Why I Always Referred to My Boyfriend as My Partner

Published on 6/18/2021

One of my best friends recently turned to me and said that she had noticed something in my writing. She had realised that I consistently referred to my boyfriend as my ‘partner’ and never disclosed his gender. I explained that this was a conscious choice, one I extended past my writing and into conversations.

I first noticed the need for it as my job, mainly through discussions around the coffee machine, or at least the Zoom version of that. I was living with him at this point, and so when the subject of him would come up, I’d label him as my partner, as that felt most fitting to me.

“Since my partner and I are both working at home, the internet can sometimes be rocky when they have class.”

“Sorry for the noise; my partner is currently recording a new song!”

I found it fascinating to note the subtle reactions that would come from new people who heard me speak of my partner with this term and that most others hesitated to use it. I liked that someone finally stopped and asked me about it, and here is my answer and why I referred to him as my partner.

1. Normalising the term ‘partner’

Initially, the phrase partner was only used in a work sense, such as a business partner. Then the term ‘partner’ became associated with same-sex couples. This is how they would refer to their long-term girlfriend or boyfriend for lack of official recognition. I still notice that when I referred to him only as my ‘partner’, people might give a quizzical look or use another ‘subtle’ question to discern whether my partner was male or a female like me.

Even though there is increasing freedom for same-sex couples and widening of possible terminology, I intentionally use the term ‘partner’ so that it isn’t just restricted to same-sex couples. This term is also applicable for someone with a non-binary partner and removes the need to identify gender.

You don’t have to disclose your sexual or gender orientation, whether that’s to a stranger, a friend of a friend or a colleague. But the topic of your partner can come up naturally, so by having heterosexual and homosexual couples using the term, it no longer sticks out like a sore thumb or draws attention that you might not be comfortable with.

As someone who would have both male and female romantic partners, I don’t want to draw attention to the difference as it isn’t vital to me or how I view myself. I’d rather say ‘my partner’ about my male partner as I would a female partner.

2. I’m an adult

This is quite a personal take, but I find the term ‘boyfriend’ to be a childish one. It sounds like something from high school, particularly the use of boy and girl in it. You don’t have a man friend or a woman friend. We connotate such a significant relationship using terms for a pre-adult.

“The clearest explanation for the word’s spike in popularity is the lack of any other good options. Unmarried people in serious relationships, in particular, face a gaping linguistic hole. “Boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are too high school. “Significant other” sounds as if it belongs on a legal document. “Lover” connotes too much sex for everyday use; “companion,” not enough.” - Caroline Kitchener, Washington Post.

In contrast, my older sister doesn’t like the term ‘partner’, as she finds it cringe-inducing. She feels like it is a forced word and almost a grab for maturity.

3. They’re more than a boyfriend/girlfriend

It can be fitting for the start of a relationship, but when you’ve been together for years, through ups and downs, and you’re even living together, it truly loses its appeal. If I were to tell someone about my ‘boyfriend’, they aren’t getting the full grasp of what he means to me. They might be thinking of someone I am causally involved with, when my partner is so much more to me. They’ve helped me come to grips with my mental illness, they were there when I lost my father, and they know the best and worst in me. They believe that I can achieve my dreams of writing and publishing books, even when I struggle to believe it. I don’t think the term ‘boyfriend’ would do them justice.

I’m younger than many of the people I work with, and I would be often mistaken for older given my position. Using the term ‘boyfriend’ felt like it was relegating me to this young adult label when I was in a deeply committed relationship that deserved to be respected as well. The term ‘partner’ felt like it attracted less attention to my age.

4. Marriage isn’t the only milestone

It seems like there is no in-between; you’re either dating, boyfriend/girlfriend or married. But there is so much distinction between those last two categories, as I mentioned in the previous point. If you’re with someone for years, happily living together, but not married, why should you have the same label as someone who may be together for a few months?

It’s almost another way of forcing marriage upon people as the accepted norm that you feel pressured to transition to that new phase simply to leave the outdated label of boyfriend or girlfriend behind.

Marriage isn’t for everyone, and I’m not certain if it is for me. I personally don’t relate to the idea of marriage or weddings. I love the idea of attending one, but I just don’t know if throwing one would be for me. And I know that you can get married without having a wedding, but I still feel like a square peg reaching for a round hole. In the Netherlands and many other countries, you can get a registered partnership that provides you with the same benefits as a marriage license. And I think individuals who choose to go this route deserve the same recognition and milestone, and that we need to add worth to the term ‘partner’, as much as we would to a ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.

At the end of the day, it will always remain a personal choice to each person, and I merely want to highlight that it is a choice. You can call someone your ‘partner’ rather than your ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’ if that’s what feels right to you. You can stay partners and never officially get married if that’s what feels right to you. We have choices, and we have the freedom to design our own relationships and identities, and a simple term like ‘partner’ can help us to do that. By calling him my ‘partner’, I feel like I’m making the space for someone else to use this term however they see fit. I’m trying to avoid making my articles or conversations heteronormative and focused on traditional values. The gender of my partner isn’t relevant to a lot of what I discuss, so it’s my choice whether I disclose it or not.

More on relationships:

Here's why you don't owe your partner your size.

And how my marketing job changed my communication with my partner.



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