“Friend”

When Lovely and I first got together, or were in the process of getting together (as you know, this took some time), good friends of mine would ask, “Where’s your friend? How’s your friend?” and they would mean her. I would answer and we would proceed with our evening. Usually, I was under some sort of stress because of something going on with her family or I was frustrated and confused about whether or not I should be dating her (we broke up, like, 5 times in the first three months). Having her called my friend wasn’t too problematic.

At one point, though, I said to one particular person who was making a little light fun of me and us, “Lovely. Her name is Lovely.” And possibly I said this a little sharply because he stopped dead and said, “I know.” And I said, “Yeah, okay.”

Some of my friends also called variants of ‘whatsername’ at the beginning, and then asked for the fourteenth time what her name was. It’s a common Pakistani name and hard to forget, but okay. With him also I eventually enunciated: LOVE-LEE. And then he remembered forever after.

Again, it was  time of ambiguity, my ambiguity about the relationship, so while these were minor annoyances, I was okay.

But I’m finding that it is wretchedly common for people to use “friend” about someone they know is your partner/girlfriend. It betrays discomfort with ones sexuality and choices. So, for example, when I was getting this apartment, I told the landlord that my partner or my girlfriend (using both at several occasions) would be joining me a bit later, he would always say, “And when is your friend coming? Is your friend coming for sure?”

Is this an attempt at politeness? If I’ve used girlfriend and partner, are you confused that I’m talking about my female best friend or my business partner? Is it a subtle protest against your characterization of yourself as being in a homosexual union, suggesting, ‘Well, you can do what you want, of course, and I’ll take your money, drink with you, be your friend, but I’m not sure I condone this relationship of yours by calling it what you call it.’ Is it a misguided attempt to include all possible permutations of the relationship? Is it doubt about whether, when you heard both girlfriend and partner, when you knew that snogging and sex were involved in this relationship, when you know that one person left a marriage to be romantically with the other, you’re not sure yet what the acceptable term for the relationship is?

How about the one I use, asshole?

That is what I am annoyed about today.

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8 thoughts on ““Friend”

  1. Eight years ago, I was doing a study-abroad course with a bunch of younger people and a friend who dropped out of college around the same time I did. I was just getting into a new relationship at the time, and in addition to that wore an engagement ring.

    I was writing a letter to my boyfriend, and had a conversation that went something like this:

    “Working on the homework?”
    “No.”
    “What’re you doing?”
    “Writing a letter.”
    “To your fiance?”
    “No.”
    “To who, then?”

    At which point I was on the point of about exploding from feeling pried at, and trying to figure out the political wisdom of coming out right then and there, and finally said, “A friend.”

    And it gnawed at me for weeks, a sort of anxious feeling that I was somehow betraying that new love.

    Not because he wasn’t my friend.

    But because it was insufficiently true. It was repudiating the relationship. Paring it down to be convenient to the sensibilities of this irritating kid.

    And that’s what ‘friend’ directed at a partner feels like to me. I’d bet they’re trying to tone their words down to something that doesn’t acknowledge the reality, that tries to cut it out, make it insufficiently true.

    It hurts so much.

  2. It drives me bonkers when people who know that Cara and I are partners refer to us as ‘friends’ or ‘how is your friend?”
    I usually correct them and say she’s my partner. I’ve come to a point where it’s their discomfort with the situation. But discomfort doesnt mean disrespect.
    I don’t call their significant other their ‘friend’ don’t call mine a friend.

  3. out of curiousity, back at home did ppl say ‘dost’ or ‘saheli’. probably ‘dost’, right?

    on the theme of reappropriation — reminds me of one of the oldest gay publication out of bombay, “bombay dost”.

  4. Whats more annoying? People using ‘friend’ all the time or trying to have a whole conversation using gender neutral pronouns to avoid the inevitable “she” or “her” (of course gender neutral conversation are quite impossible in Urdu).

    Its a close call I think …

  5. I don’t know. In a way, I find myself struggling with how to describe what I sort of have with Curfew Boy, but I suspect that’s more because the two of us don’t really speak overtly about “what” we are, and spend our brief time cuddling like maniacs instead. But I can understand the frustration, even if I haven’t experienced it. I suppose–hopefully–I will.

  6. As a traveller in pakistan I quickly learnt that ‘friend’ simply means girlfriend/boyfriend. So when some random guy or my “tourist guide” would ask me: “Are we friends now?”, the answer that I learnt I had to give if I wanted to avoid him thinking it as a come-on was: “No, not friends, acquaintances”…

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