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Greeting Card Language Keeps In Tune To Times Writers Strive To Tactfully Address Variety Of Complicated Relationships

Back when the typical U.S. family consisted of a mother and father and two, three or four children, it was easy to find the right Christmas cards for relatives. But now our lives aren’t so cut and dried. So how do you find one card for your son and the woman he’s lived with for years?

Or for your mother and her new husband, who hates being called a step-father? Or for your significant other, when you’re in your 50s and think the word “boyfriend” is for teens?

There’s always the generic card “for someone special.” But many people want a sentiment that’s more specific, more personal.

“Our language hasn’t caught up (with the changes), and neither has our mental acceptance in a way,” said Rachel Bolton, a spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards.

So the greeting card industry, struggling like the rest of us to find the right words to describe our changing relationships, has come up with some possibilities. This Christmas, more so than in past years, consumers will find cards aimed at long-term live-ins and blended and broken families.

One of the biggest problems consumers have had is finding a card for couples in committed relationships who live together but aren’t married. The problem is there’s no real name for them.

Years ago, there were jokes about “POSSLQ” people of opposite sexes sharing living quarters - and there’s the stilted “significant other” that no one really seems comfortable with. Many people fall back on “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” but often a little squeamishly, as if that’s something only kids do.

Now there are cards that begin “for the one I love so much,” intended for people living together and for married couples, said Chris Riddle, a program director for Christmas cards at American Greetings Inc.

Such cards often “use words like ‘relationship,’ ‘companion’ and ‘partner,’ phrases implying a long-term relationship,” he said. So does a sentiment like “I love sharing my life with you because every day brings us even closer.”

Couples living together might also find “sweetheart” and “honey” cards that apply to them.

Then there’s the problem of finding cards for live-ins from friends and relatives who don’t want to use the nebulous “for a special couple.”

This year, Hallmark came up with cards with more specific greetings like “for a special son and his girlfriend” and “For a special sister and her boyfriend” to bridge the gap, said Nancy Cox, a Hallmark editor.

Actually, the idea for the cards isn’t new, but acceptance of and demand for them is.

“We offered these cards at least five years ago” but they didn’t sell, Ms. Cox said. But since then, consumers started asking card retailers and the company itself for cards that better express their changing families and lives.

Card writers have had to find tactful ways to deal with divorce and remarriage, which tend to cause problems more during Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but which also complicate Christmas. In a reconfigured family, what if your parent’s spouse hates being called a stepmother or stepfather?

One solution is a card that says, “you’re like a mother to me,” or that is addressed to “Dad and his wife” or “Mother and her husband.”

Tags: business