For other uses, see Girlfriend (disambiguation).

A girlfriend is a female companion who is platonic, romantic, or sexually involved with her "partner"


A man with his girlfriend

Partners in committed relationships are also sometimes described as a "significant other" or simply "partner", especially if the individuals are cohabiting.[1]

"Girlfriend" and "partner" mean different things to different people; the distinctions between the terms are subjective. How the term is used will ultimately be determined by personal preference.[2][3]

In 2005, a study was conducted of 115 people ages 21 to 35 who were either living with or had lived with a romantic partner. It notes that the lack of proper terms often leads to awkward situations, such as someone becoming upset over not being introduced in social situations to avoid the question.[4]

There exists some ambiguity between the terms "girl friend," or a friend who is a girl, and "girlfriend." The transition between the two is a significant aspect of adolescent development.[5]

Both forms of "girlfriend" and "girl friend" are used by different people to mean different things. For example, when the term "girlfriend" is used by a girl or woman about another female in a non-sexual, non-romantic context, the two-word form "girl friend" is sometimes used to avoid confusion with the sexual or romantic meaning; however, this is not a rule. In this sense of its usage, "girlfriend" is used in terms of very close friends and has no sexual connotations, unless it is in the case of lesbian, bisexual women. The term "girlfriend" is also used in LGBT communities and can refer to people of any sex or sexuality.[6][7]

The term "girlfriend" does not necessarily imply a sexual relationship, but is often used to refer to a girl or woman who is dating a person she is not engaged to without indicating whether she is having sex with him or her. With differing expectations of sexual mores, the term "dating" can imply romantic activity whereas simply using "friend" would likely avoid implying such intimacy. It is essentially equivalent to the term "sweetheart", which has also been used as a term of endearment.[8]


The word "girlfriend" was first used in 1863 as "a woman's female friend in youth.” In 1922, the word girlfriend was used to mean a man’s sweetheart.[9]

The word "dating" entered the American language during the Roaring Twenties. Prior to that, courtship was a matter of family and community interest. Starting around the time of the Civil War, courtship became a private matter for couples.[10]

Related terms

Distinction from "lady friend"

A similar, but not equivalent, concept is the more ambiguous "lady friend" a companion of the female gender who is possibly less than a girlfriend but potentially more than a friend. That is to say, the relationship is not necessarily platonic, nor is it necessarily an exclusive, serious, committed, or long-term relationship. The term avoids the overt sexual implications that come with referring to a woman as someone's "mistress" or "lover". In that sense, it can often be a euphemism. The term can also sometimes be employed when someone simply does not know the exact status of a woman that a man has been associating with. For instance, tabloid headlines often note that a celebrity has been seen with a new "lady friend".[14][15] "Lady friend" may also be used to signify a romantic relationship with an older woman, when the term "girl" as in "girlfriend" may be deemed age-inappropriate.

The New York Times style guide discourages the use of the term "girlfriend" for an adult romantic partner, stating, "Companion is a suitable term for an unmarried partner of the same or the opposite sex."[16] The Times received some criticism[16] for referring to Shaha Riza as the "girlfriend" of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz in one article about the controversy over their relationship. Other news articles in the Times had generally referred to her as Wolfowitz's "companion".

See also


  1. "Significant other". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  2. StackExchange. "English Language & Usage". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  3. Sam. "Why I say 'partner" instead of boyfriend or girlfriend". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  4. Jayson, Sharon (23 June 2008). "Adults stumble over what to call their romantic partners". USA Today. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  5. Grover, R. L.; Nangle, D. W.; Serwik, A.; Zeff, K. R. (2007). "Girl friend, boy friend, girlfriend, boyfriend: Broadening our understanding of heterosocial competence". Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. 36 (4): 491–502. doi:10.1080/15374410701651637. PMID 18088208.
  6. Byrd, Rudolph P.; Beverly Guy-Sheftall (2001). Traps: African American Men on Sex and Sexuality. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-21448-3. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  7. Salamensky, Shelley I.; Beverly Guy-Sheftall (2001). Talk Talk Talk: The Cultural Life of Everyday Conversation. Routledge, ISBN 0-415-92170-8. Retrieved 2008-01-24.
  8. The Free Dictionary By Farlex. "Sweetheart". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  9. Harper, Douglas. "Girlfriend". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  10. Hirsch, Elaine. "The History of Dating and Communication". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  11. 1 2 The Free Dictionary By Farlex. "Mistress". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  12. Simpson, J.A. "Terms of Endearment". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  13. What does gf stand for?, Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
  14. Connor, Tracy (2007-11-06). "Sir Paul McCartney photographed with married Hamptons lady friend". Daily News. New York.
  16. 1 2 Ben Yagoda (April 20, 2007). "What to call Paul Wolfowitz's special lady friend". Slate.


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