Join 3,513 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


She's not my "ladyfriend".
July 15, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Isn't it odd to call someone your "girlfriend" who you wouldn't call a "girl"?

Under the influence of feminist friends I've worked to extirpate the word "girl" from my vocabulary when talking about adult women.

This leaves me feeling odd referring to someone as my "girlfriend". Or using the word to describe my friends "signifigant others," a phrase I have trouble using with a straight face. It's a problem that's newly presented itself to me--the last time I had reason to use the term regularly I was still in college and would have commonly referred to women my age as "girls". (I'm now almost 30 and she's a few years older.)

So what are my alternatives? Obviously, there's circumlocution "the woman I'm dating"; "partner," which seems to refer to a higher level of comittment; and the ridiculous and slightly creepy "ladyfriend". What am I not thinking of? Alternately, you can tell me that I should just use the word "girlfriend" without compunction.

I've seen the related but not entirely on point, "Why do straights use the word "partner"?
posted by ThisIsNotMe to Writing & Language (110 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
How about "my sweetheart"?
posted by hermitosis at 7:36 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like "special lady friend."
posted by TheBones at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's always "significant other". Which, if she's not significant, could just be shortened to "other" but I wouldn't recommend that.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:39 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Use "ladyfriend", if for no other reason than to watch their heads explode! :D

I think "girlfriend" is still the acceptable nomenclature, even from some of the hard core feminists I know, I still here them use that term.

Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. "Asian-American", please.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Or just "special lady" if you think "lady friend" is creepy.
posted by TheBones at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really like hermitosis' idea.

That said, how does your girlfriend feel about it? Would she rather you call her a girlfriend or a partner, sweetheart or significant other?

That's what's really important here. If she is fine with being called your girlfriend - then it's not an issue. She knows you're not being demeaning and I'll assume that so does the rest of the english speaking section of humanity.
posted by royalsong at 7:40 AM on July 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Does your significant other personally dislike being called your girlfriend, or are you doing this to show that you're enlightened to people who are external to the relationship? I realize that you're trying to remove problematic locutions from your vocabulary, but not all feminists necessarily object to the term girlfriend, as it really doesn't have to be inherently infantilizing.
posted by clockzero at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


In England you can say "my better half" or "the other half" to get around it, but I just accept "girlfriend" as an accepted ambiguous convention.
posted by devnull at 7:41 AM on July 15, 2011


I am a feminist. The guy I am dating and I call each other girlfriend/boyfriend with the understanding that I am not a girl and he is not a boy. Otherwise I think partner is fine if you're in a situation where you have one significant other who is your +1 for things. Or you could say +1.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Drop the puritanical viewpoint. You are lovers.
posted by JJ86 at 7:43 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Girlfriend until you qualify for AARP, at which point it becomes creepy to say girlfriend or boyfriend and non-creepy to say things like "lady friend" or "gentleman caller."

(To me, "girl" is mostly problematic referring to adult women when it's like "men over here, girls over here." As long as it's men/women and boys/girls, I don't object, and "boyfriend" is the analogue to "girlfriend" so I don't have an issue.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:43 AM on July 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


2nding "my sweetheart"

Or:
"My belle"
"My valentine"
"My paramour"
posted by mauvest at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2011


Ah, you've hit upon one of the problematic gaps in language that everyone runs into sooner or later. Yes, mature/older people don't really like referring to those they are dating as girlfriends or boyfriends — but there's not a really satisfying alternative. You can call the person your significant other or partner, though those seem a little clinical. You can call the person your "lover", but that can be TMI in many contexts ("Grandma, I'd like you to meet my lover!"). You can call her "your woman", but this tends to come across wrong unless you're talking to someone who understand it's meant with a little irony. Other terms like "main squeeze" and "my steady" seem dated and cheesy. A woman at least has the option of referring to her male counterpart as her "beau", which is quaint and cute and accurate, but there's no real correlative term for a man to use about a woman.

Girlfriend is probably your best bet, unles your SO and you decide one of the above terms is better. I do like sweetheart.
posted by orange swan at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Introduce her by name. "Hi, I'm ThisIsNotMe. And this is Jane." The fact that you're (presumably) attending [event] together and standing near each other will be enough for adults to figure out that you're together together.
posted by phunniemee at 7:45 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm thinking about switching to "this is my love", having recently learned that the utterance "this is my partner", if misunderstood, can conceivably have legal consequences. We will see what my love thinks about this plan.
posted by foursentences at 7:47 AM on July 15, 2011


Totally! In ones Mid-30s it just feels a bit weird to tell colleagues / acquaintances that say "I'm going to France with my girlfriend".

I use "Lady Friend" amongst friends as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke, as yes it sounds a bit funny.

I'm tempted to start using "Partner" but feel its leans to much toward same sex suggestion. (I'm male)

and I really hate the terms "Other Half" and "Better Half". I don't think of her as my Other Half. we are independent beings that happen to live together and are lovers.

But "Lovers" also doensn't feel very Work Safe.
posted by mary8nne at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2011


I am 46 and really too old to be someone's girlfriend. I introduce greggster as "my greggster" but just refer "my partner" when talking to someone who doesn't know us. I enjoy seeing the the wheels turning as they wonder if "partner" means a man or a woman.
posted by headnsouth at 7:49 AM on July 15, 2011


Clearly if the partner is there you can just say this is "Jane". But there are a lot of situations where you are explaining to a third party.

"Did you go with anyone to Paris?"
"Was that a Gift from someone?"
"What are you doing tonight?"

Going to dinner with ___ ...
posted by mary8nne at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2011


I think in German the distinction is made between

"this is A (eine) friend (female)" = just a friend
"this is MY (meine) friend (Female)" = your 'girlfriend'
posted by mary8nne at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alternately, you can tell me that I should just use the word "girlfriend" without compunction

I am a feminist and my skin crawls when women are referred to as "girls," but I have no problem with the word "girlfriend" in this context. Use it; I will not judge you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


The feminist world (as I've encountered it, and the portion I count myself among) knows that there really isn't a good alternative, so you're not inadvertently pissing anyone off referring to her as a "girlfriend" (except people who are just easily pissed off anyway).

It sounds weird, but it's one of those "yeah, but what can you do" kinds of things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


How does she feel about this? I ask because The Guy I Am Seeing insists on being referred to as my "man-friend," as he is uncomfortable being a boyfriend. Not because he has a problem with being called a boy, but because "boyfriend" carries a connotation of specific behavior (i.e., commitment, monogamy, mandatory family events) that he says he has no interest in taking part in. The term "boyfriend" really bothers him, so he is my "friend" or "man-friend." I'm fine with it because to me, it's a small thing and the nature of our relationship is such that I don't care what he's called, I'm just delighted that he's here.

But your lady friend may not feel the same way. If you refer to her as something else, is she going to feel like you're waffling on a commitment to being part of a couple? Will she feel like you don't want to tell people she's your girlfriend? The term does carry a specific implication of exclusivity.

Ask her. I bet she'll be touched by your concern over referring to her as a "girl."
posted by corey flood at 8:02 AM on July 15, 2011


"This is my in-house co-Feminist"
posted by Namlit at 8:03 AM on July 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


As a woman I find special lady friend, lady friend, sweetheart and lover all sound creepy and silly at the same time. Girlfriend is totally fine with me and I think with most of my friends.
posted by yfatah at 8:04 AM on July 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


I should add as a datapoint I am in my late 30's.
posted by yfatah at 8:05 AM on July 15, 2011


Lady friend is creepy? Really?

I know a lot of feminists who object to the world 'girl', but don't object to 'girlfriend', so I think you're probably fine with that. Or 'partner', but as you say it does imply a level of commitment more than dating.
posted by Jairus at 8:07 AM on July 15, 2011


I don't mind when my sweetheart (!) calls me his girlfriend (and I appreciate when he introduces me as such), but I actually dislike calling him my boyfriend. I feel like the the word diminishes what he means to me. This is a new feeling, and it's probably because I'm getting old. I call him my partner or my SO.

When we talk about our relationship, or discuss hypothetical relationship situations we usually say partner. We're in our early 30's if that helps.
posted by swingbraid at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2011


Couldn't you say "my partner, jane"? removes the same-sex ambiguity. and will work nearly 100% of the time except when you have a partner named Alex, or Madison.
posted by cusecase at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


'My mistress'.
posted by plep at 8:09 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lady friend is creepy? Really?

Lord no, it's awesome.
posted by asockpuppet at 8:12 AM on July 15, 2011


"Couldn't you say "my partner, jane"? "

This is quite common among people my age (in their 30s) where I am, but it implies live-in and long-term committed, not just dating or even just dating seriously. When someone in my circle says "partner" it implies the partner is a spouse-analogue but, for whatever reason, they haven't chosen to get married.

(I'm quite used to the term and don't find it odd at all in a heterosexual context, but it DOES imply quite a bit more seriousness than girlfriend/boyfriend would.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:14 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the 70's the U.S. Census bureau decided to go with POSLQ (pronounced "possul-Q") for "Person Of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters."* My (married) parents got a lot of joy out of using that one, much to our embarrassment.


*Or if you're also of the female persuasion, I guess it would be POSSLQ.
posted by Mchelly at 8:15 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


oops - POSSLQ. (and then, possslq)
posted by Mchelly at 8:16 AM on July 15, 2011


Another vote for "girlfriend" is fine. (A 32-year-old lesbian feminist vote, if that matters.) Things like "ladyfriend" would make me assume you were a non-feminist creepy sort, actually.

As for "partner," well, unless you're in a quasi-marriage relationship (shared living quarters, joint finances, etc.), I think it overdignifies things, and I really wish straight people hadn't co-opted it, because then we're back to having no separate word. Sigh. It was so useful! So nice and gender neutral!

But if you're not that committed yet? Just use "girlfriend."
posted by lysimache at 8:17 AM on July 15, 2011


This is entirely up to your SO. I'm a feminist and I identify as a "girl" and will fight anyone who judges me for it to the death. Ask your SO what she prefers and tell any feminist friend of yours to shove off if they give you crap for it. Women have the right to choose what they're addressed as.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:17 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I almost asked this same question a few weeks ago.

I feel strange saying "boyfriend" now that I'm getting older (31) and at work I am surrounded by people 20+ years older than me.

Lady Friend IS creepy or makes you sound 55.

Signifigant Other and Partner, in my opion, insinuates your partner is same-sex.. which is fine but depending on who you're speaking with, this might lead to issues. Also, to me, it sounds like you have some sort of "arrangement".

Cute nicknames like "snuggle bear" and "honey bunch" are more ridiculous and childish sounding than "girlfriend"

So, I'm sitcking with "My boyfriend" or just use his name and figure the person I'm talking to will get the picture.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:22 AM on July 15, 2011


Feminist vote: "girlfriend" is fine, "boyfriend" is fine. The whole problem with calling women girls generally is that you wouldn't call equivalent men boys, but that's not the case here.

I would feel kind of weird about being called someone's ladyfriend or lover - to me ladyfriend is just kind of corny and it strikes me as the sort of thing a Renaissance Faire regular would be into saying. Lover is TMI.

One thing I've heard older people (50's/60's+) say is, "This is my friend, Mary" even if they've been dating for years. Everyone knows what they mean. I think that would be fine, but it might create confusion since younger generations don't really do that.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"This is my friend, Mary" But what if Mary is really just a friend?
posted by mary8nne at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2011


I'm a feminist and I identify as a "girl" and will fight anyone who judges me for it to the death.

Preach! As far a things that little girls are embracing nowadays, the whole "girl power" thing is awesome. I think the word girl is making a comeback.
posted by yfatah at 8:32 AM on July 15, 2011


"She's not my special lady, she's my fucking lady friend! I'm just helping her conceive, man!" (emphasis mine)

The Dude's use of "fucking" in the quote above is instructive - it outlines the key difference between "Special Lady" and "Lady Friend". The former is, well, someone who is your special lady. The latter is your fuck buddy/friend with benefits/lover/whathaveyou.

Then, to further muddy the waters, there's Lady Fan, which I prefer when describing someone whom I'm dating, but not yet exclusive with.

And thus we establish a nice little hierarchy of referential terms:

Lady Friend (we're sexual partners only)
Lady Fan (we're dating)
Special Lady (we're in a comitted/exclusive relationship)



Twees it out!
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:32 AM on July 15, 2011


But what if Mary is really just a friend?

As a female who has had predominantly male friends most her life, I'm a big fan of the word "buddy" as a distancing-from-romantic-partner term. "This is my buddy, Joe," vs. "this is Jake" or "this is my boyfriend, Jake." (Buddy also is a clear indicator to your friend-dude of your feelings toward said friend-dude, in cases where you want to reinforce clear boundaries.)
posted by phunniemee at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"This is my buddy, Joe,"

argh - but no-one outside the US refers to friends as "Buddies" without it sounding a bit.. umm weird.

But I guess you can substitute Mate in the Uk/Australia (although this can confuse people as well). (ie animals who 'mate' have sex).
posted by mary8nne at 8:38 AM on July 15, 2011


Honestly, I think girlfriend/boyfriend is the way to go. To me it is clear, uncontrived and not as creepy as terms like "ladyfriend" or "my lady".

Significant other works very well in writing but sounds kind of impersonal when used in person: "This is Mary, my significant other." Partner works, but there is always the possibility that some people will wonder if you mean life partner or business partner. Also, to me partner implies a living-together sort of commitment and I would not use it if I were only dating someone.

My husband and I used boyfriend/girlfriend when we were dating and nobody ever commented about it. We were late-20s/mid-30s when we dated.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:38 AM on July 15, 2011



Under the influence of feminist friends I've worked to extirpate the word "girl" from my vocabulary when talking about adult women.


Seriously, you should talk to your girlfriend about this, not random strangers on the internet or feminist friends. Her opinion is the one that matters the most.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


mary8nne, just out of curiosity, what is implied by using buddy?
posted by yfatah at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2011


When my boyfriend and I bought our house and mingled our finances, we started going with "partner" rather than "boyfriend/girlfriend." (But now that we're married, if I'm telling a story that happened prior to our wedding date, I say "My then-boyfriend, now-husband.") But if you're not sharing a home and finances, I say just go with girlfriend, and I'm as feminist as they come.
posted by KathrynT at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2011


I've heard people say "manfriend" and "womanfriend," but it comes across as some sort of jokey Seinfeldian neologism rather than an effort to be mature and respectful. "Special lady" and "lady friend" are similarly precious to my ear.

"Lover" is in the same category as "making love" - outdated and barfy.

"Girlfriend" is generally fine. It implies a certain level of commitment, that you are in an established relationship instead of just seeing each other, so the "let's be a couple" conversation is an ideal time to ask about preferences.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a feminist and I identify as a "girl" and will fight anyone who judges me for it to the death.

Thank you!

I have an English male friend (not boyfriend!) who fears the word 'girl' so much he uses the phrase 'women's names' when talking about baby girl names.

To add to your options, though, I've seen 'woman friend' and 'man friend' used in British press in the past.
posted by Dragonness at 8:42 AM on July 15, 2011


Seriously, you should talk to your girlfriend about this, not random strangers on the internet or feminist friends. Her opinion is the one that matters the most.

Brandon, I get what you're saying, but one context here is that said feminist friends are workmates who don't interact with or know my girlfriend, so part of the idea is casual conversations like "My girlfriend and I went to this great restaurant last night..." In that sort of context, what she prefers to be called is part of the story, but not the whole story.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2011


In the UK and Australia the term "Buddy" has a certain childishness associated with it. - ie Children and "Man-boys" have "buddies" - real men don't.

It also just seems to carry a distasteful air of "Americanism" too many.

Also the overuse in Ali-G of the term "butt-buddies" has probably done further damage to the word in the UK.
posted by mary8nne at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


2nding "my sweetheart"

Or:
"My belle"
"My valentine"
"My paramour"


I am afraid I would be insanely creeped out if I was introduced by any of those (IMO) overwrought/trite endearments. Call me your girlfriend any day of the week before you introduce me as your Belle.
posted by Windigo at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a man who is firmly opposed to calling any female over the age of 12 a "girl" I find the term "girlfriend" acceptable in this context; I primarily think of it as a title in the manner of actor/actress.

I sometimes used 'partner' back before we married though, having run a small business, this was problematic in its own way.

Are these co-workers too humorless/hard-assed for you to just ask them their opinion on the title girlfriend? Because my experience with folks who self-identify as feminists is that they're more than willing to have a polite conversation about something like this, on average.
posted by phearlez at 8:51 AM on July 15, 2011


Additional data point: My girlfriend has referred to me as her boyfriend, and I'm three years away from qualifying for AARP membership; she's a bit younger than me, but she has a "Geek Girl" T-shirt. Context is everything; as someone mentioned above, it's problematic if, in any particular setting, the men were referred to as men and the women as girls (or boys and women, for that matter), but otherwise I don't think it's much of a much. I also second phearlez's suggestion that you simply bring it up to the women in question.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:56 AM on July 15, 2011


(My take: Girlfriend most of the time, all the other ones sometimes. And in that, it's not what you say, it's how you say it.)
posted by krilli at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2011


Are these co-workers too humorless/hard-assed for you to just ask them their opinion on the title girlfriend? Because my experience with folks who self-identify as feminists is that they're more than willing to have a polite conversation about something like this, on average.

Oh, no, neither humorless nor hard-assed, I just asked this morning. But the suggestions for alternate terms were not entirely helpful, primarily discussed were "partner" (which as folks have noted has more heightened level of commitment overtones) and "lover" (which in my religious community would not be acceptable, given the ambiguities inherent in the word), so I thought I'd see what other suggestions the internet had.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 8:59 AM on July 15, 2011


so part of the idea is casual conversations like "My girlfriend and I went to this great restaurant last night..."

Among people you already know and talk to regularly, it's generally okay to just refer to your partner by their name. You can say "My girlfriend (or partner) and I" the first few times to establish that you are partnered; afterwards, if you say "Joemanda and I" they'll figure it out from the context, even if they've never met Joemanda.

(You can always tell your coworkers that you and Joemanda had a respectful and mutually enlightening conversation on this very subject and she prefers "girlfriend," thanks.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2011


I've also used "partner in crime" and "person of interest," both of which have kind of a tongue-in-cheek irony to them. And I have a friend who refers to her female-dating-partner as her sweetie, which I also think works well.
posted by KathrynT at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm slightly confused. After the fact that you have a girlfriend (or word of chocie) is known, don't you refer to her by name? Ruth and I are going to Las Vegas' sounds a lot better than 'My girlfriend and I are going to Vegas'. In most situations I can think of off hand, just using her name should provide enough conext to fill in your relationship. 'So I was in bed with Ruth and all of a sudden we heard noise!', or Ruth and I were grocery shopping and . . .'
posted by Garm at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2011


Political correctness gone wild. Even my militant lesbian mother who will freak out on anyone who calls women "girls" (or anyone who refers to any group that includes her as "you guys") calls my girlfriend my "girlfriend."

That said, what you call her is between her and you, and screw what everyone else thinks. If she's uncomfortable with "girlfriend," then call her something else.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:37 AM on July 15, 2011


please, please don't use "lover". it squicks me out and is totally pretentious. plus it reminds me of this skit.
posted by genmonster at 9:48 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Girlfriend/boyfriend works when you're just dating.

Partner or SO or Domestic Associate works when you're either living together or getting ready to co-habitate.
posted by RedEmma at 9:53 AM on July 15, 2011


"Paramour" has a specific meaning other than "person I'm dating." Use it cautiously.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:53 AM on July 15, 2011


"Special lady" and "ladyfriend" are the two I use, as well as "sugarbutt". Best thing about the last one - it's gender neutral! Go nuts, folks.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:54 AM on July 15, 2011


I mostly use partner for my opposite sex significant other. This can cause significant ambiguity because my partner has a gender neutral name. Sometimes I really enjoy the confusion that results.
posted by cjemmott at 9:59 AM on July 15, 2011


Try "babe"?
kidding. Nothing wrong with calling a s.o. who is young your girlfriend. Some time ago, had lunch with a lawyer pal and his daughter. Seated close by, a guy he knew. Guy said hello and introduced the woman he was with as "my friend." I didn't know the guy but said: I hope she is a friend if you are eating with her. Ok. snarky. But he could have simply said: this is Helen...
don't get caught up in this sort of thing. Once you begin to avoid things you substitute words that are too heavy sounding or pretentious or just plain silly.
posted by Postroad at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2011


I call my partner "my girlfriend" or "my sweetie" (bonus: gender neutral), and we're in our 40's. Since we started shacking up, I've taken to sometimes terming her "my partner".
posted by rmd1023 at 10:04 AM on July 15, 2011


Well, if you don't want to use 'girlfriend' or 'lady friend' or any other traditional term, you're stuck with making up a term. That term is going to sound weird no matter what, so you might as well have fun with it.

Here's some ideas to get you started:

- Shefriend
- Womanfriend
- Ironfriend
- Female Potentiate
- Companion in the Continual Exploration of Strength and Equality

The nice thing with going with an out-of-the-blue term is that no one will label you "politically correct." Also, you can explain whatever term you use as just "how we talk in my culture."
posted by ignignokt at 10:05 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Sweetheart" when the situation calls for something a bit quaint or formal, "Sweetie" for more tongue-in-cheek usage. Nongendered, timeless, and totally unambiguous.
posted by Quietgal at 10:17 AM on July 15, 2011


This is a contentious issue even among feminists. The problem is that the words "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" are entrenched in our culture as signifiers for those relationships. And other proposed terms sound pedantic, awkward, and potentially confusing.

"Partner" suffers from the same problem in reverse.

Another segment which grapples with this issue is people over a certain age. When my father began dating after his wife (my stepmother) died, what do you call the woman a 65 year-old man is seeing? "Girlfriend" just didn't seem to cut it.

My father got around this awkwardness by just introducing her as "Marlene." As in, "Nice to meet you! This is Marlene."

It turns out that your relationship is obvious by context, and rarely needs to be explicitly stated. When pressed, he would say "We're together."
posted by ErikaB at 10:20 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do real-life feminists actually object to the world girlfriend, or is this a solution in search of a problem?
posted by BurntHombre at 10:37 AM on July 15, 2011


My father got around this awkwardness by just introducing her as "Marlene." As in, "Nice to meet you! This is Marlene."

This is fine, of course, until you get that moment when you want to talk about "My... err... Marlene". "So, my...err... Marlene and I went to see Kevin Spacey in Richard III" doesn't work.

Time and again I find myself falling back on "partner", "other half" and similarly inadequate and bloodless terms. I wish someone would sort it out and come up with an unarguably perfect word for "adult sexual partner". I do have a soft spot for Stephen Fry's "bedchum" although you can only deliver it with a large helping or wryony, and that's always likely to cause ructions.
posted by Decani at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2011


I refer to Mr. Vortex as my "Partner in Crime" sometimes. Otherwise, he's just my boyfriend. We're professionals in our 30's.
posted by Elly Vortex at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2011


When my dad started dating again, he referred to his partner as "my friend Mona". After they started living together, she became "my special friend Mona". This was unquestionably adorable coming from a 55-year-old Indian man. I mention that because our community had a mild distaste for open reference to unmarried relationships, and he found a way to skirt that while still making the nature of his relationship clear.

"Lady friend" is ok if you live or work in a place that traffics heavily in social irony. My hipster friends find it amusing, my non-hipster friends think it's kind of stupid or weird.
posted by Errant at 11:08 AM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem with many of the suggestions here is that while they might work for you, they don't work for other people. If I make plans with you to go to a movie, I'm not going to say, "We're going with ThisIsNotMe and his love" or "his sweetheart."
posted by roll truck roll at 11:13 AM on July 15, 2011


I'm a feminist and I will happily smack anybody who calls me a "girl"--please, I'm 46, for Christ's sake!--but "girlfriend" is okay with me because there really isn't a good alternative. I generally use the term "honey" for my boyfriend, though.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:23 AM on July 15, 2011


This is why I wish "significant other" was usable in actual conversation. I think it, or SO, is really the best generic "we're boinking and at least somewhat committed" answer to this question, plus it's gender-free. But since you really can't say "significant other" out loud as opposed to online (I don't know why, but nobody does it and it sounds odd and long?), I think you're stuck with girlfriend. "Lover," "love," "sweetheart," etc. sound gooey and kind of make me want to barf when someone says them, "partner" makes everyone confused as to your orientation, living arrangements, or business arrangements, and hell, what else is there? I like "partner in crime," but then I got snarky comments about what crimes are we doing.

So really, you just gotta cave in and do what jessamyn said.

Could be worse, though: according to my French class you have to say petite amie. Little friend? Ew. And on the Internet if you google that it's used as a brand name for baby clothes or something. Borrowing from other languages, I always liked novia and inamorata, but then people don't necessarily know what that is either. (And the male equivalents do not sound as cute. "Inamorato?" Kinda ick.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:37 AM on July 15, 2011


Personally I have no problem with girlfriend/boyfriend. If your friends actually do have a problem with "girlfriend" and "boyfriend," they'd probably be OK with "partner" or "sweetie." (Personally, I really like "sweetie.")

The underlying problem is that there's no female equivalent of "guy." A woman can call her guy "my guy," which I think is approximately what you're trying for here, but there isn't a real equivalent when the relationship is reversed.

If your SO is named "Alice" you could call her "my Alice." The meaning would be obvious, kind of like Decani's "My... err... Marlene" with the "err" left out. "Guy" is a (no longer common) guy's name used generically. Maybe it would catch on? Your friends might think it was weird though.

Minus the facetious stuff, I'm voting for "sweetie." "Woman I'm seeing" also works.
posted by nangar at 11:47 AM on July 15, 2011


The underlying problem is that there's no female equivalent of "guy." A woman can call her guy "my guy," which I think is approximately what you're trying for here, but there isn't a real equivalent when the relationship is reversed.

"My gal."
posted by Jairus at 11:48 AM on July 15, 2011


Perhaps it is time for a revival of "My main squeeze."
posted by 4ster at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2011


In my line of work I frequently have to refer to the woman "lovers" of men I meet. There is no better word than "ladyfriend" to designate this person. If you have no problem with girlfriend applied to an adult (which infantilizes the adult) why would you have a problem with "ladyfriend"?

I cannot say "girlfriend" when the woman in question is forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years old.

"Ladyfriend is the sort of thing a creepy guy would say" is not really a good answer.
posted by jayder at 11:54 AM on July 15, 2011


My man-friend and I use "companion." But that's mostly because we love Dr. Who.
posted by Polyhymnia at 11:54 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


> according to my French class you have to say petite amie. Little friend? Ew.

Agreed, but in my (pretty limited) experience, they don't actually say that. It's always ma gonzesse and mon mec. French does have a female equivalent of "guy." (Mec is guy, gonzesse is "girl," but as opposed to "guy," not "boy.")

I always liked novia and inamorata ...

Novia's a great word. OP should swipe it. Especially, if he's American. He can easily claim to have picked it up, and some people will know it.
posted by nangar at 12:22 PM on July 15, 2011


I refer to my woman as... "my woman."

I get a variety of reactions from a variety of people, but it works for us.
posted by klanawa at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2011


Data point: my poly friends have mostly gravitated towards "sweetheart" or "sweetie" as a gender-neutral, commitment-neutral term for "person I'm involved with." (Having a term like that is especially useful in poly circles: if you're seriously involved with one man and casually dating two women and want to refer to all three of them without going off on a longwinded tangent, what do you do?)

If you introduced someone as your sweetheart, I would find it totally normal and unproblematic and not overly cutesy or infantilizing, but I might also end up wondering if y'all had some sort of nonmonogamous thing going on — if only in a not that there's anything wrong with that and anyway it's none of my business sort of way.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


'The missus'.
posted by plep at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2011


A feminist I know has used 'special friend', though she was a touch tongue-in-cheek.
posted by Dragonness at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2011


I'm a gal and I got a guy.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2011


What's wrong with, "I'd like you to meet my old lady", Or, "my ball and chain"?
posted by found missing at 1:07 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I am introduced to someone new as "My better half" it makes me want to vomit.

Guys predominately do it to their girlfriends so much it's almost making a joke out of it and belittling the woman. Here's my better half.
On the other hand, it's like stating that no guy can be complete without some woman to beat him over the head to remind him to stop eating glass.
/I know that's not how it's meant.

My Solution:
I just introduce people by their name because there is no need to signify ownership and announce to the world who you're sleeping with every time you meet someone new then go to greet them.

Scene A.
A dimly lit deck in Northern VA. Men are in polo shirts with argyle shorts and brown flip-flops or sandals. Women are dressed like they could at any second be teleported to the sexiest nightclub in the world. A new person approaches Mike and, his significant other, Diane.

Dave: Hi, how are you doing? I'm Dave.
Mike: Hey Dave, nice to see you. This is Diane.
Dave: Nice to meet the two of you! Do you guys play flip cup?
posted by zephyr_words at 1:36 PM on July 15, 2011


> Drop the puritanical viewpoint. You are lovers

...and that is a fact. But it's unnecessarily specific.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:51 PM on July 15, 2011


As is "pelvic associate"
posted by found missing at 1:53 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a long-time feminist woman who could have joined AARP some years ago I find lady and ladyfriend really creepy, so there. Lady's got weird social class connotations. I remember my aged relatives back in the sixties telling me that wearing jeans and not wearing makeup were not "ladylike" behaviors.

I don't mind using boyfriend/girlfriend, even at my advanced age. Honey, sweetheart, lover all work too, IMHO.
posted by mareli at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2011


> Drop the puritanical viewpoint. You are lovers.

Lover is also creepy.
posted by easy_being_green at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2011


If you really want to be considerate call her by name. Then she's not a nameless faceless relationship, but a person.
posted by Ookseer at 2:32 PM on July 15, 2011


Perhaps it is time for a revival of "My main squeeze."

Or maybe "home slice".
posted by Bruce H. at 4:08 PM on July 15, 2011


"My steady".
posted by Dukat at 5:15 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


My date!
posted by Pomo at 5:27 PM on July 15, 2011


Being told what to think and say by "feminist friends" isn't different than being told what to think and say by "society". Talk to each other and come to an agreement on how you want to be referred to. There are no rules that you should be accountable to.

And, for what it's worth, we're straight, unmarried, living together, committed and equally refer to each other as partner, girlfriend/boyfriend and ball-n-chain.
posted by kjs3 at 5:31 PM on July 15, 2011


My favorite human?
posted by Kikkoman at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with "girlfriend/boyfriend", but then again, I am not the type of feminist who gets upset about the use of "girl" in reference to grown women (I mean provided that this use isn't asymmetrical).

That said, my preferred term these days (for my male significant other) is "partner". He and I are 33 and 32 respectively and have been together for nearly 12 years, and when I refer to our relationship, I find myself very hesitant to use girlfriend/boyfriend simply because something about those words connotes a certain degree of....not-established-ness. I mean yeah I use those terms once in a while myself, but I am definitely finding myself doing so less and less -- just for reasons that have nothing to do with any sort of feminist angle.
posted by aecorwin at 5:47 PM on July 15, 2011


"other half" seems to be defacto terminology for girl/boyfriend in my circle (early 30s). My issue with "girl/boyfriend" is less feminism and more it sounds like you're in middle school.
posted by TravellingCari at 7:06 PM on July 15, 2011


There is an episode of Carpool with Patrick Stewart where he makes occasional reference to his "girlfriend". I have no idea how old she is/was, but he's approaching a million years old (if a very well kept million), so it was sort of cute.

Personally, I used "girlfriend" in the early part of the relationship until it seemed increasingly silly (both because we're mid-thiries and because I felt like it trivialized the relationship), then settled on "partner", but do agree that it implies a level of commitment to the relationship which you might not want to imply.

With regard to "girls", being a bloke my opinion here holds no authority, but one of my PhD supervisors, a well known, strongly feminist social scientist, was very fond of using the term girls. Together with the views expressed up-thread, it seems that any objection to it is inconsistent at best.
posted by damonism at 7:13 PM on July 15, 2011


Another feminist here who has no objection to 'girlfriend'/'boyfriend.' 'Sweetheart'/'sweetie' is okay. I don't personally use it, but it doesn't annoy me to hear it.

'Special friend' and 'lady friend' can have a sort of intentionally conspicuous euphemism ring. 'Lover' is verbal exhibitionism; I don't want to sexualize the identification of my partner within a casual context. I have friends who refer to their 'Man,' but it comes off as pretty close to 'Lover' to my ear, and sometimes carries a heightened whiff of heteronormativity.

My partner usually calls me his wife. (I alternately say husband or partner, and perhaps SO when online. We're committed and own our house together but are not legally married.) We do usually just use each other's names rather than our roles when socializing in person, but it was occasionally awkward for family/friends to not know our preferred descriptor. If his mom wants to chat about us with an acquaintance whom we've never met, it's not very helpful to just refer to me as desuetude.
posted by desuetude at 7:34 PM on July 15, 2011


Girlfriend is fine for this feminist.
Personally, I would just use her name or refer to her as my "friend," as suggested by others above, and let context take care of the rest.

Every other option suggested here makes my skin crawl.

As for the French: the most widely used terms are copain and copine, slightly slangy words for a male and female friend, respectively. These terms can be used to refer to friends in a romantic/sexual sense, as in, Ton copain est chaud! (Your (boy)friend is hot!); or to same-sex friends, as in, Je suis allée au cinéma avec mes copines. (I went to the movies with my (girl)friends.) Petit(e) ami(e) is a textbook term and a bit outdated.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:54 AM on July 16, 2011


"Ladyfriend is the sort of thing a creepy guy would say" is not really a good answer.

It may not be good, but that doesn't make it incorrect. The word 'ladyfriend' gives me the heeby-jeebies, and if it was said to me, I could cringe, and if it was said about me, I might actively recoil. There are a lot of people who have a similar reaction to the word, so avoiding it is a good idea unless you're certain you're not talking to or about one of them.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2011


God how could I have forgotten that. I once ended up - during an overnight train trip - in a compartment with the unreal assortment of five dudes from all around the world. One of them, a Scot who had been in Australia and was now on his way to Stockholm for a new job, was rambling on about his worldwide romantic attachments in terms of present and past "De Factos".

"Hi, nice to see you. Meet my De Facto, Jane."
posted by Namlit at 1:22 AM on July 17, 2011


I'll put another feminist vote in for sticking with "girlfriend."

I'll also put in votes for "ladyfriend," "special friend," "lover," and "better half" being gag-inducing.


This made me laugh... QFT:

When I am introduced to someone new as "My better half" it makes me want to vomit.

Guys predominately do it to their girlfriends so much it's almost making a joke out of it and belittling the woman. Here's my better half.
On the other hand, it's like stating that no guy can be complete without some woman to beat him over the head to remind him to stop eating glass.
/I know that's not how it's meant.

posted by keep it under cover at 2:19 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another feminist vote for girlfriend here - my boyfriend can call me "sweetie" one-on-one all he wants, but if he went around introducing me as "and this is my sweetie..." or told coworkers "my sweetie and I.." that would just be revoltingly cutesy. And lovers is just flat-out gross.
posted by naoko at 6:50 PM on July 19, 2011


Yeah, "lovers" would be pinging my TMI threshold ("Dude, even though we all kind of assume you're having sex, you don't have to advertise it").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:37 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Womanion!
posted by ignignokt at 10:41 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


« Older What version of Linux should I...   |  Help me fill my jukebox with r... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.