Partner: Listed?

As we all know, right next to your classcard picture (mine is terrible) is that insidious little word: Partner. After that is a space for input which defaults to “None Listed”. Now, this little space, depending on where you are in your life, can seem a lot bigger than it actually is.

Let’s be honest…the first thing you do (as a single person) when you meet someone interesting of the opposite (or preferred) sex on campus is to check on their “partner” status. When you see those two words “None Listed,” what you actually think in your head is “Game on.” But, my friend, do not be so hasty. As I learned last year, many people who are involved in serious to very serious to very-very serious relationships are not providing, in business-speak, full disclosure.

Which brings me to the definition of “partner.” I took the liberty of looking this word up, and its textbook definition didn’t help me out too much. Here were three definitions:

Partúner: 1) one associated with another especially in an action; 2) either of two persons who dance together (that sounds nice); 3) one of two or more persons who play together in a game against an opposing side.

Game? That seems about right…but not entirely relevant. So, I asked around. It seems that there are a variety of “partner” camps.
Some are the conservative hardliners (tending to be good looking banker men) who proffer that “I am not putting a partner down unless I am married.” Hmmm. Then there are those who believe that the line is not as clear. Recently, this issue got personal. A good friend of mine pointed out (in a club on a Saturday night!) that I didn’t have my boyfriend listed on my classcard. I immediately took the defensive saying, “but we aren’t even engaged.” Her response was strong and full of emotion. She claimed that as a person in a serious, committed relationship, I should communicate that to the HBS community.

I wasn’t so sure. So, I brought it up with my boyfriend, who graduated last year. He, with slight indignation, said that he had already tried to put me on his alumni classcard as a “partner” (but claimed that technology hang-ups kept him from doing so). To which he also added, “I guess you just aren’t ready.” WHAT? Not ready? I am mature, in love and completely happy for everyone to know that I have a boyfriend. So, as soon as we got off the phone, I logged on to edit my classcard. And there it was: “edit partner.” I took a deep breath and typed in his name.

Flipping back to the main view…there it was: my classcard with a distinctly different look. I no longer appear to be in the leagues of the available…which to many (particularly people in my section who voted me “biggest flirt” last year) may be a surprise.

So, I think that everyone should use the “partner” space at their own preference. If you want to put “yes, please,” then do it. Or perhaps, as one esteemed humor editor recently had “I can’t be tamed,” so be it.

But, for me (cue lessons learned, a la Stan at the end of every South Park), this silly classcard has made me really think about the nature of one of the most important relationships in my life. And if “rock climbing” gets a nod on my classcard, I figure that my boyfriend should too.

-Reprinted from September 2003