Even though I’m a woman dating a man right now, the “girlfriend” label comes with a lot of baggage that I just don’t relate to. It’s narrow, gendered, and in my opinion, it’s just not in anymore.
“Girlfriend” comes with connotations.
Nagging, needy, weak, materialistic, emotional, sex object—they’re all traits used to put down women and feminine people. You might argue that if it’s such a terrible insult, women can reclaim “girlfriend” just like “slut,” but honestly, it just doesn’t seem worth it to me. The word celebrates being straight, cis, and monogamous, which marginalizes anyone who isn’t all those things. That’s a lot of people to exclude.
Those connotations are attached to certain roles.
Those roles are gendered, just like husband and wife. Using old-fashioned gendered language to describe roles in relationships makes it hard to break out of obnoxious, outdated, and untrue stereotypes. I’m guessing that you take issue with at least some part of how a traditional woman is supposed to be, whether it’s the monogamy, the lack of personal autonomy, the idea that you’re some man’s property, or that you aren’t in charge of your own body.
It’s not just about gender.
Our reality is deeply dictated by the language we use, so expanding our relationship vocabulary beyond “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” lets us have more fulfilling relationships, even if they don’t fit what an ideal girlfriend/boyfriend relationship is supposed to look like. Imagine having a f*ck buddy but feeling the constant pressure to behave like you’re romantically involved even though neither of you actually want that. You probably don’t have to imagine what that’s like—it’s a super common situation to be in after first hooking up with someone. Instead of stressing about it, just call it how it is. Let a relationship be its own unique, magical thing rather than what someone else tells you it should be.
“Partner,” “lover,” etc. are more inclusive because they’re gender neutral.
Using girlfriend and boyfriend reinforces the gender binary. It implies that there are two opposite genders. Even though same-sex couples can use those labels, there’s an implied duality in boyfriend/girlfriend that also reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is normal. This excludes queer, trans, and nonbinary people… and also anyone else who doesn’t think gender is the most important quality of their partner.
Using “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” makes you sound like you’re in high school.
C’mon, we’re adults, so let’s use grown-up words. Let’s have relationships, partnerships, friendships, marriages. You don’t need to call someone your girlfriend or boyfriend to be cool anymore. You’re cool because you’re a badass individual, and you’d be just as cool if you were single. If your partner also happens to be cool–that’s great! But they don’t define you.
Girlfriend/boyfriend also implies that gender is the most important part of the relationship.
To me, using the word “girlfriend” just says “I’m dating her because she’s a girl, not one of my bros.” Girls can be guys’ friends too! And what if you’re gay? What’s the difference between your special girlfriend and your other female friends? Clearly not the fact that she’s your friend… or a girl. Confusing, right?
It makes you sound unequal.
Instead of one person performing the girlfriend role and the other performing the boyfriend role, you could both just be equal partners. Why are girlfriend and boyfriend two different roles? How does that make sense? (Yep, you guessed it, it’s the usual culprits: sexism, transmisogyny, and toxic masculinity). Let’s get with the program and stop putting restrictions on how women and femmes form their own identities. If you really really feel like that you do identify as a “girlfriend,” then go ahead and use that label. However, it’s worth reflecting on why you identify that way, especially if you’re cis and straight.
“Partner” or “lover” is a better description of a healthy relationship.
Those words imply positive, respectful feelings and actions. Teamwork, love, harmony, solidarity, equality—no gender roles, no BS. Words like co-parent, f*ck buddy, etc. are also good because they’re honest and straightforward. They describe the relationship truthfully, and they’re not trying to turn it into something that it’s not.
It’s just not hip anymore.
Some might argue that “girlfriend”/”boyfriend” are less hip than “partner” now because straight people are appropriating queer culture, which is really valid and worth some serious thought. But the bottom line is that outdated labels and conformity to gender roles are bad for everyone, including straight women. So be independent, be yourself, and be the kind of partner, lover, co-parent, friend or spouse that you truly are.
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