When my partner celebrated their 50th birthday, I said, “I don’t date people in their 50s.”
They replied, “We aren’t dating.”
Three kids and over a decade together, we are in a monogamous, long-term, unmarried relationship. We aren’t spouses, we aren’t dating, so then what to call each other?
Am I their girlfriend? That sounds very casual, but maybe not technically untrue. We are not engaged, so I’m not a fiancé. And I’m not their wife, so what does that leave?
What I have is a partner.
The term partner is gender-neutral so the same works for both of us. I am their partner and they are mine. The gender is ambiguous.
When someone speaks from their own life, they are free to frame their own situations; refer to their husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend or any preferred title. It’s when something is projected outwards, neutrality is imperative. Significant other, SO, partner, and other half are terms with no assumptions of gender or identity. When a term for a relationship is needed, either remain neutral or ask the individual what they prefer.
Choosing a term such as ‘partner’ normalizes the practice. I personally do not utilize neutrality for safety, but I recognize some might. By widening the use of partner, it helps create space for anyone that needs an ambivalent title.