Let’s say that this (or any other) dating method actually works so well that you’re able to go on more than one date with the same person.

What should you call the person you are in a relationship with?

“This is my girlfriend, Suzy.”

“Um, this is, uh, the person I’m seeing, Chris.”

“Well, this is my . . . um . . . This is Christy. We’ve been hanging out quite a bit lately.”

As silly as it may seem, this is actually a fairly significant issue for any dating relationship that makes it past the first DTR. For some, the term ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ is a very important and significant benchmark in a dating relationship. For others, though, it’s actually a term that some men and women prefer to avoid.

Regardless of opinion, it is important that each relationship have definition. If that definition requires terminology, then it is equally as important that both the man and the woman are on the same page with the connotations and implications of the terminology.

That being said . . .

It is difficult to avoid the connotations of the terms ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ and I strongly recommend not using the terms at all. Why not? If you’ll indulge an illustration first, here’s my answer:

My wife and I own a rental property. It is currently occupied by five amazing young women. Each of them is responsible, hard-working, and dependable. Some of them have been tenants of ours for several years now. They enjoy their house and love having their friends over for all sorts of occasions. Unless they told you outright, it would be difficult to discern just by looking that they were renting the house. You would think they own the place. But no matter how long they have lived there or how much they enjoy it, they are tenants – not owners.

Having the appearance of an owner, but really being a tenant is a bad deal for landlords. Most landlords will tell you that tenants generally do not treat a rental property the same way they would treat something they actually own themselves. The perfect example? A college dormitory. In each dorm room you will find a college student who calls it “my room” and yet never vacuums the carpet, tears holes in the walls, and leaves it in a worse condition than when he/she first arrived. Even though that student may say, “come over to my dorm room”, the reality is that the student does not own the room. The student has the appearance of an owner, but is really just a tenant.

I feel like the same thing can happen with dating relationships.

For a man to call a woman his girlfriend gives the appearance of ownership, but in reality the woman does not belong to the man. And, much like the dorm room, he will start treating the woman as if he actually does own her only to pack up and leave her in a worse condition than when he found her when he is ready to move on. The terms ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ allow men and women to masquerade as owners of each other (a privilege reserved only for couples who are married) when they are, at best, renting one another.

And everyone knows that renters make terrible owners.

What does this look like in real life? When a couple decides to become ‘exclusive’ and starts to refer to one another in this manner, certain expectations are immediately put into place:

  • The guy no longer has to ask the girl out for a date any longer. It is assumed that they will be spending Friday or Saturday night together each weekend.
  • The guy will help himself to the woman’s body as if it is his own personal possession and as if it exists to serve him and make him happy.
  • The guy doesn’t have to treat the girl as elaborately as he once did because he’s already won her over.
  • The guy isn’t allowed to sit to or talk to another girl because it makes the girlfriend jealous and/or insecure.
  • The guy’s friendship’s take a back seat to the girl’s social agenda and personal preferences.
  • The guy must call, text, message, etc the girlfriend on a regular basis or else the relationship could be in jeopardy.

Since I work with college students quite a bit, I have the chance to officiate a wedding from time to time. Aside from the actual pronouncement of marriage, my favorite part of the wedding ceremony is the giving away of the bride. In weddings I officiate, I spend an extra couple of minutes on the rite. Instead of simply asking, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”, I ask the father in front of the entire audience if he finds the man worthy to assume his role as protector, provider, and cherisher of his daughter. Then I ask the groom if he understands the role he is about to assume. Then I ask the bride if she is willing to honor her husband the way she has honored her father.

It’s a transfer of ownership. The former owner (the father) is handing his prized possession (the bride) over to another man (the groom) that he has declared worthy to take his place and able to to cherish her the way he has.

It’s a powerful moment.

So, until that time comes, I encourage couples to avoid the terminology of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ and, instead, simply say, “Steve is the guy I’m dating” (or “Sally is the girl I’m dating”). There’s nothing wrong with being a renter that wants to own his own place someday. Just don’t kid yourself until that day comes.

What do you call the person you are in a dating relationship with? Have you ever felt the terms ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ communicated too much? 
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