The day after my wedding, I turned to my partner of many years and, for the first time, called him “husband.” I was thrilled.
Sure, it was a sign of our commitment and the deeper love and comfort that comes with marriage. But mostly I was happy I never had to utter the word “fiancé” ever again.
Why I hate it: It sounds silly, feels pompous and even precious. It’s the verbal equivalent of wearing a monocle, or using an encyclopedia when Wikipedia is at your fingertips. During my yearlong engagement, I never managed to say the word without feeling, somehow, like a jerk.
And I am not alone. As the very definition of marriage changes in this country, couples both straight and same-sex are toying with its terminology, opting, for instance, to supplant gendered terms like husband and wife for “partner.” So it’s no surprise that fiancé (or fiancée) is facing a similar fate.
“It wasn’t a planned decision or anything,” said Kurt Soller, a 30-year-old editor at Bon Appétit, about his not using “fiancé” after he got engaged last winter. “But like a lot of wedding customs, it just ended up feeling too hetero for two dudes to adopt just because it was tradition.”
A BuzzFeed article from last August reflected a certain point of view with its headline (“The Word ‘Fiancé’ Is the Worst and Must Be Stopped”), and an accompanying survey showed that the majority of respondents preferred “partner.” A personal essay in Refinery29 (“No, He’s NOT My ‘Fiancé”) made a similar point.
“I feel pretentious saying it,” said Broidy Eckhardt, 29, a buyer for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts who married last month. During her engagement, she just referred to her future husband by his given name or called him her boyfriend.”
Cassia Skurecki, a photo producer, 29, who got engaged at the end of 2015, said the word fiancé “is kind of like when you go into a restaurant and can’t quite pronounce something on the menu. It’s awkward and foreign and you always hesitate to say it with fear of sounding like you are trying too hard to make sure it sounds authentic.”
Mr. Soller said that calling his partner his fiancé “feels like too much information, or just plain brag-y, as if I need folks to know that we’re a couple and that we’re getting married within five minutes of meeting them.”
The thing many hate most about using the word is the way it invites unwanted questions like, “When’s the wedding?” and “How’d he propose?” Discussing this with a stranger at a party is at once uncomfortable and uninteresting. Doing it 10 times in one night is excruciating.
Lauren Kay, the senior style editor at the wedding magazine The Knot, said the distaste for “fiancé” among millennials is in line with a larger matrimonial trend.
“I think this generation as a whole is less concerned with labels,” she said. “Millennials are getting married later in life, and many are cohabitating before saying ‘I do.’ As a result, I think the change from boyfriend or girlfriend to fiancé doesn’t feel like a huge shift, despite the intended commitment.”
So if not fiancé, then what should one call one’s betrothed? John H. McWhorter, who teaches linguistics at Columbia University, suggested: nothing at all.
“To the extent that people are thinking ‘fiancé’ is a little twee, the new way of saying may not involve a word at all,” Dr. McWhorter said. “One can demote something to mere description rather than labeling.”
For instance, he said, you might introduce your future spouse as your girlfriend, partner or boyfriend and offer up the tidbit that you’re getting married soon.
The good news is that this problem of semantics is a temporary one. Once you get to “husband” or “wife,” your relationship is already old news. No one asks to see the ring or wonders how you met, supposing, rightfully, that you’ve moved on to more mundane matters.