Calling someone your 'girlfriend' is officially cancelled.

There aren't many words to describe a lover you're not yet married to (or maybe never plan to tie the knot with, but 'do life with' instead). 

We've reached this juncture as a consequence of de facto coupledom only garnering widespread acceptance within the last 30 years.

Plus, when you're 34 and in a very public, committed relationship, referring to your partner as a 'girlfriend' or 'boyfriend' feels a little... juvenile.

American football star Travis Kelce recently had to navigate this language as he stepped up to the podium to thank his partner Taylor Swift at a charity gala.

"I was just talking to my significant other, and uh, we might have one other auction item that wasn't on the docket," he said, announcing that she'd donated four Eras Tour tickets.

Naturally, fans went wild over his terminology, perceiving "significant other" to mean a lot more than the somewhat high-school sounding "girlfriend".


"The way no one will ever understand why MY SIGNIFICANT OTHER is trending with tayvis and Travis kelce, simply bc, yes, it is a big deal," a fan wrote online.

"Not only has Tay never had a bf use this term for her publicly, I don't think Trav has previously used this term to describe a gf. They are serious serious!!!" another shared.

Kelce and Swift are not the only ones to ditch the terms 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend' in favour of more inclusive terms such as 'significant other' and 'partner'. In fact, Jennifer Siebel Newsom — the wife of California's Governor Gavin Newsom — campaigned for the title of 'First Lady' to be renamed 'First Partner'.

Likewise, Anthony Albanese's fiancée Jodie Haydon was introduced to Australia as his 'partner' before he proposed.

The pair are now engaged, but have always called one another 'partner'. Image: Getty


All of this can lead us to only one conclusion: the term 'girlfriend' is officially cancelled.

Why do people use the term 'partner'? 

Okay, okay, we admit, that's a bit drastic — but it looks like over time our lexicon has moved towards using that word for newer, potentially younger relationships.

Bumble’s resident sexologist and co-host of the Give Me A Buzz podcast, Chantelle Otten, says that 'boyfriend/girlfriend' terminology "often reminds people of young love".


"As relationships grow and mature, many find that 'partner' or 'significant other' better suits the seriousness and commitment they feel. These terms are more neutral and grown-up, fitting perfectly as relationships evolve past those early stages," she tells Mamamia.

Yet, there aren't a lot of options for couples who aren’t married. 'Lover' feels a little risqué and 'co-habitee' feels like a flatmate. It's an increasingly widespread issue, given the number of couples who are choosing to get married later in life, or not at all.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), there has been a "steady and ongoing" increase in the median age that men and women get married. In 2021, the male median age was 30.8 years, while for women it was 29.4 years.

Couples are also more likely to live together before they marry for a number of reasons, including the rising cost of living and changing moral attitudes. According to the AIFS, while in 1975 just 16 per cent of couples lived together before marriage, 81 per cent were doing it by 2017.

Meanwhile, according to Australian Family Lawyers, the number of Australians in de facto relationships has increased by 46.8 per cent since 2011.

"This probably extends to how people are approaching labels in their own relationships, choosing to incorporate what feels most comfortable to them rather than adhering to traditional titles," Otten says.


Bumble's latest research shows that a third of women no longer feel they need to adhere to these traditional timelines and milestones. While three in four were looking for a long-term relationship, just one in five was seeking marriage.

It's clear that the structure of our relationships has changed significantly over time, but our vocabulary hasn’t sufficiently extended to be inclusive of these new unions.

Fewer people are opting for marriage these days. Image: Getty


'Partner' doesn't have the gendered connotations of 'wife' or 'husband'.

Married couples may also prefer 'partner', feeling that there is too much baggage that comes with the gendered terms 'husband' and 'wife'. Years of outdated relationship stereotypes have typecast gender roles into our married titles, while the gender neutral 'partner' feels like it evades those expectations. 

Research shows us that as many as two in every five millennials see marriage as outdated, with women more likely than men to agree.

According to Dinah Hannaford, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, there are many reasons researchers have elucidated as to why women are less likely to want to marry, including infidelity, career opportunities and independence. 

"Marriage has mostly not been a great situation for women historically and across the world, and they’re trying to find alternative solutions. As new opportunities open up for women to be full people without it, they’re opting for that," Hannaford said.

‘Partner’ isn’t a new term to the LGBTQIA+ community

Partner has traditionally been used by the LGBTQIA+ community. Image: Getty


While 'partner' has become a go-to term for both married and unmarried heterosexual couples in modern vernacular, it has been co-opted over time. 

Once used to describe an enduring business relationship, such as a legal 'partner', the term is also used by members of the LGBTQIA+ community to denote a long-term, committed relationship, especially as same-sex marriage wasn't legalised in Australia until 2017.

"Terms like 'partner' and 'significant other' have significant roots within the LGBTQ+ community," explains Otten.

"These terms allowed individuals to navigate social and legal landscapes that did not recognise their relationships. Over time, as societal awareness and acceptance of different relationship structures have grown, these inclusive terms have been adopted more broadly."


Otten says it's important to remember that not all relationships fit neatly into traditional categories such as 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend'. 

"Some people may be in non-binary relationships, open relationships or other arrangements that don't use traditional labels," she says. "Overall, the shift towards using terms like 'partner' or 'significant other' reflects a growing recognition of the diversity of relationships and a desire to communicate more accurately and inclusively about them."

'Partner' also allows queer people to discuss their romantic relationships without needing to open up about their orientation.

"Historically, these terms provided a way for individuals to refer to their significant others without disclosing sexual orientation or gender, which was particularly useful in times and places where openness about one's LGBTQ+ identity carried risks," says Otten.

What should we say?

How should we refer to our romantic partners? Image: Getty


Perhaps this is a moment of epiphany, and a challenge for a new generation to find a lexicon that meets current relationship structures. Otten says, "Along with 'partner' and 'significant other,' terms like 'companion' and 'life partner' are also becoming more common.

"These terms cater to a growing preference for language that accurately reflects the depth and diversity of modern relationships, moving away from traditional labels to more inclusive and meaningful descriptors.

"I think at the end of the day, we just lean into what that couple is referring to themselves as with respect for their personal decision."

Image: Getty.

Do you want free to air TV? Complete this survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.