Imagine seeing the same romantic partner for years. Maybe a friendship evolved into dating, which turned into a shared living space, shared rent and shared goals. Imagine if ― for one reason or another ― you didn’t want marriage to be the form your committed relationship took. Maybe you weren’t legally able to be married, or maybe the precedent set by your parents didn’t make that particular type of union seem appealing. Maybe your career was your priority, and the idea of planning a wedding seemed daunting. Maybe you just didn’t think legally binding yourself to another person was the way to express your love.
Regardless, you’ve decided to date one person, and only one person, as long as you both shall live, or at least as long as you both feel satisfied overall with your arrangement. If you’re a teen or young adult, it might make sense to call this person your “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” But with the new shapes that modern relationships are taking, those terms are starting to seem retrograde.
In 2014, Time reported that 25 percent of millennials will never get married, and that cohabitation is replacing the legal promise. If marriage is on the decline, shouldn’t “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend,” and “girlfriend” ― traditional markers of the ways relationships used to progress ― be tweaked, too?
Just as “he” and “she” are descriptors that force gender binaries on individuals who are gender-nonconforming, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are restrictive words for describing your significant other. One solution to “he” and “she” is the singular “they,” a word that grammar pedants have opposed, but news outlets such as The Washington Post have embraced. Is there a similar solution for “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”?
It doesn’t help that the descriptors are juvenile. Millennials are getting married later than any preceding generation has, so “manfriend” and “womanfriend,” while decidedly cringeworthy, might be more appropriate. Hanna Rosin wrote for Slate that “fiancé” is a suitable replacement that’s being used by Americans who are engaged indefinitely, often due to financial reasons. But the word still has an expectant air, and wafts of a certain cloying sweetness.
Curious about which words couples use to describe their long-term partners, both married and unmarried, The Huffington Post partnered with YouGov for a poll. The findings show that “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “husband,” and “wife” are still the most popular descriptors, but some surprising alternatives are used, too.
Seventy-six percent of those polled said that they’re satisfied with the terms that currently exist to describe relationships; 13 percent said they wished there were more accurate terms to describe relationships. It’s worth noting, though, that just 80 percent of respondents under 30 identified as straight, and more than 90 percent of respondents over 30 identified as straight. And, 19 percent of respondents under 30 were married, while about half of respondents over 30 were married.
Seventy-three percent of married respondents referred to their significant other as their “husband” or “wife.” “Spouse” significantly out-ranked “life partner” and “soul mate,” which received 2 and 4 percent of responses respectively.
Thirty-seven percent of unmarried respondents with long-term significant others referred to them as as their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.” “Lover” and “life partner” got 12 percent apiece, and “significant other” was the term preferred by 13 percent of respondents.
Among single people polled, 34 percent said they would refer to their long-term partner as their “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” if they had one; 10 percent preferred “partner,” but the descriptor was more popular among the 45 and older set, indicating that it might be going out of vogue.
“Soul mate” is the descriptor of choice for 8 percent of respondents, and “companion” is preferred by 7 percent. “Lover” was more popular with those under 30 than those over 30, indicating that we millennials are really just a bunch of earnest saps, deep down.
So, there may be no clear-cut solution to the gendered, somewhat childish and oftentimes inaccurate terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” But suggestions are welcome.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted June 30 through July 4 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.