Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Lists, Theory & Essay

Why You Should Never Say “Boyfriend” (or “Girlfriend”) Again

[***LATE BREAKING ADMIN NOTE: Tune in this Sunday night, March 6, 2011,  at 11pm to Weekly with Ed Gordon on BET as Panama Jackson represents for VSB and talks with Ed about our first book and various facets of relationships. I’m pretty sure Steve Harvey also got mentioned. Oh, and Brick killed a guy. Also, VSB was recently written up in The Washington Post by reporter Erin Williams for this Sunday’s print edition. Peep the article here. WaPo and BET…slow week at VSB. Thanks for putting us in a position for these things to even happen for us. We truly appreciate it. ***]

The gentleman caller

***I originally touched on this topic a couple years ago, but a couple recent developments inspired me to revisit and revise***

Several weeks ago, one of my homegirls told me that the dude she’s currently dating referred to himself as her boyfriend for the first time. After we had a solemn moment of silence to honor the passing of her perpetual singledom, the conversation quickly segued into a full-fledged discussion about the complete and utter weirdness of the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” — the generic terms most people use to describe an exclusive and non-married significant other.

Why are these words so weird? Well, how strange is it that the title your six-year old niece would give the kid who flirts by throwing erasers at her in homeroom is the exact same title a 50 year old divorcee grandmother would use to refer to the plumber she met at a Promise-Keepers conference in Kansas City?

Obviously, I’m disturbed by this. So disturbed, in fact, that I’ve decided to devote today to an examination of many of the most popular terms used for non-married significant others. Hopefully, we can come to a final consensus about which is the most appropriate, and hopefully this consensus will spread. (And, um, if you don’t think we have the power to start trends, try googling “Tyler Perry Love Jones” when you get a minute)


–The common generic term for a non-married significant other (male), but the “boy” involved gives it a bit of a juvenile feel. Sure “boyfriend” is cool when you’re 14, double dating at Dave and Busters and fantasizing about a possible extended finger bang in the backseat of an older brother’s Buick Lesabre, but it just sounds wrong to think about a 45 year old woman asking her boyfriend to rub her feet so she won’t get the gout.


–Also a common generic term, but black women’s selfish need to steal “girlfriend” instead of just inventing another word for the people they dread going to Sunday brunch with have made it too ambiguous. We need some unambiguousness.


–Too vanilla. Also, since “mating” is one of the proper ways of saying “f*king,” isn’t saying “my mate” the same as saying “my f*ck?” A bit presumptuous if you ask me.


–Just sounds too old and too creepy. I can’t tell if it’s a term for a man a woman’s in a relationship with or Wendy Robinson’s euphemism for a vibrator.


–Whenever I hear this term I think about some 45 year old divorced chick named Shirley that works at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, drives a Cavalier with a leopard interior, and smokes Newports. Also, if you can find a way to ignore the pre and post coital coughing, she’ll probably also have the best p*ssy you’ll ever have.

I actually think that all 45 year old women who still date should just be referred to as “Shirleys.”

“significant other”

–Eh. Along with being too formal, it’s entirely too misleading. I mean, what if you’re just exclusively dating and sleeping with this cat, but the relationship and the person really aint all that significant to you? If significant other does eventually replace boyfriend and girlfriend, do you reserve the right to change it to “aside from his uncanny resemblance to a tripod, I couldn’t give a gotdamn less about this n*gga other?”

“gentleman caller”

–While well-intentioned, gentleman caller just can’t escape the date-rapey vibe it gives off. Whenever I see this I think of a character Clifton Powell would play.


–Along with “rainbow” and “hummus,” gay people ruined this word for everybody else.


–Too possessive sounding, and too stupid sounding when any woman under 30 uses it.


–Just like “man,” “woman” only works with somebody you’ve had sex with at least 1,200 times.

“my girl”

–Although flawed, “my girl” remains my favorite. It sounds a bit more intimate than girlfriend, and also lets the person you’re referring to know they’re your n*gga as well as the person they’re having monkey matrix sex with. Trust me: a man probably won’t refer to a woman he’s sleeping with as “My girl” unless she passes the V Test.

“my boy”

–Although my girl and my boy hold semantic similarities, they don’t have the same connotation. There is nothing that says “Yeah, Charlie Sheen has a better chance of giving a toast at Chuck Lorre’s grandson’s Bar Mitzvah than this cat has of sleeping with me” better than a chick referring to a guy she’s seeing as “my boy.

bf” and “gf”

–Great for text, but they both just sound too impersonal. Plus, “bf” sounds too close to “bm,” and no one whats to be referred to on a consistent basis with something that sounds a euphemism for sh*tting.

“my lady”

–Would work if not for the fact that America hasn’t housed an actual “lady” since 1983.


The shelf life on using “wifey” in an unironic sense expired in 2001.

“my chick/dude

—This is a bit too Mid-Atlantic-ey. Fine for me, but I like to keep things simple for the southerners. I’m considerate like that.

“my earth/God/goddess/queen/king/power u/spirit/field/galaxy/soulmate/vision”

—Shut the f*ck up.

Ok. I’m stuck. With the exception of the admittedly lukewarm “my girl,”  none of these terms seem to work.

People of VSB: What do you think? Can you think of a term or two that should be the definitive non-married significant other title from this day forth?

The carpet is yours.

—The Champ

Filed Under: ,
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Ohhhhhh say it aint so!! Am I first?!?! Yay
    *throws confetti*

  • No love for “slampiece”?

  • TheAnti-Cool

    Deja vu all over again?

  • Sylph

    Still pondering but Mister is one that need not be on the list (and yes, I know someone that calls her boyfriend this). Too many The Color Purple screenings effed that moniker up for me.

  • Tes

    FIrst, dude in the picture is a low-key creeper. Hell not even low-key; I had to look over my shoulder when I saw him just to be on the safe side.

    I also see you’re feeling yourself with the whole Tyler Perry thing (as well you should). ;)

    And I agree: My soulmate/ect is just an eye-roller. Especially soulmate to me as, true story, a dude I met on a Monday texted me continually into the next day and by mid afternoon I was his “soulmate.” T_T seriously. F*ckin creepers…

    As for nicknames, I’d have to go with “lover,” short, sweet and says it all. Personally, I don’t mind being called somebody’s “woman,” but then again I’ve been known to have a bit of a thing for Tarzan-ish men :)

    My best friend uses the term “carpet cleaners” for men who she doesn’t date but has chex with on a regular basis. At first I was like “eww” then I was like “I guess.”

    Sidenote: What’s wrong with just using the man’s name? If I’m with him, and everybody knows I’m with him, why I gotta be creative and sh*t? Why can’t I just say me and John went to Chacho’s and had chalupas and body shots?

  • Yoles

    i think it depends on who you are talking to about your s/o and what medium is being used… for instance s/o works so well in written exchange, boyfriend/girlfriend works well with close friends & family, my lady/my man just flows when speaking about something nice that was done by that particular person, old man/old lady when you’re speaking with older black folk and paramour fits just right when you do not want to indicate the sex of your s/o. i guess you can also say “the person i’m seeing” or something along those lines…

    personally, i stick with my man or i just use his name or if feeling raunchy i’ll just call him my in house d*ck lol

  • Corey

    Wait… double dates at Dave and Buster’s are no longer cool? *Note to self: Find new location for date tonight*

    LMAO!!! @”Shirley’s”

    Sir, I’m going to need you to back up off the southerners.

  • This post is ev.ry.thing.
    You’re right. At 28+, you just can’t throw the word boy/girl friend around all willy nilly. It’s so undergrad.

    We must, we must, we must increase our bust-ticity [i made that up] to greater terminology for those we adore, share our beds and last chicken wings with.

    Great read. Gon’ to RT rat nah. [that’s just some Southern twang for you; thanks for the Southern shout out.]

  • I call my significant other Mr. Xoom. Because he’s that man of ambiguous descent in the Verizon motorola commercial.

  • I don’t mind girlfriend/boyfriend, except when my mama says it… which is funny now that she is currently booed up, but she would refuse to ever introduce any of my boyfriends with the title “boyfriend”. She would always say “Alise’s friend” o_0. Really Ma? You introduce my cohabitating annoying f*cker who has been in my life for years as my “friend”, but now all of a sudden you have a “boyfriend”. See this seat Ma? –> \_ , this is your new boyfriend, become acquainted with it.

    Funny thing is I once had a boyfriend (he was crazy) that was really upset about the introduction, he saw that as a sign that I didn’t take our relationship seriously… and at that moment was when I actually DID lose all seriousness and interest. smh…

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