Two words with four meanings?

Hey folks its Danny again.  I was out at Wal-Mart today when I had the oddest thought about the words boyfriend and girlfriend.  What makes it odd is that I was on my way to the bathroom when it crossed my mind out of the blue.  I have neither boyfriend or girlfriend so I don’t know why I thought about it but I did so here goes.

As most people understand boyfriend and girlfriend are labels attached to an intimate partner of that gender.  Well along with those two basic definitions girlfriend seems to have another.  When a woman/girl talks about another woman/girl who is a close personal friend but not an intimate partner she still refers to her as her girlfriend.  (It also seems that in at least tv/movies  girls/women also refer to close person homosexual male friends as girlfriends as well but I’ve never heard it in actual conversation so I’m not sure about that.  Any women want to chime in on that?)

So you have:
Girlfriend: An intimate partner of the female gender.

Girlfriend 2: A close personal friend of the female gender or (possibly) male of homosexual orientation.

Boyfriend: An intimate partner of the male gender.

Boyfriend 2: ???

Odd right?

Being a heterosexual (for the most part) male I can fully understand why this is.  Nearly everyone on the planet understands the main meaning of girl/boyfriend.  Well as guys one of the things that we are taught is that while we can be close to each other in a non-intimate manner it should only be done under certain circumstances (and if it is intimate then it should NEVER be done).  I think that out of fear of it being understood as the definition of Boyfriend (and therefore intimate) 1 we don’t use what I would think Boyfriend 2 (a close friend of the male gender and I suppose women of homosexual orientation) would be.

Yes I have male friends that I’m close with, could tell anything to, and would walk barefoot into hell with them or for them.  But I would never call them my boyfriends.  I’d call them my boys, my fellas, my bros, etc…but never boyfriend because of the thought that someone would interpret it as intimate partner rather than close friend.  It almost feels like avoiding that wording is something like a “no homo” moment.

But I also notice that women also don’t use boyfriend in regards to a close male friend so it seems like there is plenty of fear to go around when it comes to the thought of referring to a close male friend as a boyfriend.


What’s your thoughts on the whole boyfriend/girlfriend thing?

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4 Responses to Two words with four meanings?

  1. April says:

    This is really interesting. I have also never heard of a guy calling his close male friends his “boyfriends,” but I’m very comfortable calling my female friends “girlfriends.”

    But I also notice that women also don’t use boyfriend in regards to a close male friend

    Jill from Feministe had a post up a while back that briefly touched on this. The relevant quote:

    I also wish the term “guy-friends” would die a speedy death — if they’re really your friends, just call them that; and if you’re really comfortable with them as friends, you don’t need to emphasize the fact that they’re guys all the damned time.

    This was as a side-note to a remark about how she’s irritated by women who go out of their way to inform people that they prefer the company of men to women, which has misogynistic undertones.

    It seems that the common thread is that both men and women are afraid of calling their male friends “boyfriends.” Maybe “guy friends” is a way to say “boyfriends” without sounding like it implies an intimate relationship? But still, we’re left with guys being uncomfortable using terminology typically associated with intimate relationships to describe each other. Although, I don’t know of any guys that call their female friends “girlfriends,” either. Maybe it’s just a female thing?

    Of course that bring the question of why it is not also a “guy thing.” It seems like “girlfriend” is the only one with two meanings, but only for girls?

    Interestingly, I know a few guys who have referred to their close male friends with specific terminology like “heterosexual life partner” and other similar phrases, to seemingly illustrate how the closeness of their friendship is distinctive in comparison to their other same-sex friendships.

    I think the underlying issue is the societal expectation that men do anything to avoid being labeled as a homosexual.

  2. Danny says:

    This was as a side-note to a remark about how she’s irritated by women who go out of their way to inform people that they prefer the company of men to women, which has misogynistic undertones.
    Misogynistic undertones? How can having a preference of male friends over female friends be misogynistic in and of itself? I wouldn’t imagine the preference of female friends over males ones would be misandrist all on its own. Have to say I think determining that would require why said person had such a preference in company.

    • April says:

      When I read that, I was nodding vigorously because I totally understood what she was saying. I totally used to be that woman with few female friends and a preference for hanging out with males, and I was certainly of the belief that most women were just utterly ridiculous and I pretty much did have a serious dislike for most women.

      It’s not an empirical conclusion by any means, but a casual observation. I wouldn’t call a man who prefers male friends or a female who prefers female friends misogynistic or misandrist, respectively. I think that it’s more of a trend when someone vocally and adamantly prefers friends of the opposite sex and tells everyone all the time as some kind of way to prove their deviance from whatever they find to be negative about their own gender. It seems to often go hand-in-hand with a certain shame one has about being associated with stereotypical images of their gender.

  3. Julie says:

    I can’t testify to the use of “boyfriend,” but I have also encountered some funny uses of the term “girlfriend.” Various members of my family are perfectly comfortable using it to describe fellow girls who are friends who I do things with, like “That’s a good movie to watch with girlfriends” or “when you go out on the weekend with your girlfriends,” and were yet 100% uncomfortable with referring to my romantic girlfriend as such, and instead just called her by her name, called her my “friend,” or something else.

    I think some of it’s generational, since I would never call my friends my “girlfriends,” but that’s what my parents’ generation does call them…but I think it’s also ground for subtle discrimination, using the word and yet choosing the context. Maybe the way I said it doesn’t really make sense, but “girlfriend” certainly does have varied meanings, some of which people are more comfortable with than others.

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