It’s 2016, and we encourage everyone to be who they are and identify where they feel comfortable on the sexuality and gender spectrum. But despite the effort from many to move away from traditional gender roles and relationship concepts, we still have a long way to go. When talking about dating, it’s still normal to default to words that make it seem like everyone is a heterosexual straight person, and that can leave anyone who identifies as anything else feeling crappy. What happens when you start dating a new person and the words “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” don’t necessarily fit how either of you identify? There are actually a lot of gender neutral words and phrases to use in place of these, but unfortunately, most people don’t use them.
Some of you might roll your eyes at that and wonder why you need to change something you’re so used to. I’ll explain! Using limiting words like “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” frequently force both parties into a weird coming out that no one really asked for. It’s considerate to talk about which words are okay and which ones aren’t so that you don’t alienate friends or partners who aren’t cis-gender. Or, in situations where you’d like to discuss your relationship without outing your or your partner’s sexuality, you might want to use more gender inclusive terms because the words we use right now to describe sexuality are so linked to gender. How exhausting.
All of that is to say that you should adopt one of these words or phrases. The LGBTQIA+ spectrum is vast and having to out and explain yourself over and over again because of limiting labels is the actual worst. For however many ways there are to identify in terms of sexuality and gender, there’s so many words we have to choose from and new ones are being introduced every day: you wouldn’t know what bae even meant five years ago, now look! These 16 gender neutral words to use to refer to the person you’re dating are excellent catch-alls, no matter how you identify.
1) My person
This is your person. Your number one, ride or die, you against the world team mate, life mate, person you’re in love with. Also, it’s a stellar A+ Grey’s Anatomy reference.
2) My partner
This, to me is THE gender positive term of endearment. It encompasses all someone is to you in a more serious relationship when the standard boyfriend/girlfriend feels to casual, but you might not be headed towards marriage just yet.
3) My sweetheart
Just a tinge old fashioned and sweet, this word feels playful, but I know plenty of people who low-key despise this word, so maybe clear it with your person before you try it out.
4) My date
Alternatives include date-mate or date-friend. For casual relationships where you want to draw a direct etymological parallel between boyfriend and girlfriend without gendering the whole thing.
5) My beloved
If you super into your serious relationship and have a flair for the dramatic, drop this word. Typically reserved for poetry, try using it in your every day life if you want.
6) My love
7) My boo
It sounds like a more modern take on “beau” which typically refers to a male partner, but boo is more inclusive, silly (especially as boo boo), and fun.
8) My steady
This word will never not make me think of Bye Bye Birdie.
9) My better half
My mother uses this one a lot and it’s super common. A lot of people like it (but, it’s personally not for me.)
10) My significant other
Or S.O. It’s a tad formal with the phrasing, but how else would you describe someone who’s more than a friend without putting too much of a label on the level of seriousness in your relationship?
11) My soul mate
Oh, the cheese factor with this one. If you feel it, use it.
12) My companion
This term is a little antiquated, but definitely takes on new meaning and a life of it’s own when in the hands of Doctor Who fans.
Short for object of my affection.
Short for love of my life.
YES. A lot of people hate on this word, but it’s modern, all encompassing with gender and sexuality, sounds like an already familiar word, and it even looks cute. Long live bae.
16) The golden standard: “This is [their name].”
Don’t want to label your relationship, your partner, and let them speak for themselves, just introduce them as their name. Even referring to them as My [their name] is hella cute.
What words do you use with your partner? Do you have any more suggestions? What language do you use to be more inclusive? Let us know in the comments!
You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter.