The guy I’m having sex with isn’t my boyfriend. He’s not my husband either. Nor is he a friend with benefits. So what is he? I’ll get to that, but I repeat, he’s not my boyfriend. It’s not that I have a problem with boyfriends (or girlfriends). It’s just that I have a problem with the words that are thrown around and recycled. More specifically, I have a problem with the words that are meant as shitty labels to describe my relationship.
Don’t misunderstand, I get why they’re so widely used. Without getting lost in the sea of semantics, what else do you easily call a dynamic sexual relationship between people? Especially one that implies a commitment to monogamy. Lovers? Too dramatic. Sexual sidekicks? Too crude. Significant others or partners? While also common, to me they’re just too pedantic. Lady or manfriends? Too…well actually, I kind of like manfriend. But I digress, I understand the socially accepted labels of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are used out of simplicity, identification, and convenience. It doesn’t mean I have to like or use them though. What is it about those words or labels that I find grating? For one thing, they’re not terribly explicit (ambiguous in some cases), and perhaps even a bit sexist. More importantly, it’s like caging an exotic butterfly. It just isn’t right. To force something so beautiful, so fragile into something so rigid and boxy is stifling.
If those labels in particular are used to help identify personal relations, then what logic exists to suggest they aren’t explicit? For the same reason that they are sexist. If a woman talks about her girlfriend, it can mean she has a platonic female friend, or it can mean that the girlfriend is her lady lover. On the flip-side, imagine this scenario: two men are hanging out, just friends. One of the guys introduces the buddy as his boyfriend. I suspect that introduction would end with either an explosive denial of carefully-chosen or perhaps not-so-carefully-chosen words…maybe even a kiss with a fist. Nuff said. Moving on.
The exotic caged butterfly. Relationships are resplendent—yes, even the bad ones are things of beauty if you have the right perspective. They are ever-developing and vulnerable; circuitous and fluid. They are one of the best ways to learn about yourself, and like caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly they can be equally as metamorphic to your life. So using one particular, all-encompassing word to describe the complexity of how people relate to each other and the effects that relationships can have on us is contrived and contrary to the organic nature of connection. It is ultimately undermining and restraining. The labels “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” have become necessary metonymies in our society to reduce the intricacies of human interconnectedness into something tangible, something overly simple. But in doing so we have also rendered relationships into trivialized afterthoughts of fluff. It’s the stuff teen movies and cotton candy are made of.
Furthermore, it’s as though we have an inherent need to put everything into unyielding compartments for the sake of our own comfort—and this probably deserves an entire post on its own: how many people need to know the status of their relationship just so they can sleep at night? A lot. Have you ever introduced the person you’re romantically involved with as your friend and watch as puzzlement twists people’s frontal lobes like a Rubik’s Cube while they attempt to make sense of what your relationship really is?
For the record (if I feel compelled to label at all), I do use the term “friend”. And then later, I get cornered for inquisition—people want to know what the real deal is with me and so-and-so. But I understand that too. “Friend” is a far cry from perfect, and while at least it’s neutral, it’s still comparably vague. I didn’t say I had the solution to my problem, and it’s really not a life-altering problem at all. What’s more is that they are just words and I can accept that. Only, I just don’t like those words. Those idle, brittle terms that have been pummelled dull and lifeless. So until something else comes along—and I’d love to hear any suggestions—I’ll be refraining from calling the guy I’m sleeping with my boyfriend.
Photo Credit: Relationship by JD Hancock