Boyfriend. It’s the name of a painfully awful Justin Bieber song, a style of jeans that I like to wear on the weekends, and, in my opinion, one of the most sickening, cringe-worthy words in the English language.
I can’t put my finger on why exactly I hate this word so much. It could be the b-word’s heteronormative connotation (I once read that straight allies should try to refer to significant others in gender-neutral terms such as ‘partner,’ but to me, that feels just as icky as “boyfriend”). Or, maybe, it’s the annoyingly clichéd girls at my school who will use any excuse to blab about their boys (when every Monday is Man Crush Monday you know you’ve gone too far). It could be a fear of commitment that has quietly plagued me throughout every relationship I’ve been in (doesn’t the “b” in the b-word also stand for binding?). But I think most of all, it’s the fact that the word, at least, to me, sounds silly and girlish and just entirely insincere. How can I describe a loving, meaningful relationship with the same word I used to identify the boy I passed cutesy notes to for a couple of weeks in the sixth grade? With this justification in mind, I used the b-word as sporadically as possible through three long-term courtships. And then, about a month ago, came the incident that brought the b-word off the tip of my tongue, and into my everyday vocabulary. Allow me to explain.
It was a Friday afternoon. I was running a fundraiser at school, and a pretty big crowd had shown up, including my significant other. As the event was winding down and only a few people remained, a guy I sort of knew (read: had only spoken to about three times) approached me and, in front of my boyfriend, asked me to prom. Absolutely mortified, I tried to turn him down as gently as possible; explaining that while I appreciated the gesture, someone else had beaten him to the punch. He looked both disappointed and confused: apparently, he was under the impression that I was without a date. While I’m pretty sure this was some kind of misunderstanding/inconveniently-projected fantasy, my mind instantly flashed back to a conversation that I’d had with this guy about a week earlier. I was nomming on a giant iced cookie, a post-argument apology prize from my man. Random Guy asked if it was my birthday and I responded with no, the cookie was just a gift from a friend. A friend. Not that this exchange had anything to do with prom, or even remotely implied anything other than the fact that it’s quite unusual to show up to class with a giant iced cookie. But if I had just added a simple “boy” in front of the “friend,” this guy would never have thought it was a good idea to ask me out, and I never would have been forced to crush his dreams/make him scramble to find a backup prom date.
Aside from making me extremely uncomfortable, this incident forced me to rethink my abhorrence of the b-word. Referring to my boyfriend as, well, my boyfriend doesn’t mean I have to gush about our month-aversaries or doodle “Mrs. Boyfriend” in the margins of my notebooks. Instead, it’s a way to show both him and others that I care about our relationship and take it seriously. If a guy I was dating introduced me as his “friend” I would be absolutely enraged – so, what gives me the right to essentially do the same thing? The b-word isn’t a bad word, and there’s no shame in publicly acknowledging the fact that I’m in a relationship. And if nothing else, my gradual acceptance of the b-word – ugh, okay, boyfriend – will at least keep random guys from asking me to prom.
So ladies, gentlemen, and anyone else who nurses a deep hatred of labels like “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, or even “partner” – take a deep breath, think happy thoughts about your lovely special someone, and just say it. I guarantee that it won’t turn you into a sixth grade girl or a Justin Bieber fan, but it may save you from an excruciatingly awkward moment like mine. And it may just make your boyfriend (or girlfriend, or whomever) smile.