When I was younger, for a variety of reasons, I was often the dominant partner in my relationships much of the time—something I grew out of once enough heartbreak taught me that being the more dominant partner doesn't protect you from getting hurt.
My senior year in college, I found myself in a serious relationship with Tom, who I'd been friends with throughout much of my time in college—in part because we were very similar people, personality-wise—and neither of us really dominated the relationship. But it was then that I noticed something. Even though we'd known many of his friends individually before we'd become a couple, I slowly stopped being called "Megan" and became "Tom's girlfriend."
And, I hated it. I went from being a person with individual needs and characteristics to being defined entirely by my role in a man's life—and let's not get me started on iterations of it like "the ball and chain." But other than pestering Tom to refer to me by my name around them, and correcting them myself ("Actually, my name's Megan, you might remember"), I didn't feel like there was anything I could do about it.
But then I met and befriended the only other upperclassman in my second semester Italian class: Charlotte. Early on, she made mention of having a partner... and then she referred to her partner as "him." And while it probably seems like stupidly obvious to many people reading, it was the first time I'd heard a woman in a hetero relationship refer to her significant other that way (let alone the first time I'd met a man in a hetero relationship do the same). And I thought it was so cool: I mean, why have a boyfriend, since I wasn't dating a boy?
Tom didn't exactly buy it, but then he didn't end up being around forever either. And the next time I partnered up, more than a year later, I told my new guy, Mike, that since he was an adult and I was an adult, I didn't want to call one another boyfriend and girlfriend, I wanted us to refer to one another as partners. He agreed, and we both noticed something: our friends and family refused to call us that. But enough corrections, and they didn't call Mike my boyfriend or me Mike's girlfriend, either: I was just Megan, and he was just Mike. Well, according to some of my grad school classmates and a couple family members, I was "Megan the Lesbian," but if the trade-off between having my relationship nomenclature match the equality I wanted in the relationship and having people speculate about my sexual orientation despite the presence of a hairy man-person around, well, I will always choose equality.
It's not always an easy sell in a hetero relationship, and it was funny running into a few former classmates at an alumni event recently only to be asked if I was still insisting that my boyfriend was my partner (short answer: not the same guy, but, yes, thanks)—but for all the people I've had to correct and all the conversations I've had to have about why it's important to me, it's always been worth it. It's worth it, to me, to ask other people to acknowledge the equality in my relationship, and it's equally nice to leave those who would rather not with no choice other than to say my name—and acknowledge my independence. Besides, why should I have to change my relationship to match someone else's nomenclature or privilege someone else's prejudice? I use language. I'm not going to let it use me.
Image via katerha on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed