Before we delve into the depths of Anne Kingston’s delicious, decadent delight (The Meaning of Wife–I hope you’ve had time to pick up a copy!)— let’s talk about “wife.”
When I hear the word, I’m immediately hit with a wave of connotations: wedding dresses, Father of the Bride, housework, husbands, love?, divorce, yoga class, soccer mom, supermom, second, _____’s wife, loss of identity, work, swap, wedding rings, diamonds, trophys, gold diggers, happily ever after, proposals, the second shift, First Lady, the 1950s, partnership, ownership, equality?, and many, many, more things. I was having trouble sorting through all my wife-baggage, so I enlisted the help of my greatest resources: my friends, family, and Google — This is what I found:
Wikipedia tells me that the term has Middle English, Old English, and Germanic roots meaning “woman,” and Indo-European roots meaning “veiled or clothed,” allegedly referring to wedding veils. “Wife” simply meant “woman” at one point in time, and had nothing to do with marriage, as evidenced in words that remain today like “midwife.”
Who remembers Fairie Tale Theater? Having partially defined my childhood, I can’t talk about “wife” and not mention their version of the Princess and the Pea. (This was also the first thing a relative thought of when I asked about “wife”.) Their Prince is bored and “needs something more, something to make his relatively perfect life complete.” He thinks he might need a pet, like a little dog or a hamster– the Fool informs him that no, in fact, he needs a wife. “A wife?” “Yeah.” “Would that be better than a hamster?” “Much.” Watch a clip (~5:10 is where this clip takes place).
This same relative (who is a wife) continued to explain
“Wife to me means – you belong to someone no strings attached…’belonging’ in a positive sense, someone to face things together with for as along as you both live…(not in the sense of being property of…).”
A husband explained wife:
“Long term, Commitment, and Give and Take….and beautiful 🙂 ”
A Married Woman explained her views:
“For a majority of women *being* a ‘wife’ is and has been a drag, so, for me, the role of ‘wife’ holds a negative connotation…. probably for these reasons, i don’t generally think of myself as a ‘wife,’ but more as a person with a spouse or a socially and legally recognized partner. i don’t cringe when ‘wife’ is used to…identify how i’m related to a social group. for example, when my mother-in-law, explaining how i ‘fit in’ to a distant relative, introduces me as “x, y’s wife” or, when y tells me that his coworkers were asking how his ‘wife’ was doing… it’s an effective way to identify me.
i think what it boils down to is that, for me, i have negative reactions to the word ‘wife’ as a descriptive or a prescriptive *role* and the assumptions/expectations that often accompany it, but have neutral to positive connotations for ‘wife’ as short-hand, commonly recognized way of identifying a relationship.”
“when I hear the word wife I think of an attachment or accessory. Usually the context for me has been meeting someone’s significant other at a rare event. ‘This is my wife Ruth.’, ‘Oh hi Ruth, I’ve heard so much about you.’…Personally, I sometimes think to myself, ‘I’d really like a wife’ as someone who I had a deep equal connection with who I could count on and rely upon.”
From a young wife:
“I love being a wife! It means, to me, spending the rest of my life with my best friend. It also means being responsible for someone else’s heart. It means that no matter how tired I am at the end of the day I have to remember to tell my man that I’m crazy about him and that I couldn’t imagine life without him.”
From an older wife:
“Wife – a unique person with a position that no one else has. Loved and loving, nurturing, creative and encouraging with lots of possibilities to do, expand, grow and influence family and society…Being a wife is a great broadening and learning and stretching and growing position with lots of changes and challenges through the years. A privilege.”
Unmarried, but in a long-term relationship, male 1:
“I’m generally a romantic— but definitely ultra-cynical toward this particular institution.”
Unmarried, but in long-term relationship, male 2:
A wife is your “Partner in Crime. The best definition I found as I mean it: ‘your significant other; someone you can depend on to help you get shit done! Your Boo.'”
From a 20-something wife:
“When I think of wife, I think of (though I might not necessarily agree with): couples, being one part of a whole, husband, background, helper.
In my brief experiences as a wife so far, I haven’t been the “background” to my husband’s “foreground.” We try hard both to be helpers to the other, in whatever way we can. Personally, I think that the word “helper” is very important to the husband-wife/spouse/partner relationship. I certainly don’t believe that it is solely the wife’s job to be the biblical helpmeet of the husband; it’s the job of both people to help, support, sustain, and love each other.”
A Single Lady: (and one of my favorite responses)
“the meaning of wife – at first i was going to say ‘yech’, but decided against it because marriage, in general, is a really special commitment and relationship between two people. i’m not against marriage, but i’ve grown up generally against “wife” because of what it meant to the women around me – 2nd best. 2nd smartest, 2nd strongest, 2nd funniest, 2nd breadwinner, except for cleaning, cooking, and emotion, 3 things i happen to not enjoy.
i was thinking about redefining “wife”, but i don’t even want to spend time on thinking about its definition. if i marry someone, i will be someone’s wife. however, i don’t need a role to fill, i am already a full person in the role of myself. so all i will need to focus on is living life with someone else. and that sounds kind of wonderful.”
I loved hearing people I know sit down and explain their views on what it is to be a wife. The fascination never ceases– because, more than anything, I found myself challenged to define and explain my own views about a position, a role, that I always thought I would one day fulfill. What did I want out of it after all?
What do you think about the meaning of wife?