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Sex + Relationships

Am I the Significant Other, or One of the Girls?

I want people to take my relationship seriously. Yet, I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for over a year and I continue to question whether or not it’s taken seriously. I’m not sure if it’s considered legitimate by those around me, and I take responsibility for bringing confusion upon myself because of how  I treat my relationship. There’s also a huge societal influence; I often feel lost because the established social scripts regarding romance are inapplicable to me. The standard etiquette and practices of a heterosexual relationship don’t always translate easily to LGBTQ+ relationships, so when I look for reassurance in the world, nothing’s there.

pink neon love sign
Photo by Shaira Dela Peña from Unsplash

Here’s a prime example highlighting the dilemma. A friend of mine met my girlfriend during our freshman year (before setting me up with her) and I became an extension of their inner circle. Over the summer, the matchmaker hosted a weekend getaway for her friends; including my girlfriend. I assumed I would’ve been welcome, but I wasn’t, and part of my friend’s reasoning was that I was the only significant other. Therefore, I would negatively change the vibe. This was a blunt wake-up call because I never viewed myself that way. If there were ten girls gathering and one brought her boyfriend, I can see how the vibe would shift. In my eyes, I was one of the girls, so what did it matter? I’m not some awkward dude standing to the side the entire night without uttering a word. I’m a woman, just like they are, and I’m friends with everyone attending. There’s something to be said for that distinction, right? This was a time when I wanted a double standard to exist, but I can’t complain because someone treated my relationship as a relationship. I can’t have it both ways.

Consider a more personal angle of the dilemma. When I refer to my girlfriend as a “friend,” it’s internalized homophobia; a form of self-sabotage. How can I expect others to take my relationship seriously if I don’t present it that way? Well, I say “friend” because it’s not worth the pit in my stomach to choke out the word “girlfriend” and wait for a reaction. So, just like there are times when I wish I was one of the girls, there are times when I wish people would acknowledge the seriousness of my relationship without it being a shocking revelation. I wish I could say I’m in love with someone and for that to be the end of it. I want nothing more than to walk up to my extended family and happily introduce them to the person I love, but it’s easier said than done in a society that hasn’t fully detached from heteronormativity.

Original Illustration by Her Campus Media

I know I’m not alone, as I’ve seen my girlfriend work through this same dilemma. It’s even easier for her to notice it because her twin sister is dating a guy. How her parents treat the two relationships is evidently different. One double standard is that I can sleep in her bedroom when I visit, something she insists her twin’s boyfriend would never be allowed to do. So I wonder, do her parents allow it because we’re seen as two friends having a sleepover? Or is it because they’re uncomfortable acknowledging our relationship? Maybe they just don’t care, but my mom would never let that slide.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure I’ll ever figure this out completely. It presents itself in big ways and small, it’s confusing, and so much remains unknown. What I do know is that I want to play a role in breaking down, not perpetuating, the heteronormative society we live in. To do so, I need to first face my fear of saying the word “girlfriend” aloud. I need to get out of my head.

Grace Bertagna

U Mass Amherst '23

Grace Bertagna is a sophomore at UMass Amherst studying Spanish and Sociology. She enjoys painting, practicing yoga, cooking, and playing ice hockey.
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