Question: I’ve been in a relationship and living with my girlfriend for 18 months now. This is the second year my parents haven’t addressed their holiday card to the two of us — even though they include my brother’s wife and my sister’s husband on each of theirs. I don’t want to make for any more Yuletide drama than necessary, but what is the best way to tell them I feel slighted and to get them to include her?
Answer: Let’s start on the high road, which is always the best place to be. I trust that when you’ve sent them birthday or holiday cards, you’ve signed them from both of you (“Love, Margaret & Pam”) and that your return address (whether hand-written or one of those pre-printed labels) says something like, “Spaulding-Rich,” “Margaret & Pam” or some other variation that is both easy to copy and makes clear that you are a couple. If you haven’t, please start there.
I’ve found that folks of a different generation sometimes get all twitchy when they don’t know how to address an envelope to a same-sex couple. Simply speaking, the fear of making a faux pas leads to paralysis.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, and assuming they simply don’t know how to address a card to both of you, here are the rules (and you have my permission to send it on to them): Treat co-habitating committed couples as you would a married one, which is to say address the envelope like this:
Margaret Spaulding and Pam Rich [different last names]
Margaret and Pam Rich [if you’ve taken one last name]
Ms. Margaret Spaulding and Ms. Pamela Rich
Ms. and Ms. Pamela Rich [yes, this is very hetero traditional]
[The use of the ”and” signifies your union, whether legal or not.]
By the way, if one of you has a higher title — say “Dr.” — that person’s name comes first. Otherwise, there’s no rule as to whose name comes first although many couples choose to go in alpha order, whether that means alphabetical or alpha dog to them.
Inside the card, of course, family would always be informal: Dear Margie and Pam.
Now that we’ve gotten Manners 101 out of the way, let’s assume you’re already signing cards from both of you and return-addressing your envelopes as a couple, and you’ve already hemmed, hawed, and hinted to your folk… but your sweetie is still persona non grata on cards and invitations. You could just wait it out — even the most stubborn of parents will “get it” by the time you’ve been together a decade or more — or you could move on to Advanced Manners, which means talking to your folks, explaining both the faux pas and the fix it for this situation. What you want to do is make clear that “addressing you as a couple is about respecting you as a family.” One you’ve said that, how could they possibly get it wrong again?
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at www.gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.