Flickr, via Google Image
There's of course a nasty—arguably misogynistic, but at least provocative—element to this T-shirt, which I've seen before, but the question,* "Define girlfriend," appeals on a more dispassionate, chipless-shoulder, what-war-of-the-sexes intellectual level. Because, really, what is a girlfriend?
Certainly I'm not alone in noting that my generation has a tendency to get involved in these play-marriages—or, no need to be snide about it, maybe mini-marriages? De facto marriages, even? I have one erst-girlfriend that I dated for 6½ years(!), and we lived together (you used to would have said† "in sin," but that concept is totally out the window, at least in my neck of the culture) for four. As she herself has noted, isn't she basically my ex-wife? I mean, in a different time, we definitely would have been married. (In fact, who knows: we might have been married still. After all, the big difference between these mock-marriages and the real thing, as far as I can tell—both just in my own head and in discussion with friends who've made the leap—is a sense of, you know, increased commitment, stability, security..."in sickness and in health," that sort of thing: a decision to stick it out even if it starts to suck. If you've got a girlfriend, even if you've been living together from years and are basically married, there's a point at which if things aren't going well you maybe think, "Why the fuck...?" And if you're married there's maybe more of an answer to that half-rhetorical question.)
[I've put this up (and been here) before.]
But so what is a girlfriend? Actually, what really got me thinking and writing this baloney is the question, what is an ex-girlfriend? The broad‡ I dated for 6½ years obviously counts: anyone you might half-jokingly call your ex-wife certainly makes the cut. And I'd say the dame I went out with on-and-off for more than a year—call it nine months nonconsecutive?—she's certainly an ex-girlfriend. But what about the one I fell in love with but spent probably no more than a week with, cumulatively? What about the one I dated for like 2–3 months but it never got at all serious?
One "ex" candidate said she applied the label ex (but not ex-boyfriend, I think: interesting) to anyone she'd slept with more than a few times. That's reasonable enough, but I'm not sure I'm in. People born before 1960 seem to be obsessed with the concept of "fuck buddies" or "friends with benefits"—I think because they've got this sexual-romantic fantasy about it that doesn't really conform with relatively boring reality—but surely it's true that you can be fucking somebody for months and months without her ever being your girlfriend. Am I wrong? And you could date someone for two weeks in some super-intense way in which really she kind of was your girlfriend. But maybe what I mean by that is that if you declare yourselves boyfriend and girlfriend... Well, are you, then? Is it a speech act? Can you say you are and not be? Can you not say you are and be? The latter, surely yes. (No?) The former...?
Then of course there's the semantic distinction brought in by the word serious. People, at least in my generation, have serious girlfriends. There's serious, there's casual; with sex there's meaningful and meaningless...§ Over the past few years it's seemed to me that treating any of these things as all-or-nothing is absurd and destructive: there are so many levels of "seriousness" in romantic and sexual relationships—and not only that, but they're not even all on the same single vertical continuum.
Somewhat in line with my early discussion of what to call sex—or, more specifically, with my early discussion of the term making love—I think I may in fact becoming old fashioned in my attitude toward dating and inclined to agree with the grandmothers out there (and the boxes we're all asked to check) that there are two main categories: single and married. What's in between you call dating, and I'm not saying I'm against premarital monogamy (on the contrary: I've done the "open relationship" thing and found it to be pretty much intolerable), but I do think that however you label what happens in that in-between area is maybe pretty much just completely up to you.
This has happened before: I love it when I end a blog post by saying, "So do whatever you want." Like you need my permission. I mean, you do: you need my permission. But you've got it! Have fun out there, you crazy kids!
* So it's not exactly a question. "Define girlfriend" is to questions as a rhetorical question is to statements. (Nailed it.)
† "Used to would have" is a disaster. Isn't it right, though? Maybe that sort of thing only works if you write it in quasi-dialect, like useta-woulda.
‡ I absolutely do not talk like this.
§ Although I contest that whole distinction (I don't think any interaction, no matter how "casual," can truly be meaningless) and also throw in my not-joking cards with the joke line in Love and Death: sex without love may be an empty experience, "but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best."