In the US, from the time you’re a little kid, you understand the connotations of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” At first the words make you fake gag and squeal about cooties (and that’s just the boys). Then there are the angsty, hormonal pubescent years where you waver between fervent, desperate desire to make the lead singer of the boy band with crappy hair and babyface your boyfriend, and the utter disgust and lament over the state of the boys in your class who actually want (or don’t want) to be your boyfriend. Then you actually have a boyfriend (not the pretend middle school “hold hands in the parking lot” but one who actually picks you up and takes you out on dates), then you swear you never will again when your young and nubile heart is shattered, etc. etc. etc.
With homosexual relationships slooooowly (pathetically slowly) taking their place as valid relationships among the ignorant/Bible-thumping American public, the term “partner” has started to become the norm to describe these relationships. “Boyfriend/girlfriend” still exists for homo- and heterosexual relationships, but in the States they seem to have bequeathed “partner” to the gays. Or the gays decided to take it and own it. Either way.
Upon my move to Australia, one of the most confusing things that would happen when my peers would describe their significant other was the reference to him/her as their “partner.” I would be thrown into a momentary confusion, assuming they meant their same-sex partner, and would lament the absolutely tragic state of my gaydar. But then he or she would follow up with a gender pronoun of the opposite sex, which meant an opposite-sex partner was being referred to. And it would take a little longer than it should have for me to realize that “partner” is a term equally shared by gay and straight couples in Oz. And then I would be momentarily upset that the mega hottie I was sort-of trying to flirt with in the work meeting wasn’t gay, but was definitely off the market. I would’ve preferred gay, personally.
And that is the inane and totally senseless story of how I spent a couple of months assuming everyone in Australia was gay. Definitely not the payoff I’m sure you were expecting with that headline, hey?
(And here’s one more set of brackets and italics just because they are apparently my favorite things today)!