The Gay Community Recalls The Word “Girlfriend” To Describe Platonic Friendships

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Writer by way of GA/PDX/MPLS/NASHVILLE. Let's keep it clean out there!

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96 Comments

  1. 0

    Three things:

    1. Thank you sweet queer lord above for this press release.

    2. Women from zumba class are not exempt! Ali just told us that old people can adapt – SO DO IT, 50+ WOMEN. DO IT. BE THE HEROES WE NEED.

    3. A couple years ago my gal pal was doing a project with this boy in her german class (he was young and taking his first community college class, she was 25 and taking german before enrolling in her phd program). He came over to work, the group house was hoppin’, so she took him up to our bedroom that had a desk in it.
    Little Boy Person: “This room is huge!”
    Gal Pal: “Well, it’s for both of us.”
    LBP: “Both of you?”
    Gal Pal: “Me and my girlfriend, you just met her upstairs and I talk about her a lot?”
    LBP: “…There’s only one bed.”
    Gal Pal: “Yeah, well, she’s my girlfriend, you met her downstairs, so yeah, we share the bed.”
    LBP: *eyes slowly bug out* “Wait…like…like lesbians?”

    So yeah. All aboard the girlfriend recall.

  2. 0

    My aunt once used both kinds of girlfriend in the SAME SENTENCE. By referring to her “girlfriend’s girlfriend,” she did not mean her lover’s lover, nor her platonic friend’s platonic friend. She meant her platonic friend’s partner of 35 years. Facepalm.

  3. 0

    Yesss (and that final paragraph is GOLD.)

    I once somewhat sarcasticly came out to an aunt through this misuse -she asked if I’d enjoyed seeing a movie with my girlfriend, I replied that my girlfriend couldn’t make it this time so I’d seen it with my friend, Sharon, and we liked it fine thanks.

  4. 0

    Omg so this literally just happened to me this morning. I have a new roommate who just moved in and she mentioned that her girlfriend had been visiting. So I was thinking “cool, she’s queer!” And then literally two sentences later she mentioned a boyfriend. So now I don’t know if she’s straight (or bi/queer and with a guy) or just poly. And I’m literally the most awkward person in the world so I didn’t try to clarify in any way. So this article made my day.

  5. 0

    Yes please.

    This is a constant issue for me. I have been trying for YEARS to casually come out to various folks at work who are clearly in the dark (and I’m trying to do it casually because it’s just been too many years), so I’ll say something like, “Oh, my girlfriend and I are going to the Catskills this weekend,” my heart beating quickly and thinking FINALLY! IT’S DONE! I FOUND THE CASUAL “IN” WITHOUT MAKING A BIG DEAL OUT OF IT!

    Moments later, the immediate response will inevitably be something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, MY girlfriends and I were thinking of all going in on a cabin up there this fall!”

    Sigh.

    (And no, the plural “girlfriends” has never once made me think they’re queer and poly.)

  6. 0

    Also, it’s even worse in a language like German, where the word girlfriend/boyfriend isn’t even gender-distinguished (which, on the bright side: yay?), but only exists in like “friend”. BUT IT HAS THE SAME AMBIGUITY LIKE IN ENGLISH.

    As in, she could be my friend but she could also be my FRIEND *ifyouknowwhatimean*.

    Makes the whole thing stupidly awkward because the stupid heteronormativity. So everyone assumes that if you (as woman) refer to another woman as friend, that she’s “just” a friend. Whereas if you (as a woman) refer to a man as friend, they always assume HE IS THE ONE (as in boyfriend).

  7. 0

    I have almost outed myself on several occasions by casually mentioning my girlfriend (the one I had sex with) to my mother. The g-word slipped but thanks to its many uses, I was able to say that I just meant a friend and not someone who I did many ungodly things to.

    I’m gonna have to hold on to the many uses of girlfriend for us that sometimes forget that we have to keep our relationships a secret.

  8. 0

    UGH YES.

    Recently a woman I was talking to, as I was serving her in a shop, interrupted me to angrily ask, ‘Why do you keep saying PARTNER? I don’t understand – are they male or female?’

    To which my soul replied ‘IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER WHAT THEY ARE – WHY ARE YOU CONFUSED ABOUT ANYTHING. I just made this EASIER for you because I’ve trained myself NOT to say girlfriend so that you don’t MISTAKENLY think that I’m referring to a platonic girlfriend who I went on a platonic girlfriend holiday with.’

    And my face replied, ‘Oh. Girlfriend. My partner is female.’

    Because I have no idea how to deal with these situations when they present themselves in real life and not in a comment box.

  9. 0

    In Dutch you use the word ‘vriendin’ to describe a female friend. It is (almost) never used to refer to a romantic partner. My wife and I have been married for 10 years (yay Belgium!) and my grandfather still refers to her as ‘uw vriendin’ (‘your female friend’). It drives me insane.

  10. 0

    I love this! I wince when people use girlfriend to mean a friend who is a girl. I cannot fathom how this usage came into being, it seems so bizarre. Unless, way back when, some woman loving woman slipped up in conversation and covered with “Oh it just means platonic female friend…don’t you know that? Everyone says it.” and it caught on.

  11. 0

    I once made a venting post about this and someone reblogged this with “well what am i supposed to call me female friends then???????” and it’s like…..y’know……..maybe u could call them…..friends……..

  12. 0

    Side tragedy: Google “BFF” and the definition Google provides is “a girl’s best friend.”

    It both:
    -Irritated me in the way that things do when they’re unnecessarily obtuse. [why not “best friend forever”, which is the actual definition, obviously, & additionally it’s funny to think about in longform because it’s unexpectedly dramatic?]
    -Broke my heart because I think BFFs are for everyone. Not just “girls.”

    I processed this with my BFF who helpfully suggested, “I wonder if Google identifies as a girl.”

  13. 0

    This post is so apt! I have a friend who, even worse, thinks gal pal is a fun word for platonic friendships and for a while my profile pic was a nice shot of us before a night out where she’d commented “Love it gal pal”. So misleading to all my queen friends.

    I did try and explain it to her using Kristen Stewart and Alicia but she’s still in denial that K-Stew is on our team.

      • 0

        I’m in my forties and from the north of England, and I’ve only ever heard it used to describe platonic friendships on US tv shows and movies. It’s always seemed odd and irritating to me, even when I still thought I was straight.

    • 0

      I’m in the UK too, and I’m aware of this usage from US TV shows etc, but agree that I don’t really hear it over here, EXCEPT occasionally by American ex-pats, when it is then super confusing, because it’s a confusion that doesn’t normally exist here, and so I assume they mean romantic partner, until I then hear them mention a husband…

  14. 0

    During the two years I worked at a particular office, I was long-distance with my girlfriend. I would visit her every 6-8 weeks, and usually take a three-day weekend to do so. I ALWAYS told my coworkers that I was “going to visit my girlfriend” for the weekend. I had a picture of the two of us on my desk. She regularly came to visit me as well, and sometimes stopped by the office. On my LAST DAY at the office, I was having a conversation with one of my coworkers about how my girlfriend and I had found this great one-bedroom apartment and we were moving in together and her eyes popped out and she said, “Oh, is she your GIRLFRIEND girlfriend?” She never knew. *facepalm*

  15. 0

    Short story: When I was a I-might-be-gay-teenager once during an English lesson in school our (young and good looking) female teacher referred to her “girlfriends”. Imagine me totally confused because as far as I knew back then girlfriend meant your romantic partner in English. So for a moment I considered the possibility that our teacher just came out as gay and poly. But then I decided it’s more possible she just meant her female friends. Sad day.

  16. 0

    This is hysterical. My grandma used to use “girlfriend” for platonic friends, and then anyone I was seeing she referred to as my “friend”.

    So we would have conversations like “So, your girlfriend [bff] and your friend [girl I am dating] are coming to visit this weekend?”

    It was very disconcerting.

  17. 0

    I have a coworker dude who keeps saying “WHASSUP GIRLFRIEND” to me and I just, NO. No, dude. He annoys the hell out of me and apparently I wasn’t able to summon my polite face today after he did it more than once. So I got ragged on for it like I was in a bad mood. Next time he’s straight up getting “I’m not your girlfriend” in response.

  18. 0

    I once introduced my girlfriend as “my girlfriend” to a guy in my course as I was actually holding hands with her, and a few weeks later it turned out that he STILL hadn’t gotten it. We were in class and I said something about her and for some reason that’s when it finally became clear to him. “But like…wait…when you say girlfriend, you mean like, relationship girlfriend! Ohhh.”

    I just can’t imagine a similar situation if he had been a girl and me and my girlfriend had been boyfriends, you know?

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