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He won't call me his girlfriend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  July 19, 2010 07:14 AM

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But he will call her his "special friend."

For the record, you're all my "special friends."

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am 27 years old and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The guy I had been seeing at the time was pretty unsupportive and self-absorbed, which were not characteristics I needed in my life. I really loved him but it was an unhealthy relationship that pretty much consisted of me bending over backwards to please him. After my diagnosis, I realized life is far too short to put up with anything sub-par, so I cut him out of my life.

I met this other man who had also recently undergone a cancer diagnosis and treatment. He is a few years older and is mature, understanding, and wonderful to me. He takes me out, brings me surprises, and takes good care of me when I'm feeling down and out. We have a lot in common (especially with our health) and he makes me laugh and feel like no one else can.

The problem arose when we started making grilled cheese sandwiches. We started seeing each other in March and I made him wait a few months before the cooking in the kitchen started. I have to admit that I am/was jaded when it comes to relationships because of how my ex treated me. I tried having the talk with "New Guy" about where we stand and what was exactly going on with us. He pretty much said that the terms "girlfriend/boyfriend" were "elementary school" and that "friend" and "girlfriend" mean the same thing. I personally think that's totally untrue. He has also referred to me as his "special friend," which really rubbed me the wrong way. He has referred to ex-girlfriends in conversation, so I know that he hasn't always felt this way. Needless to say, it really hurt my feelings and made me feel completely rejected after getting up the nerve to even have the conversation with him in the first place.

We're going on vacation together in August, just the two of us. We see each other frequently and he treats me like his girlfriend. He tells me he loves me. What do I do? Do I let it go and just wait to see what happens? I am a little uncomfortable making grilled cheese without a "label" but I don't want to push him away. It's only been a few months, and I don't want to ruin the best thing that has come out of this diagnosis. I also don't want my past relationship to influence the way I act or treat this new one. Should I push it and keep trying to get it official or sit back and wait?

– Living in Limbo, Worcester

A: Isn't the relationship official, LIL? Besides the whole "girlfriend" thing, you're exclusive, from what I can tell. You care for each other and travel together. I think you're where you want to be -- he's just calling it something else. Please focus on the actions. They're as important as the words.

For the record, I'm with you. "Friend" does not mean "significant other." And it's not that I think "girlfriend" is a necessary label, it's just that I'm not sure why he's avoiding it so much. If hearing the word "girlfriend" gives you the peace of mind you need, he should say it. And he certainly shouldn't belittle you for wanting the label. Frankly, "special friend" sounds pretty "elementary school" to me.

My advice is to have another conversation with him. Take all of the labels off the table and define what you are. If he says you're exclusive, that he loves you, and that he has no plans to go anywhere at the moment, then you're in the same place. Chill out and enjoy it. And maybe, when you're both in a fun, playful mood, come up with a new label. Significant other? Partner? Awesome person I'm dating exclusively? Personal grilled cheese chef? Perhaps after you make the list, "girlfriend" will rise to the top as the least "elementary school" of the bunch.

Readers? Does his refusal to use the label mean that he's not all in? Anyone else object to calling someone they love a girlfriend? Do those three words mean more than a label? When are words as important as actions? Discuss.

– Meredith

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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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