Though I only proposed to one woman, I’ve planned scenarios for proposing to three different people over the course of my life. The first was Julie. I hadn’t figured out the specifics, but I was going to go into another conversation about how averse I was to the term “girlfriend”. At first she thought that my aversion was a cute personality quirk, but after one, two, and three years it became cause for alarm. She feared that it was a lack of commitment on my part. There were commitment issues involved, though that wasn’t indicative of them. Anyhow, I would start the conversation about how I didn’t like that term and that I preferred the terms “fiance” and “wife” and then I’d sandbag her with the ring.

As Web pointed out, Prudence’s column from last week didn’t seem to demonstrate the Dr. Lauraesque hostility of some of her more recent works. Web and I both zeroed in on this one:

I was reprimanded once because my boss overheard my conversation with a co-worker about my girlfriend. She poked her way into our conversation, asked me some probing questions, and left, then later confronted me in private. She was disgusted that I was talking about my inappropriate and immoral relationship. She said that because I mentioned my “girlfriend,” she could only assume I’m a pedophile, because a “girl” is a prepubescent woman. As the rules of the office stated, what mattered was that she was “impacted.”

I don’t know if this letter is real or not (I have some doubts), but whatever the case it’s true that if people want to find a reason to be offended they will. This is true of both liberals (“I don’t care what the dictionary says, ‘niggardly’ is a slur and you’re a racist for saying it”) and conservatives (“What, you say ‘happy holidays’ because you hate Christmas and Christians?”).

What was a bit head-scratching is not that someone would be offended by the term “my girlfriend”, but rather that the “girl-” part was what was deemed offensive. I would have thought it would be the “my”. The “my” can imply ownership. When I say “my car” it’s assumed that I have ownership or control over it. I don’t own “my apartment” but I am renting it with my wife. Mine, mine, mine!! It’s not always meant to imply ownership or control (I have little or no claim to “my hometown” or “my country”), but given the long history of male-female relationships wherein the woman was considered property, I could see someone wanting to be offended pouncing on that.

Of course, we talk in possessive terms about regular friends all the time, so that doesn’t make sense, either. Also, anthropological male-female relationships as they pertain to property don’t understand my equal aversion to the term “boyfriend” except there I envision a shrew demonstrating domination over a whipped guy.

In retrospect, my biggest problem with the term “girlfriend” may have been that I never had one and my problem with “boyfriend” is that I never was one.

Yet even when I got my first really serious girlfriend Julie, I still didn’t like the term. I was with Julie for over four years and I maybe called her my girlfriend half a dozen times. A lot of that was a holdover to the whole possessive thing, though the loopy logic there had dawned on me by that point. My rationale shifted from possessiveness and towards another rationale: referring to someone as your girlfriend or boyfriend reduces someone that you presumably care about to a position in your life.

That doesn’t make any sense, either, though. When I call my father my father I’m no more reducing him to a title than I am assuming possession of him. It’s a title, in a certain way, but it’s more of an immediate identifier. I don’t have to say “Bill Truman, military economist” or “Bill Truman of Ouchita”. I call him “my father” and people get a marker as to why he matters in regards to whatever it is that I’m saying about him. Is it somehow less respectful to refer to him as “my father” than it is “this guy I know”? Why would “girlfriend” be any different?

In retrospect, my problem with the term was really that I had gone so long hating the terms that I needed to find reasons to continue hating them.

Eventually that logic began to wear so thin that I couldn’t logically keep it together. I’d gone nearly five years without referring to Julie as my girlfriend and though Evangeline spared me of that whole quandary by keeping our relationship maddeningly ambiguous, the notion that I had and would continue to have people that I date exclusively on a regular basis meant that I needed to stop positioning myself as the romantic outcast. But I still don’t like the term and did not once refer to Clancy as my girlfriend while we were dating (not hard, we were engaged in pretty short order).

So with all logic on my previous two rationales sent out the window, what reason do I give? Ironically, the same reason as the dyke. I haven’t dated a “girl” in an exceptionally long time. Prior to Clancy, I dated women and not girls. Boyfriends and girlfriends, now that I was finally ready to admit that they were pretty useful terms, were no longer remotely accurate. As it turned out, Clancy felt the same way. We settled on “this guy/woman I’m dating” or more frequently “my lady friend” and “my gentleman friend”. I’d introduce her name in pretty short order so I could avoid that awkward phrasing.


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2 Responses to She Ain’t Mine & Ain’t a Girl

  1. Barry says:

    First of all, you’re right in believing that the “my” in “my girlfriend” implies ownership. In context of relationships, it merely implies connection to, or association with. Your father is your father because he is your father, not just “a father who had a son named Will”. Your girlfriend is your girlfriend because she’s your girlfriend, not “a girl who’s regularly dating a guy named Will.” Good that you put those away.

    I’m wondering more about your eventual explanation of the aversion to the term, that you never “had” a girlfriend so you grew to hate the term. And attributed the hatred to several different “logical” explanations such as that mentioned above. I too never had a “girlfriend” until I met my wife, and would have loved to apply the term to a girl (or woman) I was dating. In fact, with one girl I dated for about a week I was ecstatic to apply the term to her – until she dumped me at the end of said week. It wasn’t a painful term, it was one I really longed to use truthfully.

    As for the girl/lady, boy/gentleman thing – it’s just a figure of speech. Really. It doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate – a girl is still a female of any type. That’s why there are descriptives added to it, like “little girl”, or “teenage girl” or “baby girl”. Girl can mean any female from 0.00001 to 100+ yrs, it’s just more frequently applied to one that’s less mature than others. Then you start using the term “woman” or “lady”. But the term “girlfriend” has come to imply a girl of dateable age, from 14 up to whenever, so it can encompass whatever age is appropriate to the guy. To purposefully use “lady friend” signifies an ackowledgement of increasing age to me, or a reluctance to commit to even the level of a “girlfriend/boyfriend” relationship.

    If I weren’t married, I’d love to have and say I have a “girlfriend”. And I’m 41. I can’t imagine changing that appellation anytime soon.

  2. trumwill says:

    I’m wondering more about your eventual explanation of the aversion to the term, that you never “had” a girlfriend so you grew to hate the term.

    Sour grapes. If I couldn’t have it, there must be something wrong with it. I apparently convinced myself so soundly that the perfectly fresh grapes didn’t taste good. I guess the metaphor gets a little tricky there. I enjoyed having a girlfriend, of course, but I didn’t embrace the title.

    Now here’s something that hadn’t occurred to me until now. The term ex-girlfriend doesn’t bother me as much. Perhaps that’s a holder to my first rationale since I say “an ex-girlfriend” rather than “my ex-girlfriend”. Then again, that doesn’t make sense because “an ex-girlfriend” is usually marked with some sort of marker. “I have an ex-girlfriend” or “an ex-girlfriend of mine”.

    So it’s really hard to object to the word on any rational level. My reasoning seems to bend towards simply trying to justify some innate preference.

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