Well, it's happened again. The first time was a few months ago when I was speaking to a rental car agent. "Will my partner be able to drive on my policy?" I inquired. "Is she licensed?, he asked. "He is, but not in this state" I corrected, and we went about our discussion.

"I'd like to make reservations for my partner and myself, " I said on the phone a few weeks ago. "And her name is....?" asked the reservationist, Hmmmm, said I to myself. Maybe this automatic assumption is just a product of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, heart of political correctness.

This morning, on the phone with a New York producer of a prospective television show I asked "Will my partner be involved in any way?" "Only if she wants to be," was his response.

Well damn. When did the gender neutral term of "partner" become universal code for "same sex partner"? The same time the polite response to "Thank You" ceased being "You're welcome" and became "No problem"?

Perhaps it's a generational thing. My daughter, in her early 40's, insists anyone will assume that if I say "my partner" I mean my same sex partner and if I want to avoid that assumption I should say "my boyfriend." At my age? The last time I thought of the male in my life as a boyfriend was in junior high school. "My lover" brings to mind lascivious twining of naked limbs, not at all the image I want conjured when conducting a polite conversation. "My significant other" sounds too sociological, "my special friend" too coy, my "companion" sounds like a paid position and "my mate" smacks of Tarzan and Jane. Then what is an adult to call another adult who shares her bed and her life and is not a legally wedded spouse? Certainly not "my housemate".

I thought "partner" was an excellent choice of terminology, and I did give it a great deal of thought. If there was any confusion as to the possibility that this might mean a business partner rather than a life partner, context usually clarified that confusion. Psychotherapists or writers don't usually have partners in their business in any case.

I don't mind the assumption that I'm gay. As they used to say on The Seinfeld Show "not that there's nothing wrong with that." I find it in no way insulting, just inaccurate. I feel the same way about assumtions when I am addressed as "Mrs. Alman" just because I am an older woman. The term "Ms" is supposed to cover all females of any age and marital status. Unfortunately, it is not in as popular usage as one would hope.

Silly me, I also assumed that the term "partner" would convey a person of either sex who is a significant person in my life, not be politically correct code for the female significant person in my life.

I do not choose to announce either my marital status or the sex of anyone sharing my bed unless I specifically choose to. What has happened to privacy?

So, Mister or Ms. Heterosexually Partnered Reader, how do you refer to your sweetheart when "sweetie" just isn't appropriate? I, Ms. Alman, am eager to know and so is my partner.

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