Girlfriend (or Boyfriend) is commonly used to mean someone with whom you are romantically or sexually involved.
By Deo Tumusiime
For all the positive benefits of the English language, particularly in as far as it is an internationally recognised language, it falls short of resolving minor linguistic discrepancies that in the long run turn out to hurt.
I wish to reflect on the terms "Girlfriend and Boyfriend", which we often take for granted, but which have long term effects depending on usage.
For all and sundry, the word girlfriend originates from two words: Girl and friend. As such, a girl who is your friend ideally is a girlfriend. Yet while this is a given, self-explanatory on face value, many of us often use the word girlfriend with a hidden meaning.
Girlfriend (or boyfriend) is commonly used to mean someone with whom you are romantically or sexually involved. This interpretation of a word so simple; has over the years made it to be overly misused and therefore abused.
Let's delve a little deeper into what happens with girlfriends and boyfriends in contemporary context. Sustaining the understanding that a girlfriend is one with whom you are romantically or sexually involved is problematic in many ways. First, once a girl is identified and, therefore, attuned to believe she is a "girlfriend", there's a tendency to colonise her for as long as she holds the status.
Colonising in a sense that the boyfriend feels he has rights over her (and the other way round), including the possibility of having sex.
Secondly, these rights that are not legally backed, loosely implying that the girlfriend may not intimately (another disturbing word) identify with other boys. In the end, the girl in question is confined in some semi-marital status….acting and doing things of married people yet far from the reality.
I have in recent months been faced with disturbing scenarios of young girls claiming to be heartbroken (disturbing word too) by their boyfriends. What I find central to all of them, is that they were sexually betrayed by boys they trusted with their bodies. That they discovered the boyfriends were sexually involved with another girl.
The problem here is that whereas there is no legally binding arrangement in the relationship, it becomes hard to hold each other legally accountable. Some have ended up conceiving unwanted babies and getting terribly traumatised, and others ended up hating boys and never getting married at all.
Notice that if girlfriend means romantic or sexual involvement, then it is possible to have a girlfriend for a few weeks, dump her and pick up another. One could have 20 or so girlfriends before finally getting married to one. My other problem here is that even if the English language tries to provide a status of "Ex-girlfriend", these ‘exs' usually never remain friends at all. They are persons that have been heartbroken and who in most case wish to have nothing to do with their ex-boyfriend. In the end, the essence of "Friend" in the word girl-friend or boy-friend gets lost, because friendship is supposed to be ideally a lifelong, priceless relationship with someone.
My thinking is that we should stop vulgarising innocent words/relations, if we must avoid the hurt they create. There is no reason why a man cannot have 200 girl-friends, if girl-friend were to mean a girl who is a friend, with no sexual spicing (and the other way round). In any case, sexual involvement, whichever way we twist it, is best enjoyed in a relationship consciously leading to marriage or where the two parties are particularly bound to be responsible, rather than merely for pleasure. So being, this should not be an area taken so lightly. Otherwise, change of girlfriends can be traumatic, especially with an ever watchful society.
I have also seen cases where some parents can never allow their daughters to have boyfriends-both as boys who are friends or boys they are sexually involved with. I find this quite superficial. It should be normal for a girl to have as many male friends as bring value to her life and the other way round, but a girl (or boy) may preferably sexually engage only with the person they choose to marry and with whom they are ready to accept the resulting outcomes. This way, we stop pointing fingers at our daughters for identifying with boys as if they are having sex with every boy who is their friend.
Perhaps, while it is a given that a girl who is a friend is automatically a girl-friend, we do not even need to introduce them as such. It is ok to introduce someone as "My friend", whether boy or girl. For example, Hi Mum! Meet my friend John, meet my friend Joan---and they could be 200 friends, why not? Yet with the present vulgarisation of the word, one would be considered insane having 200 girlfriends as this would imply he is having sex with them all.
And I am not saying that people may only have sex in marriage, because reality is different. But while every friend who is a girl is a girl-friend, not everyone you have sex with, is necessarily a girlfriend. This way, we avoid presuming hyped status that in the end emotionally hurts those involved. What this also means is that boys should feel free to interact with girls that bring meaning to their lives without particular attachment that denies others chance to freely enjoy the same friendship.
In situations where there is a commitment leading to marriage or long term romantic relationship, one may then possibly call the other a fiancée or fiancé whereupon it is obvious that these two may be sexually involved, and there's no shame about it.
Ultimately, I believe the word girlfriend is very innocent and could be used by both males and females with no sexual connotation. If to be used in its current perception, then it should be the preserve of those involved in committed (legally binding) relationships.
The writer is a communications consultant