Sex + Dating

Why I Call My Boyfriend My Partner

The truth is, I never had a partner until very recently.

People always assumed that as someone who writes about relationships for a living, I was an expert. Actually, I was a mess: a 28-year-old writer offering relationship advice in major publications, whose personal dating life was very similar to a carton of eggs… in that I had an eight-week expiration date. I threw words like "love" and "partnerships" around flippantly, not knowing what they really meant.

It wasn't until I found a companion I completely trusted and fit with that having a partner took on a whole new meaning for me.

"Partner" always just seemed like a neutral term

When I started writing pieces about dating and relationships, I used the term “partner” because it’s gender-neutral; a word I first heard of in the LGBT community back when people still referred to their girlfriend or boyfriend as their roommate.

I wanted people who read my work to be able to relate to what I was saying, no matter where they fell on the gender-sexuality spectrum. Outside of that, a partner was no different in my mind from a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or lover.

I was a perpetual bachelorette

My personal life went like this: Date someone for a few months, dump them, and move on to the next person I matched with on a dating app. I had decided to give up on finding a steady partner. It was never going to happen. My tall, dark, and handsome man (with glasses and tattoos) was exactly that: my dream man, something that would never materialize in real life.

I kept swiping and settling for spending a few months at a time with men who would never be anything more than a fling. These guys were given nicknames by my closest girlfriends: “Daddy” (the divorced father of two), “Wonder Bread” (the most boring man on the planet who was as edgy as Wonder Bread), “Smash Mouth” (the one who looked like a member of Smash Mouth).

The joke in my family and my circle of friends was that I wasn’t going to get married until I was 47. “Mark your calendars,” I’d tell people. “2035 is the year I’m tying the knot. I hope you’ll be able to make it.”

I was always going to be dating a few people casually, and while I might not necessarily like it, I’d take the hand I’d been dealt and accept it. I knew a lot about finding “the one” was based purely on luck, and the odds just weren’t in my favor.

Lightning strikes when you're looking the other way

And so that’s why I was casually dating three people when I met Steven. He and I had met online (not on a dating app) and through some Instagram-stalking, I realized he lived 40 minutes from where I have family in Westchester. "Maybe we’ll get lunch one day," I suggested. When I met the tall, dark, and handsome man (with glasses and tattoos) in the flesh, my first thought was, “Oh shit. I’m in trouble.”

Maybe I had given up too soon.

That lunch led to all-day adventures spent kayaking and hiking and swimming in waterfalls upstate so cold my nipples almost fell off. Dates where he’d pick me up at 8am and I wouldn’t get home until midnight. We ate ice cream on a hillside and watched the sun set (as I occupied my hands with picking dandelions because I was jumping out of my skin to kiss him).

We climbed a 3,700ft mountain together. He drove two and a half hours to my apartment the day I had a medical procedure done so he could lie in bed and watch Rick and Morty with me. He picked up the phone whenever I had a bad day and needed to cry it out. It only took a few months before I asked him to be my partner.

"Boyfriend" isn't a big enough term for the man I'm with

My friends asked why I always referred to Steven in that way: as my partner. And the answer is, it just feels more serious. I felt weird calling him my boyfriend, a term any 12-year-old in middle school could call a boy after he circled “yes” on a piece of paper with the question “Do you like me?” scribbled on it.

I asked Steven. “Does it weird you out when I call you my partner?”

“No,” he said. “Because we’re a team.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Dana Hamilton is a writer in New York City who has a passion for all things body-related. She writes about sex, dating, relationships, body image, and eating disorder recovery. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and xoJane, among other publications.