margaretWe have all heard that men are from Mars, women are from Venus. In fact, author John Gray wrote an entire book entitled just that, waxing eloquent on exactly how different we really are and how our differences cause us the same problems over and over again. All of us have experienced Mars-Venus at some points in our lives — probably at many points, and here is a real whopper.

Writing for the Washington Post, columnist Kathleen Parker weighed in on the mess at Fox News created when a blond, good-looking — aren’t they all? — former anchorwoman sued Fox founder Roger Ailes for sexual harassment. That broke the floodgates and other accusers poured out with lurid tales involving garter belts and kneeling promises to “obey.” Unsavory as all that is, the plot got convoluted in the extreme when it was revealed that some of the accusers had stayed at the Ailes-run Fox and advanced in their careers after receiving payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and at least one of several million.

Such money ups the “ick” factor of this mess considerably. It also prompts Parker, considered a conservative columnist, to pose hard questions. 

“What is sexual harassment?”

“When is a woman a victim and when is she a participant?”

“Is a woman still a heroine if she speaks up only after she has tolerated it and professionally benefited while others were being targeted?”

The upshot of all this is that Ailes has left Fox amid reports of a golden parachute of up to $40 million, but the debate rages on.

Hardcore defenders of victims of sexual harassment might argue that women stay in their jobs because they must to support themselves and their families. Parker takes a harder line, saying “Rallying to any and all women who claim victimhood, even in cases of complicity, damages the cause and credibility of those who are targeted for abuse … Nothing, neither money nor career, is worth surrendering your dignity and self-worth, both of which will be questioned when you call quits on a game you agreed to play.”

Both positions have merit and adherents, but truth is almost always complicated and sometimes known only to the individuals involved. It does not help either that the perpetrator of whatever did happen has apparently been handsomely rewarded.

On a less weighty, but nonetheless awkward matter, how should we describe ourselves in today’s complex romantic relationships?

When we were teenagers or 20-somethings, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” seemed just right to describe the objects of our affections. For many of us, our boyfriend or girlfriend has become our husband or wife. If somehow they did not, though, these words seem increasingly less appropriate, especially if our current love interests have white hair and worry about their Medicare coverage. 

The Huffington Post recently took a crack at how to describe our special someones as we mature. Somehow “man friend” and “woman friend” do not quite sound right. Nor does “fiancé,” which is preferred by a Social Security-eligible couple I know who has lived together for about 15 years with no wedding date in sight. Other options miss the mark as well. Some committed but unmarried couples fudge a bit and call their partners “spouses,” but that is not quite true. “Lover” is a tad too intimate, and “partner” has left more than one new acquaintance thinking the couple was in business together. I am not crazy about “significant other” either, but it does describe the situation for unmarried people in committed relationships. 

All of which reminded me of my favorite acronym of all time, one coined by none other than the U.S. Census Bureau in the late 1970s when Americans’ personal relationships were becoming more convoluted.

“POSSLQ” (pos-ul-Q) refers to a “person of opposite sex sharing living quarters.” It does not cover every situation, but it covers a lot, and pundits loved it. CBS News’ clever Charles Osgood memorialized the term with this:

“There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do

If you would be my POSSLQ

You live with me and I with you.

And you will be my POSSLQ.

I’ll be your friend and so much more:

That’s what a POSSLQ is for.”

Elliot Sperber, the cryptogram writer for the Hartford Courant outdid even Osgood with this simple ditty. No one ever asked me this question, but I bet plenty of people did use it with their sweeties.

“Roses are Red,

Violets are Blue,

Won’t you be my POSSLQ?”

In our complicated and churning world, you gotta love it!

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