Thursday, March 28, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: A Wordy Proposition

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I am a young woman in my late twenties. I have been dating a man for the past five years. He refers to me as his “girlfriend” but I prefer the term “partner.” To me, “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” are terms for middle schoolers. He says that “partner” sounds like we’re going to open a business together and that it's for gay couples. We still can’t  agree on what to call each other. It’s a little thing, but it really bugs me.

Does it mean something that we can’t agree?

Just Words

Dear Just Words,

You’re right that they’re just words, but they’re words that you use to describe your relationship to one another. Five years down the line, it makes sense that you want to find the precise term to pin down how you see yourselves as a unit. The problem is finding one that suits both of you.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed using the term partner. To me, it described the equality I sought in a relationship -- the give-and-take, the collaboration, the shared investment in results. The whole thing rang right to me.

But my man had similar objections as yours. “It’s not like we’re opening a law firm in Berkeley,” he said at the time. That made me laugh hard enough to respect his wishes. I guess that’s part of the whole “partner” thing. If it made him feel weird and wishy-washy, it wasn’t worth it to me to refer to him that way.

He needs to respect your wishes in the same way. If girlfriend and boyfriend are terms that make you feel strange, he should forgo them.

There are other options for you beyond “partner” and “girlfriend.” The movie Saving Silverman uses “my one and only someone.” Usher and Alicia Keys sing about “my boo.” A friend of mine coined the term “MTAF” -- meaning, More Than A Friend. I’ve been charmed by a woman introducing “my man,” and men who acquaint me with “my lady.” You can get creative with this.

Don’t worry so much about clarity. As evidenced by you and your special friend, people already associate these words with so much cultural and personal baggage that they’re weighed down with expectations. Spend more time dedicating yourself to actualizing that partnership then coming up with a word for it.

All my best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via

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