My other half

Picture by the awesome Stuart F Taylor

I’ve always hated the phrase ‘my other half’ – it implies a lack of completeness about me. That I, on my own, am never quite full or rounded. Not quite enough.

I hate ‘him indoors,’ which implies the kind of comfortable, settled domesticity that I’ve never really felt with anyone.

I’m ambivalent about ‘boyfriend’ and ‘partner’ feels too grown up.

I panic at the thought of a ‘husband.’

‘Boy’ is becoming tired, and not a natural descriptor for someone in their 30s.

Says ‘girl’ on the net. At the age of 30.

‘Mate’ is either too pally or too like an Attenborough documentary, depending on how you interpret it.

‘Lover’ makes me cringe.

Some days he’s my guy, my dude. That dickhead. And often he’s a twat.

But maybe my obsession with the lack of a proper word belies what the actual problem is with any of these statements: the ‘my’ that comes at the front of them.

No one is ever mine, of course.

There are a million and one reasons why I’ll say I’m complete without someone – I can do everything on my own. There’s nothing that I do when I’m with someone that I wouldn’t do without them. From paying the rent to putting up shelves, doing the weekly shop and throwing a birthday party. The implication that I must have help makes me angry when I’m single – these tasks don’t get only half done if there’s no one else to chip in.

But when I talk like that, with an angry, feisty stamp – when I bang on about the value of independence and the fact that I’m actually pretty damn capable, thank you very much, I’m probably doing a disservice to the guy who supports me. Sure, I could do it all alone, but he does more than just hold one half of the shelf while I mark off the drill hole on the wall. He does more than carry half the shopping.

He does things that I badly need, and don’t know that I need until he does them. He sits with me on the District line for 30 minutes, and listens to me reel off an anxious list of everything I need to do that week, in the cracked voice of someone who will not manage to do them. He wraps a blanket around me on the sofa and watches tears of exhaustion fall from my eyes. He finds me when I’m lost. He puts me to bed.

Maybe the reason ‘other half’ feels so tempting isn’t because we feel complete when we’re happy. It’s not because suddenly everything falls into place when you pair up with someone, like the jigsaw puzzle of your life has always been missing a piece. ‘Other half’ appeals as a phrase because sometimes that other person’s not there, and you realise that over time they’d become a vital part of the equation.

Like every year you tip slightly further towards them, until they’re partially propping you up. So when they’re not there it feels like you’re falling.

And at that point ‘other half’ feels natural: it’s the ‘my’ that sounds misplaced. And you feel absurd for not checking before you leant against it, or for leaning too hard when you got comfortable.

For the unthinking, preposterous assumption that it was ever really yours.

15 Comments

  • Fascinating and very true perspective. Never thought of it like that.

  • Purple_Elphs says:

    Beautiful blog. I particularly like this line: “And you feel absurd for not checking before you leant against it, or for leaning too hard when you got comfortable” because it sums up that feeling of panic, when coming out of a super-long-term relationship (8 years, for me) of having to rediscover your independence pretty damn quickly – the emotional kind, as well as the paying-all-the-bills kind. At the time I wasn’t even aware I was leaning, until the ‘other half’ was gone.

  • Misha says:

    like this one

  • Jareth says:

    I’m partial to the phrase “significant other”, although I usually default to “human”. They’re both great for the gender neutrality but unfortunately neither of them works very well without a “my” in front of them, either. Even when texting I feel uncomfortable using pet names because often a “my” will precede and due to the unconventional arrangement that …”my” human and I have, I’m more conscious than I would be in a traditional arrangement that he is not, in fact, mine.

    It is in emotional exchanges and dependencies where we find our relational short-comings, I agree with you on that point. I can cook an omelet or change a tire as well as the next person but every so often I can’t sleep without talking to someone close to me until the anxiety shoos off. At that point /I/ want to be a “mine” for the other person and it hits hard when I remember just as he isn’t mine, I’m not his.

  • Ezequiel says:

    Wow. Been a while since I commented.

    I had a ladyfriend this past year for about six months. I guess I never got to the point of considering her an irreplaceable part of my life. (No surprise we broke up then, huh?) It’s hard to do anything like call another person “yours” when you’ve never had anyone really stick around that long. Well, I do have “my” friends. They count for something, right?

    At the same time, it’s taken me while to accept the idea that I can be a whole and complete person, even while still flawed. When I was younger and stupider, I hoped to find someone to “complete” me… to sort of balance out the parts of me that I considered deficient. The idea seems ridiculous, now.

    But we’re talking about labels. There, I might actually offer a perspective: just say whatever the fuck you want. Guyfriend, boy-toy, significant other, battery-free fun times, fiance (heh)… does it matter so long as people understand more or less what you mean? Words are tools of communication. They don’t define your relationship. They can only, at best, sort of describe it. So long as you communicate the *general* idea, refer to him as your whim dictates.

    Or don’t. I’m a random nerd, not a cop.

  • D. says:

    It’s not a phrase I use myself, but I always thought of ‘other half’ as expanding not to ‘other half of me’, but ‘other half of us’. The whole is equal to the sum of the parts (bigger in some ways, smaller in others). :-)

    (And ‘my’ isn’t necessarily a unidirectional possessive, it can also be simply attributive. But you know that.)

    • Girl on the net says:

      Yeah, I like that. The ‘us’ and teamwork thing is basically the main thing I want from any relationship. I think I get a bit tangled up in it sometimes, though, especially when it’s a period of time when I’m leaning fairly heavily on someone for support. Useful to remind myself rather than fall into just seeing/doing things without considering the impact, which is something I have a fairly bad habit of doing.

    • Gulliver says:

      Likewise. When I use the word my in reference to human beings, I’m indicating the relationship, not possession of the person – my partner, my grandparents, my coworkers – because if I didn’t, I could be talking about anyone’s relationships. For me at least, with the caveat that everyone uses language their own way and isn’t wrong to do so, the words my and ours in interpersonal context is an arrow pointing from me to them, and sometimes from them to me as well.

      But at the same time, I’d much sooner say my partner than my other half, since the whole point of the relationship for me is build something together, not become one person. I suppose I could say our other half, but that would probably really confuse people :-P

      Fortunately, partner succinctly expresses everything I want it to when describing a committed relationship built on friendship, and when it’s just friendship, I just say my friend. Regarding almost every non-committed relationship I’ve ever been in, I’ve almost always found myself who asks if she’s my girlfriend, no we just dating. I mean, she’s my friend and she’s a girl, but that’s not what most people mean by girlfriend.

      Also, like our host, I believe the best relationships are between independent individuals who can enrich each others lives. That said, I have no problem if someone can do something for me that I can’t do for myself, as long as I’m not dependent on that thing. I fact, that’s one of the great parts about it, using your different skill-sets to help each other out. As you said, a team. Superman doesn’t need Batman, and Batman doesn’t need Superman, but things go a whole lot smoother in fantasy-land when they pool their very different strengths.

  • Doccy says:

    Nicely put – it’s comforting to know that other people think/worry these things too ;)

    For me and my wife (married 14 years as of a week ago), we are definitely each other’s other halves. We are individuals, but together we are, like they say, greater than the sum of our parts. If I meet other people without her, I know they can’t see all of me, just because she’s not there – not because “she’s a part of me” as such, but because there’s more of me to see. If that makes any kind of sense.

    There’s me: The me I act like around other people, and the me I strive to be (because I like him more, but I have a dozen little worries that all boil down to OTHER PEOPLE OMG and stop me acting how I’d like to). But when she’s there, I can relax into being that person because she loves me and knows me. And, of course, I wanted to marry her because I deeply enjoy being around her – and even though we’ve both changed, that joy has only become more joyful.

    Hope this hasn’t been too rambly / sentimental ;)

  • Jo says:

    My heart just shattered into a million little pieces.

  • Lovely post and very true. And I don’t mean to detract from the loveliness of it, but ‘my twat’ took on a totally different understanding for me when reading!

  • Oh the feels!

    I’m with you though, generally I have no idea what to call the one with whom I’m with, I use partner a lot; yet occasionally you get the odd someone who will tell me that he can’t be my partner because we don’t live together, yet he is my partner he’s the person that’s always there no matter how much of a twat I am. I’m not comfortable using the term boyfriend as for some reason it makes me feel childish, as if I’ve warped back in to high school and I’m talking about hooking up with my boyfriend at the side of the gym with my friends. I’d run a mile at the ‘husband term’, so I’ve just kind of ended up using OH – mostly because I can abbreviate it!

    I’ve now just realised that my relationship status boils down to what can be abbreviated.

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