When Dr. Darling and I first began living together, she was working on her Ph.D in a university lab with an international staff of young, hip scientists who didn’t even blink when she decided to import her American girlfriend to Sweden. We attended after-hours work functions together and frequently socialized with her various colleagues. Everybody “knew”, nobody cared, and my Swede rarely gave it a second thought.
But these days she’s in the midst of a job hunt, which involves lots of networking activities and jumping through hoops for the Swedish unemployment agency and its related program offices, all of which regularly put her in the position of meeting new people. So now, for the first time in her life, she’s having to make almost daily decisions about whether or not she wants to be “out”. (Welcome to the REAL world, Sweetie!)
Now perhaps you’re wondering, “Why would the subject of Dr. Darling’s sexual orientation even come up in those situations?” And the answer is that the specific subject doesn’t, but her living situation and civil status frequently do. Mentioning me by name…or referring to me as “she” or “her” immediately puts the gay thing on the table…which in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal. It’s the well-intentioned inquisition that inevitably follows that’s cumbersome.
“Does your family know?”
“How did your parents handle it?”
“When did you first realize you were gay?”
“Which one of you is ‘the man’?”
The list goes on and on. And while I’m generally all about the “teachable moment”, some days you’re just not in the mood to share this kind of info with strangers.
Fortunately, here in Sweden there’s a word for live-in partner that’s gender neutral (sambo … short for ‘sammanboende’) and you can avoid all kinds of questions by using it. Both Dr. Darling and I are also pretty adept at playing the pronoun game (which can be even more challenging in Swedish), because when dealing with people you don’t know well (or ever plan to), sometimes it’s just easier to let them assume that your significant other is a man.
Or in Dr. Darling‘s case … an Englishman. Not because of my rampant Anglophilia (which would be reasonable to suspect), but because lately people in the various job-seeking groups she’s interacting with want to know why she doesn’t just marry her American “boyfriend” and move to the US where biotech jobs are far more plentiful.
So rather than explaining the archaic US immigration policy that prevents same-sex partners of American citizens from obtaining legal residency (and outing herself in the process), or saying that we don’t want to get married (which is only half-true…her half, and I’m working on it), she’s started telling people that her “sambo” is from England.
This is actually a pretty easy ruse for the hyper-honest Swede to sustain since we originally met in London and I did part of my university studies there. And due to the aforementioned Anglophilia, I’ve been happy to play along .. .to the point that I’ve even given my British alter-ego the most stereotypical English gentleman’s name I could think of: Nigel.
Over the last few months I’ve added quite a bit of detail to Nigel’s personal history and attributes. For example, he’s the son of a Rhodes’ Scholar, played semi-pro polo and spent a full year sailing around the world on a tall ship.
But best of all, whenever I do something stupid or inconsiderate, I can blame it on Nigel … which has yet to actually get me off the hook but always makes Dr. Darling laugh.