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Why the Word ‘Partner’ is Better Than ‘Boy/Girlfriend’

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chapel Hill chapter.

A couple weeks ago, I checked off an item on my college bucket list: I read my poetry out loud in public for the first time at UNC Wordsmiths’ love poetry open mic, “Love Potions,” which was hosted in honor of Valentine’s Day.

Being in front of a microphone can be kind of scary, especially when you’re about to share an intimate part of yourself with a room full of strangers and acquaintances. It also felt kind of cheesy the whole “professing your love to the world” thing and I didn’t want my poem or my feelings for the person that the poem was about to come across as superficial or cliché.

All the poets were expected to give a short introduction before performing what their interests in poetry were, how their piece was related to love (or anti-love) and who it was about. Some poets had explored relationships as a general concept, while others including myself read poems about specific individuals in their lives. For the first time since the start of our relationship, I felt dubious about using the word “boyfriend” to refer to the person who’d inspired me to write my poem, simply because he’s much more than that in my mind. Though I’d always called him “my boyfriend” before, for once, it didn’t feel like enough.

So when it was my time, I went up to the front of the room and gave my spiel: “This poem is about my partner,” I let the unexpected word slip out, pointing to his slightly flushed but smiling face in the crowd “Andrew. I never really wrote poetry before I met you, so thank you for that. And I love you.”

Cue the “Awww.”

It was the inevitable reaction, but instead feeling embarrassed, I felt proud. I’d never used the word “partner” before to describe Andrew, but it seemed fitting. And it gave me enough confidence to read my poem out loud in front of an audience, to reveal the vulnerabilities that come with being in love.

After open mic was over and we were walking back to my car, Andrew said he’d noticed that I’d called him my partner, and that he liked it a lot. We’ve started calling each other this neologism on a regular basis, and now, we use it more often than almost any other form of endearment.

For those of you who are in a romantic relationship (and even for those who are not), I’ve learned a few major reasons why using the word “partner” is so much better than “boy/girlfriend”:

1) It’s not as annoying as “baby,” “honeybun,” “sweetness” or lol “cupcake,” and it’s not a mouthful like “significant other.

Unfortunately, there is somewhat of a stigma surrounding couples, romance and PDA even verbal PDA. Case in point:

Ambiguous Couple: *rubs noses together and murmurs things like, “Babe, you’re a thief. You know why? ‘Cause you stole my heart.”

Third-wheelin’ friend: “That is just disgusting. This is what I mean when I say y’all are too cheesy.”

Partner 1 with a grin: “Would you like some wine with that cheese?”

Friend: “I want that cheese to GET OUT OF THE ROOM!”*

Oops. The good news is, you can totally use the word “partner” in different ways without having your friends make puking noises. For instance: “I love you, partner!” “You’re the best partner in the whole world!” “This is my partner! We’ve been dating for X months.” On a scale from Significant Other to Sugar Cupcake, it’s pretty neutral in terms of verbal PDA level. It’s affectionate, yet not obnoxiously so. It’s not too serious, but it’s serious enough for steady couples to feel like their relationship means something more than just a fling. It’s not just a sweet nothing.

2) It’s inclusive.

We’ll never be confused again about whether someone’s talking about their “girlfriend,” as in the girl who is just a friend, or their girlfriend a female romantic partner. One could argue that the word “partner” might refer to a co-worker or a member of some group project, but that seems less likely depending on the context of the situation.

Additionally, both people who are in heterosexual and same-sex relationships can use the word “partner.” We no longer have to assume whether someone is straight or not, and though I can’t speak for the LGBTQ community, the word “partner” is an option out there for those who may feel more comfortable using it. And honestly, if we’re striving to become a more progressive and accepting society, does it really matter what the gender of your significant other is?

And on that note…

3) It emphasizes the relationship rather than gender and sex.

The word “partner” encompasses everything that makes a healthy, mutual relationship so wonderful. Boyfriend/girlfriend. Lover. Best friend. All of that. The person I wrote my poem about is not just someone I’m attracted to physically and emotionally, but also my dearest friend and biggest cheerleader. Our relationship is more than just a romance, and it was important for me to express that on open mic night.

Rather than focusing on whether or not your significant other is a boy or a girl, “partner” indicates that you two are a couple that’s mutually committed to one another in multiple ways. Although sex may be a major factor in preserving romantic interests, it’s definitely not the only thing makes a relationship successful. The word “partner” honors that.

At first, you might feel weird calling each other “my partner” during introductions, and even weirder saying things like, “I love you, partner!” instead of “I love you, babe!” And obviously, it’s not entirely necessary to correct people when they ask, “Oh, is this your boyfriend?” by saying, “This is my partner, thanks.” The word “partner” could just be a term that you and whoever you’re in a relationship with use between each other.

So the next time you feel the urge to use a moniker like “honey,” “babe,” or “love,” try casually slipping the word “partner” in its place. See what the reaction is, and since good communication facilitates a transparent relationship, talk about how that word makes you feel. If there are good vibes, consider integrating the word slowly into your list of endearing names. If not, though, at least you tried something new. But in my experience, it can be surprising how just one word can help to strengthen a relationship. The more you call each other “partner,” the more likely you are to view each other as such.

*This example may or may not be fictitious.

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Wendy Lu

Chapel Hill

Wendy is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with majors in journalism (reporting track) and psychology. Between juggling classes, reading blogs and writing her senior honors thesis on social media personas, Wendy serves as managing editor for UNC’s Blue & White Magazine and print editor for The Durham VOICE. She has written for multiple publications, including Chapel Hill’s The WEEKLY and The Daily Tar Heel. Check out her blog at http://wendyluwrites.blogspot.com
Megan McCluskey is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. with Distinction in Journalism and Mass Communication, and a second major in French. She has experience as a Campus Correspondent and Contributing Writer for Her Campus, a Public Relations Consultant for The V Foundation, an Editorial Assistant for TV Guide Magazine and Carolina Woman magazine, a Researcher for MTV, and a Reporter and Webmaster for the Daily Tar Heel. She is an obsessive New England Patriots and Carolina basketball fan, and loves spending time with her friends and family (including her dogs), going to the beach, traveling, reading, online shopping and eating bad Mexican food.