May I Introduce: My Life Stage Companion… (?!)

Germans, on the whole, say it how it is. Feel free to ask them any kind of question, but be prepared… they will serve it up to you, that answer, straight, raw and brutal.

German thinking is analytical and methodical, and the language reflects this, at the expense of sugar coating. Last week, we had a lively discussion on Duolingo, a free language learning site, about how best to introduce your significant other to a third party.

Generally – and this issue exists in English as well as in German – once you’re well into adulthood, referring to somebody you’re in a long-term relation ship with as your “boyfriend/girlfriend” has a rather juvenile ring to it. And if you’re not married, you can’t resort to the convenient husband/wife label.

Well, just like in English, it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to your other half as your “Partner”, or your “Lebensgefährte”. The latter, literally translated, means “life companion”. “Lebenspartner” is also a common term.

You’d think this was pretty much the end of the story, but German, in its relentless quest for precision, wasn’t quite satisfied with this. After all, modern relationship patterns take many forms, and it is quite common for people of all ages to periodically change their partners.

And so, German, with its great propensity to forge new words the length of the Great Wall of China in order to achieve accuracy, came up with this beauty of a compound noun: “Lebensabschnittsgefährte.”

Now, we already know that the first part of this means “life” and the last part “companion”. The interesting component is the bit wedged in between, namely “abschnitt”, which signifies “segment” or “stage”.

GrtWallChinaWhen I left Germany in 1991, this whopper of a word had not yet infiltrated common usage, and so I had to check with a friend whether, perhaps, it was chiefly used to refer to a past partner one had spent a significant chunk of one’s life with. I mean, “life stage partner” sounds so much less flippant and dismissive than “the ex”, doesn’t it?

But no. It is actually deployed to introduce one’s current consort: “Hi, this is Bobbins, my life stage companion”.

And you are meant to say this while your beloved is standing right next to you.

I must admit, I do, in theory, quite like the life-stage-partner concept. As we grow and develop, our outlook on life and our interests change, and, as I’m sure most of you would agree, we’d rather be with a person who encourages us in our current endeavours (and vice versa), rather than feeling perpetually stifled by having to accommodate someone who’s no longer on the same page as us. In reality, though, I’m not sure I’d actually be all that thrilled to be officially designated “temporary partner” status, regardless of how either one of us happened to perceive the relationship.

I’d love to have some input on this… is there an equivalent term for “life stage companion” in your language(s)?

Also, since I haven’t lived in Germany for quite some time, I’ve not really heard this word being flung about a real life context. If you happen to reside there, do you know people who use it and how does this tend to go down…?

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

 

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54 thoughts on “May I Introduce: My Life Stage Companion… (?!)

  1. Every Day Adventures in Asia

    My life stage partner and I are most amused by this post!

    Alas don’t think there is an equivalent of “life partner” in Hindi – at least none that anyone uses. The challenge of having the choice of single or married status… We openly use “Partner” or “Happily living in sin.” Works for us! 🙂

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  2. pollyheath

    So interesting but so clinical sounding to an English ear!

    I asked the Russian what the equivalent would be and he couldn’t come up with anything beyond “супруга” which is just spouse or partner. Guess it’s just too far out of the realm of possibility for Russians?

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      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Sounds like a conspiracy… you’re one of the few Russians I know who doesn’t have an ex-husband/wife. Unless, of course, you’re just not talking about him 😉

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      2. Anna

        LOL plenty of ex-boyfriends (one tinkers with my blog from time to time when I get tech-dumb, one made an appearance in H&A archives, and yet another lets me borrow his car in secret from HIS current life companion, so that I can go dacha-scouting), but nope, I’ve never been matrimonialized!

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      3. Anna

        It’s not funny – I tell my mom to not wear perfume when we go on those country drives, lest the car smells like it (mother LOVES perfume). The woman once found a Facebook picture of us in Prague from 3 years prior (and 2.5 before they met) and almost broke up with him.

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  3. Alynia

    Well, we Dutch are seen as even more direct (only not as efficient) as the German, and our languages are very similar, but we have not such a word, although I would not be surprised either when someone would introduce their current partner with ‘levensdeelgezel’ 😛

    I often struggled with this in English though. When I talk about ‘mijn vriend’ or ‘my friend’ in Dutch, it already has the intonation of life partner, opposed to ‘een van mijn vrienden’ or ‘one of my friends’. Somehow we Dutch assume a standard of having more than one friend, and only one Friend, unless specified otherwise 😉

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      The same issue in German – we also say “mein Freund” for boyfriend and “ein Freund von mir” for a male friend. Though “mein Freund” is ambiguous on occasions, and that ambiguity can be exploited at times 😉
      Thanks for chipping in!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Well, it’s probably not the most romantic term to label your partner with… I’m just about the most unromantic person alive, but I’d still be reluctant to use that term myself.

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  4. Lynda

    I’ve heard ‘significant other’ and ‘main squeeze’, the latter makes me cringe.

    For me, once I got out of my youth and the use of ‘boyfriend’, I was happy to stick with husband. 😉 We’ve been married for almost 34 years and I can’t even fathom the idea of dating again. After all these years we are so much the same, yet with just enough difference to keep it interesting, that the thought of all the games dating entails just makes me weak in the knees. When he is gone (forbid the thought!) I guess I will continue my journey solo.

    I suppose this is not what you were aiming for, but your post made me stop and think, and that is a good thing.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Today I came across the expression “main squeeze” for the first time when looking at synonyms, it made me chuckle. I’d never heard that before.
      Good to hear that it’s working well for some 🙂 (The relationship thing, not the ‘squeeze’)
      Thanks for your contrib!

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  5. Zyriacus

    Maybe I am too old or too monogame, but I never could bring myself around to take the term “Lebensabschnittsgefährte” as serious. As far as I encountered it, it was always uttered a bit with tongue in cheek. In serious context also in Germany there is no emphasis laid on the duration of the alliance. Instead one talks about “mein Mann/meine Frau” even if one is not officially married even if the partner is of the same sex. After all, law in Germany is way more liberal as partnerships go than most other western countries. At the moment the issue here is about to allow homosexual partners to adopt children.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      With regards to homosexual partnerships, it’s pretty much the same in the UK and Spain. On the adoption issue, the Spanish catholic church, though, is vehemently in contra, as one would expect…
      Thanks for your take on things, always highly appreciated 🙂

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  6. bevchen

    I have heard OF the word, but never heard anyone actually use it. Everyone I know just talks about their “Freund/Freundin”. Calling Jan my boyfriend makes me feel juvenile but I don’t know what else to say. It feels weird introducing him as my “partner”, especially since I don’t know how committed he is to our relationship… partner, to me, seems permanent. A girlfriend can be got rid of at any time…

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I think bf/gf is still kinda OK in your thirties, but in your 40s/50s and beyond (unless it’s someone you’ve just started going out with), it becomes a bit awkward. Not impossible, though. In English, there’s lady/gentleman friend, I suppose

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  7. Anna

    I think I just fell in love with the German language. The control freak in me is seeing rainbows and butterflies! Russian totally sucks with companionship terms, especially as people often see no problem signing marriage papers after ‘dating’ for a few months, so you go from friends to ‘spouses’ in a blink of an eye. And there’s no need for a term for an ‘ex’ – once you’ve broken up, it’s like the person never existed in your life in the first place! I think I can still get away with ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ for a few years, but I really like ‘partner.’

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  8. linnetmoss

    I suppose it would offend polite company to say “my lover,” which I like because it works for all genders! I also like “my Man” and “my Woman,” though of course these terms sound politically incorrect. The ancient Greeks used “man” and “woman” as synonyms for husband and wife, but these terms were also conveniently non-specific as to exact marital status (of which there was more than one variety).

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Well, in German, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ still ARE synonymous for husband and wife. But you wouldn’t join them with a possessive pronoun, unless they really were your spouse.

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      1. linnetmoss

        Yes! It’s interesting that in German it’s normal to refer to one’s wife by saying “this is my woman,” but in English it has a different connotation. Whereas “this is my man” would not sound so bad, maybe just a little odd. Some male English speakers use that phrase to introduce male friends, similar to “my mate,” which takes us full circle back to spouses! How about the Biblical “helpmeet,” modernized to describe either a male or female partner? I like it!

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Yes, ‘my mate’ is used all the time in the UK to mean ‘my pal’, which is paradoxical, when you stop to think about it.
        “Helpmeet you lazy bastard!” – I think that’s already in popular use in the UK, lol.

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  9. barbedwords

    ‘Other half’ is quite popular in the UK or ‘Better half’ (usually the man says this about the woman if he knows what’s good for him!) It’s almost worth getting married just to make this complicated issue disappear 😉

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  10. camparigirl

    Trust the Germans to be so precise! In Italian, we often used the word compagno/a, i.e. companion. Not terribly romantic but you can read temporary status in it and it does encompass along for the ride.

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  11. Expat Eye

    In Latvian, draugs is boyfriend – which is also the word for friend. Girlfriend is draudzene. There are words for husband and wife – ex is bijusi – was-husband 😉

    If Anna’s ex’s missus starts bush-jumping, she’s in trouble 😉

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  12. Passing by

    I was on duolingo reading some post and this is the second time I was referred to this blog (Fräulein was the first one). I have spent some time reading some entries and I enjoyed myself. You are undoubtedly a good writer. Obviously, since I am on my german quest I was specially interested in the german-language articles. Yet allow me to say that I like reading your posts.
    Keep on writing!

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      1. Suggestion for a post?

        Thank you very much.
        Since you are interesting in food, you have German roots and you live in Spain I would like to ask you something. I had been trying to eat some German sausages with the famous sweet mustard. I believe I can find a sausage that could be like the Weisswurst, but what about the mustard? Have you seen any supermarket in Spain where this mustard is available? I had been looking for some german brands in the local supermarkets but I was not lucky. Would any sweet mustard do the trick?

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Hi there! I’ve not seen sweet mustard here, but I live in a town which doesn’t have any really good supermarkets. I think you’d be able to find it in Madrid or Barcelona for sure.
        I wrote a post on mustard a while ago, mentioning my favourite brand:
        https://ladyofthecakes.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/who-eats-the-most-mayonnaise-ketchup-mustard/
        Good luck with your mustard search! And if you find some, let me know…
        ¿Dónde estás…?

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  13. Jackie Cangro

    I’m a little late to this post, but I had to comment because I just got a Christmas card from someone who doesn’t want to use the term “boyfriend” so she calls him her “gentleman friend.” Maybe she feels the word “boy” is silly for a man who is 48 years old.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yes, a lot of people do that… Incidentally, in Spain, “mi/su chico” (lit. “my/her/his boy”) seems to be used at all ages to describe one’s other half (if not married to them). I keep correcting people whenever they say “my/her/his boy” in English, unless they are referring to their sons, but it’s a losing battle 😉

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I made the stupid owl cry again this morning. Pronouns are the pits!
      Not going well. But I shall persevere. I’ll be in Lisbon in a week, but I already know that I’ll be too frightened to practice out in the wild.

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