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Language may fail us, but communication still occurs

Language may fail us, but communication still occurs

Q: "Jeff" and I have been dating for more than one year and are both in our 30s. Recently, we visited his family and his parents introduced me to several people as "Jeff's friend." Jeff said his parents may think "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" are more appropriate for teens, but we consider each other more than simply a friend. Is there an acceptable alternative? "Friend" seems too casual and we are definitely not "partners"!


A: Next time someone introduces you as his "friend," you can make little air-quotes.

But now I'm wondering, what's so unspeakable about "partner"?

For that matter, what's wrong with "friend"?

What's so terrible (since I'm rolling now) about introducing people without saying who's doing what with whom and why? "This is Mary. Mary is Bob's friend-with-benefits."

Certainly our language fails us when it comes to mature terms for romantic partners. I've spent much column space on it to no avail — it's either high schoolish (boyfriend/girlfriend), cutesy (squeeze, etc.), outre (boy toy and worse), self-important (significant other) or ick-inducing (lover). Giving the matter even a moment's thought burnishes my opinion of "friend," which mercifully errs on the side of too little information.

Thus prompting the question: Why did it bother you that these "several people" weren't given your romantic status? Do they need to know you're more than friends? Do you need them to know?

Unless these people intend to hit on you, or invite you to weddings as Jeff's guest, your status isn't need-to-know, it's nice to know.

It's also, in most cases, apparent. Anyone who cares to can piece together your role in Jeff's life by noting that he's brought you to meet family, watching how you act together, waiting to see if he brings you for future visits, and employing the time-honored device of asking about you the moment you step out of earshot. In other words, your importance to Jeff will speak for itself.

Setting up friends creates the setup for awkwardness

Q: I set up two good friends and they dated for a while happily. Then he ended it in a way that was more hurtful than it had to be. I'm angry at him for hurting my friend, but also feel it is not my business, and she would never ask me to be in the middle. However, I feel like supporting her (which she needs right now) necessitates taking sides. For the record, he was kind of a jerk. Can I be a good friend and stay neutral?


A: A good friend by whose definition? Yours, his, hers, mine?

The only thing that works when you're forced to manage several conflicting interests is to commit to being a good person, period. From what you've written, that means: giving her the support you'd like to give her, even if it's not the most politic thing to do; saying what you mean; not jumping to underinformed conclusions about either friend, but also not turning a blind eye; and showing loyalties accordingly. And if you err at any point, it means apologizing, sincerely and quickly, and weighing the merits of ever matchmaking again.

Language may fail us, but communication still occurs 12/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:49am]
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