You know the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie turns 30? She’s sent a flyer about a dating service and realizes she has made her way into a new box? I often think of that moment as I reach milestone birthdays. But the last year or so I’ve noticed another box issue. And maybe it isn’t the lack of box options, but lack of what to label them.
When you aren’t married, but don’t consider yourself single, when you live with your partner, and have for some time, what are you? I’ve often wondered if there is another word to use at some point in place of boyfriend, or some other word to categorize the relationship. I actually like how on Facebook, in using, “in a relationship”.
But while filing out paperwork at a new job almost a year ago, for taxes, emergency contacts, life insurance benefits, health insurance and all the other forms that get thrust in front of you when starting a job, I noticed something. Single means one thing to employers and the government, and has a rather different meaning with friends and family (to an extent). There is no option on tax forms for “in a relationship” or “it’s complicated”. (The DMV is also not a fan of these options.)
To the federal government both my boyfriend and I are single and heads of households. The only problem is we’re in the same household. In 2007 the U.S. Census Bureau found unmarried Americans head more than 51 million households. In 2005 unmarried households became the majority of all households in the United States. I can’t help it though – how many are actually individual households? According to the federal government – my little apartment has two heads of household. Or is it two households?
A couple years ago we had a very confusing conversation with a rental car company who needed to us to check the box that best described our relationship if both of us would be allowed to drive the car. None of the options were quite the right fit, and we wound up picking the one that would get us the car the quickest. I believe we chose domestic partners/roommates, which is a pretty good description.
In a previous job, my primary emergency contact had to be a spouse or family member. A drop down list of options came with only a few options. Boyfriend was not an option. Neither was roommate. I listed my mother, who lived about 700 miles away. After making the selection and entering in her contact information, I was prompted to enter someone local. My response to the software was “but you just said it had to be a family member!”
As I get ready to file my taxes – something I actually look forward to in the high hopes of a large return, I can’t help but wonder – will they ever change the form to account for what American households and families actually look like now? Where is my box? And why does the government care as much as my grandmother, whether or not I’m married?