As person in all parts of the world has experienced this. We assign labels to everything. Certain words even have a stigma about them. We do this so there is a common point of reference. I received a request to talk about this topic. At first, I wasn't sure if it would be a topic until I gave it some thought. If also received this as a request from Jacklyn. She asked that her location not be mentioned. In an email to me she wrote, " I read your book making partnership choices. It was exactly as your website described it. Informational, helpful, funny, and followed a story line. I found the information astonishing. There were many things I realized I was not aware of. I do have a question. In the early stages of a relationship, how should people refer to each other, and how do they introduce each other." After thinking about her question, I thought to myself. This is a good topic. Think back for a moment. How many times on your first, second, or third date, did you run into people you knew and thought for a moment, "How should I introduce him, or her?" Everyone has. Once a relationship is established, it becomes natural. People will choose whatever they like. However, in the beginning, you don't want to insult the other, jump the gun, or making it appear as if you are making an assumption. Yet, you want them to feel comfortable and respected. At least I hope you do.
I replied to her email, and thought this was an excellent topic to address. Thank you Jacklyn for your question. I hope my reply was helpful. Jacklyn did add additional information about her particular situation that I chose not share to keep her location and situation private. Let's look at some terms:
5. Special Friend,
7. Significant other,
8. Life Partner
There are many more. These are just of the most some examples.
This topic is referring to the early stages of dating. On a first date, this is never an issue. You introduce the person you are with as a friend. That is expected, and doesn't hurt anyone's feelings. But as the next few dates occur, it does begin to matter to many people. In a sense, to the other, it establishes how the relationship is progressing. How the dictionary defines those terms is irrelevant. In many circumstances, society has a pre-conceived idea of what those words mean. That perception DOES NOT always match a dictionary definition. When we hear the word "MATE," we associated it with a type of relationship. However, when the term mate is used, it us usually describing an association in the animal community, or a reference to how they partake in the task of making offspring's. Such as, a tiger chooses a mate. The mating characteristics of salmon. Few use it when referring to a human connection except some cultures such as in Australia, where the word mate refers to a friend. "We are mates."
The word "Partner" is a word with a stigma. A stigma is something that has a mark or description. Many do not use the word partner for that reason. When same sex relationships became more open and accepted, the word partner was first widely used to describe the other person in the relationship. Therefore, those that were not in a same sex relationship did not what to use it. Their thought process was, they did not want people to think they were in a same sex relationship. Therefore, if they would speak to a friend, they might say, "The girl I'm seeing, or "The man I'm dating," rather than partner. This is a perfect example of what I said earlier that word does not necessarily follow the dictionary definition, since in no definition of the word partner, does it refer to a same sex relationship, therefore, the stigma. It is a shame that stigma's are attached to certain words. Two men certainly can't call the other a girlfriend. That is a gender specific word. The same applies to the word boyfriend in the female same sex relationship. In the same sex relationships, the term partner or significant other is more widely used. However, two men, may still use boyfriend, and two women may still use girlfriend, but they are not as commonly use.
The word "Friend," is self-explanatory. Couples on a first date may introduce the person they are with as their friend, or special friend, a good friend, or my dear friend. This is normal and completely appropriate on the first date. When someone continues this practice as the two have more dates together, it could present to the other person that the individual they are with is not sure what to call them. Maybe they are not sure where the relationship is going. It can become uncomfortable. This is a direct result of insecurity and fear. One person may not want to "jump the gun," or make an "assumption" to early.
Let's say you go away for a weekend with another couple. Each couple has a separate room. You introduce the person you are with as a friend, or my good friend. IS IT POSSIBLE, that you might be sending the wrong perception of the one you are with to the other couple? Maybe they might think you are "friends with benefits." To some, that can be highly insulting. Is this how you want the one you are with to be perceived? If that is the case, that's fine. If not, someone on't be getting lucky that night. As you can see, it starts to get, and is a tricky subject. I have seen couples argue about the way the person they are with introduced them. It can, and is, a sensitive subject for some.
"Special friend," is sometimes used, but not as common. I am not fond of that term because in general, when people speak of someone being "special," it can be perceived that they have some form of a disability, rather than take it to mean this person has a special meaning to the other. If perceived correctly, it is used so people know this person is a special person to them. But adding friend to the end still brings up the same concerns what we discussed with the word friends.
"Boyfriend and girlfriend" are still widely used in the heterosexual community with one exception. Most older adults feel those terms apply more to younger adults than them. Someone in their 50's, 60's, or older, look upon those terms as being adolescent. They refrain from using them. However, there are older couples that will use it because of the youthful perception it portrays. My elderly most commonly use the word friend.
So what is the right term that fits all situations, lends to a degree of maturity, is not gender specific, nor does it affect a homosexual or heterosexual relationship?
"SIGNIFICANT OTHER" says it all. It is now becoming a widely used expression because it clearly defines any relationship regardless of the individual sex. Certainly none of this applies to married couples. However, I do know many married couples that use it. Those that are very independent feel the term "husband" or "wife," refers to a form of possession or ownership. This one of the two prime reasons many people live together and do not get married. The second is money and assets. They feel marriage is an institution that takes their independence away. However, that is a different topic all together, and many who live together and are not married use the term "Life Partner." The only issue with this term, is those who are traditional, find it uncomfortable to use. They perceive it as not feeling natural, or does not accurately describe the relationship. From the standpoint of terminology, significant other it is the best and most accurate term to use. In today's society, people are more conscious of what terminology they use so as not to offend others. As a writer, I am very conscious of that. Even the most basic words such as homosexual, heterosexual, and gay, are very insulting to some. Therefore, significant other fills those shoes perfectly.
SUMMARY: There is no right or wrong. It's all a matter of what YOU feel comfortable with. The best suggestion I could give anyone is communicate with the person you are with. For example. If I have just started to date someone, and we do not have an established relationship, let's call it the exploration stage, I will simply ask the woman I am with, "How would you like me to introduce you?"
In almost every case, the answer is the same. "Whatever you feel comfortable with is fine with me." The moral is, don't overthink it. The human condition is one that causes us all to overthink many things. This causes undo pressure and insecurity. Two things that can ruin a relationship at it's earliest stages. If you are at any stage in your relationship or dating process, and do not feel that you could ask someone a simple question, you have bigger things to think about. Such as, is this the person you should be with? The very first thing that gets any relationship off to the right start is communications. Use it. It's the simplest yet most powerful and effective tool we all have at our disposable. As I said earlier. On the surface, this seems like a simple issue, but think back to the times YOU were in that position. I know you were. We all have been. How much thought did you give to it at the time? Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you want to learn more about this and other relationship topics, get my book "Making Partnership Choices."
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