When you get to be a thirty-something year-old in New York, or any big city really, your wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend likely goes away without you. I think the commonly used term for this state is being a “bachelor” or some derivation of being single. However, that’s not an accurate term since it implies that you’re newly single not that you’re without your partner for a temporary period of time. There has to be a better term.
A few weeks ago in my silent film class, I screened a series of European films. One of the films featured the pioneering French silent comedian Max Linder. The film was called Troubles of a Grasswidower (1908). In the film, Linder’s character’s wife leaves for a bit. (“I’m going home to mother”) The comedy is a pretty standard formula for a time when gender roles were quite strictly defined, not unlike Mr. Mom (1983) where household chores are challenging. In Troubles of a Grasswidower, Max has to maintain the home while his wife is away. He struggles with chores familiar to us, such as washing the dishes and making the bed, and other deprecated tasks, such as plucking a chicken.
While the film makes for entertaining physical comedy, I have been sharing the title with many of my friends about the common situation of being without your partner. The Oxford English Dictionary offers two definitions, although the entry indicates that the following is the more common usage:
- grass widow (n.)
- A married woman whose husband is absent from her.
As one would expect, there is the derivative of the term for men, too. What’s good for the gander is apparently good for the goose:
- grass widower (n.)
- a man living apart from his wife.
While many of us in this situation are not married, thus the term does not entirely apply to us, it is still a wonderful, antiquated term to reintroduce to contemporary usage. And when I think of bachelor, it implies you’re partying. That’s not alway the case for me. In an age when bartenders and barbers dress up like film pioneer W.K.L Dickson, you’ll forgive me for mistaking our era for the late nineteenth century.