Marital Codes or Why We Don’t Have Many Friends

The Boffin and I will be celebrating our 15th anniversary on December 28th. And I realize, like many couples who have been together a long time, we have come up with our own code words and phrases that make sense to us but classify us as weirdos to the general public. I thought I would share a few in the spirit of making us just a little more understandable.

Lord Lucan 1 – “Lord Lucan” has become a long lost object: the forgotten leftover in the back of the fridge, the screwdriver that had been misplaced, that important piece of paperwork that was needed a month ago, etc. You get the idea. “I’ve found Lord Lucan!” is the tip-off sentence.

John Mills 2 – The ideal of masculinity that I jokingly thrust upon the Boffin.  I even have John Mills’s picture as the avatar for the Boffin’s contact info on my phone.

John Major voice – The Boffin is good at the former prime minister’s voice and characterizing this person. It is the voice of the overly educated, pedantic Englishman who complains about the most nitnoid things. (I don’t want to hear a word from the Boffin’s family.) It is the voice of the worst letters sent to Points of View. It is the person pointing out the blatantly obvious who is taking everything literally. The Boffin just wrote this letter as an example.

Dear Sir,

After 15 years of almost daily use, my Worthington Bishop 12oz teapot recently met with an untimely accident.  As a result, I found to necessary to procure a new teapot.  However, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the Worthington Bishop no longer is made in the 12oz size, and I was therefore reluctantly force to buy the Worthington Bishop 16oz pot.  However, I have discovered that because I only fill the pot with 12oz of water. In order to compensate for the additional evaporative cooling resulting from the larger headspace, I have had to raise my house’s thermostat by 0.1°C (not an easy feat as it generally increments by only 1°C).  Assuming that this pot also lasts me 15 years, and similar issues are happening in every household in the United Kingdom, I have estimated that this will force us as a nation to consume the same amount of energy as Huddersfield consumes in about 1 minute and 23.2 seconds.

In keeping with the Government’s environmental policies, I suggest that you reintroduce the Worthington Bishop 12oz pot and, perhaps, bring out it’s Eco-qualities in your marketing campaign.

Yours Sincerely

Mr Herbert Q. Pedant

George and Mildred 3 – The elderly couple cruising at 20 mph in front of us.

Tom and Barbara 4 – Whenever The Boffin and I are in a gardening or, more likely, in an us-against-the world mode.

Woody and Tinny Words – Woody words are pleasant sounding words. Tinny words are harsh sounding ones.  Thank Monty Python for this one.

“My Hovercraft is Full of Eels” – Our response to a nonsensical statement. Of course, we have to attribute this to Monty Python too.

I like cheese. – Code for “My brain hurts. Let’s talk about nice things.”  Sylvester and co. are our friends.

PEOPLE! AAAAH! – Quoting Gossamer from the Bugs Bunny cartoon. Our “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” exclamation.

So, do you and your partner have any odd phrases you want to share?

1. To make a long story short, John Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan disappeared in 1974 disappeared upon having a warrant for his arrest for the murder of his children’s nanny and the assault of his wife. To those in America, chances are, you haven’t heard of him. He was quite an interesting character to say the least.

2. If anyone has heard of Sir John Mills in the U.S., it is usually either as Hayley’s dad or the father from Swiss Family Robinson. Meanwhile, from the 1940s to the early 1960s, he pretty much epitomized English film masculinity: stiff upper lip, courage under fire, wry humor, knowing when to break the rules and when to conform. The running joke is that nobody has seen the beginning of Ice Cold in Alex in years because they happen to catch it while channel flipping and remain stuck watching it until the end. Sir John Mills never mattered to me until I met the Boffin.

3. George and Mildred was a spinoff sitcom of Man about the House. It was the equivalent of The Ropers being the spinoff of Three’s Company.

4. From the sitcom The Good Life or Good Neighbors, depending on where you live. Tom and Barbara Good, played by Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall respectively, were a couple living in the London suburbs who decided to become self-sufficient by growing their own food, raising livestock, and bartering to meet their needs.  The disconnect between the two worlds made for some classic comic moments.

Things Not to Say to a Partner of a Widow or Widower

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Big reveal time: The Boffin was a widower at the time I met him. His late wife passed away of what looked like a pulmonary embolism when she was 29.  I came along as a young divorcée when the Boffin was still fairly fresh in his grief.  To get where we are today took a lot of love, hard work, perseverance, and cups of tea.  It also took the love and openness of the Boffin’s late wife’s family who accepted me as one of their own.  It hasn’t been easy, but it has all been worth it.

When I tell people this part about us, it is obvious how uncomfortable they become. The looking away.  The shifting in their seats.  Nobody knows what to say. Nobody wants to acknowledge that people can die, especially young and unexpectedly. And here we are as living proof that not only can people die young and unexpectedly, but people can fall in love and be happy again, only in a different way. The Boffin has never stopped loving his late wife, but that does not mean there was no room for me.  It really goes against the whole One True Love idea that is heavily promoted in society.

I completely understand people’s unease. Death is hard to face.  Naturally, you want to say something, but many times the most awkward, but well-meaning thing comes out.  It intends to express sympathy for the bereaved, but it really negates the partner.  Let me show you by giving examples that I (and others) have heard.

“That poor man/woman” – Yes, the widow/widower went through a period of bereavement, but he or she found happiness and love again.  Happiness and love with someone like me.  Poor thing.  Hope lives.  Focus on the positive, please.

“He or She’s waiting for him/her in Heaven.” – This can go a couple of ways.  If you don’t subscribe to a faith that believes in Heaven or subscribe to a faith at all, this statement is rather pointless.  And if you do, I am sure you are relishing going to Heaven to share your spouse with someone else.  It’s just like Sister Wives for eternity.  Yay.  “Just give him back when the snooker is done, Darlene.”

“At least you don’t have to deal with an ex-wife or ex-husband.” – No, you don’t, but you have to deal with memories and ghosts.  Because people have a tendency to put halos around the dead.  Flaws are overlooked.  Sins are forgiven.  The ugly parts of them are rationalized away.  The Boffin and his late wife’s family do not do this, so this is not my particular problem.  However, many partners live in the shadows of saints and have a hard time measuring up to perfection.  And if the problem does not come from the widow or the widower, it can come from dealing with the friends and family who thought the deceased walked on water.

“He or she would have approved of you.” – This person obviously knew the deceased so well that he or she can speak on the deceased’s behalf.  Well, that is presumptuous.  Anyway, if the deceased were around, the spouse would not be with anybody else.  And nobody susses out backup partners, in case of emergencies, and passes this information on to the besties.  “Hey, Mildred, in case I die, give my nod of approval to someone with a professional degree who is good to the kids and likes Marvel movies.”

“It is so sad that the kids will never know their ‘real’ mother/father.” – Here is the first thing I would ask.  Would you find this an acceptable statement to say to an adoptive mother/father?  No?  Then, why would this be OK to say to a woman/man who is taking on that same role?  Once again, focus on the positive.  Here is person who is becoming a parent to someone else’s children and taking on all the responsibilities and struggles that come with it because of love and commitment.  This is not for the faint of heart by any means.  The family needs support and encouragement, not hand wringing.

“It’s great that he or she isn’t lonely anymore.” or “It’s great that he has you for company.” – These ones are the most insulting of all.  You, the partner, are basically there to provide companionship to the widow or widower like a kitten.  The True Love died.  It is even worse if you are married the former widow or widower because the vows both of you took are treated as secondary.  My name is Karen, and I am not a consolation prize.  I am the Boffin’s wife in every sense of the word.

If there is a way I can summarize my post is that I want people to affirm life when I tell our story.  The point is not about loss.  It is about recovery.  Grief does not leave you the same, but it does not have to leave you miserable.  The Boffin was able to have his dream of a wife and a family again.  It may not have been the original plan, but it still happened.

Just saying how great it is that you managed to find each other and create a good life together is the best statement you can make.

“I Just Love Your Accent!”

The Boffin hears this quite a bit, being the British part of This British-American Life. It’s mostly from women and non-American men. It conjures visions of tea and crumpets, Downton Abbey, high class, elegance, and intelligence. Huzzah! I know this because I would be saying the same thing had I not lived in Old Blighty myself.

When I was living in England and travelled around the rest of the UK, when I opened my mouth and people figured out I was American, many said complimentary things to me. They talked about the vacations they had, their American friends and relatives, and the things they liked about my culture. Some even dreamed about emigrating to the States. However, not one person said a thing about my accent. Fair enough. I grew up in a town sandwiched between Philadelphia and New York. People from my area don’t speak so much as honk. I am also sure many Britons wanted me to come with volume and mute buttons, but that is a separate post entirely.

Back to the Boffin and his tendency to make drive-thru workers swoon just by saying, “May I have large Diet Coke, please?”. Of course, what these people don’t see is that he is a human being, not a fictional character. He is an engineer who exhibits some of the stereotypes associated with those within that profession.

His default attitude toward his personal appearance is, “I don’t have to look at me.” But since he is a loving, caring husband, he will fix any issues that bother me in a timely fashion. (“You have yak breath.” “I love you too. I’ll go brush.”)

This is the guy who came home to tell me the following:

“The Bing Maps camera van was out while I was driving home, and I think they caught me with my finger in my nose.”

Needless to say (but I will say it anyway), he is an endless source of entertainment and makes me laugh every day.

The Boffin has basically turned our backyard into a fruit and vegetable farm with the use of spreadsheets, higher level maths, and automated irrigation systems. Even though this is a massive project that is mostly his own, he has never railroaded me and includes me in every major decision all along the way because we are equals in our marriage.  And we love each other to bits.

This is not Fitzwilliam Darcy, nor do I want him to be.

In other words, I don’t have a gentleman. I have a gentle man, which is even better.