware that they might sometimes call someone someone’s “wife” or “husband” when it’s not accurate. It’s mostly just to be polite and on the safe side. Just say “my partner” when you mention him, I think that will get the point across – and move that ring to another finger. Don’t force your partner to correct others, that just seems a bit over the top when likely most people see this as a non-issue.

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  • avatar

    HmC August 5, 2014, 12:51 pm

    I never get why people get so offended or take it personally when others mis-characterize their relationship. Assume they’re married, or assume they’re not. It’s usually just a matter of odds- at a certain age a LOT of couples are more likely to be married than dating, if they’re assuming that about you it’s likely not even about you personally at all. Respond how you want, let your bf respond how he feels comfortable. Not everyone feels like getting into a confrontation all the time, especially if it’s not someone you’ll see again, and over something so minimal.

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