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Ask Izzy: 20+ gender-neutral alternatives to "partner" and "significant other"

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Photo by Rodnae Productions / Pexels
Photo by Rodnae Productions / Pexels

Ask Izzy is a biweekly advice column about relationships, mental health, and sexuality. Written by Isabel Mata — a Seattle-based lifestyle writer, podcast host, and mental health advocate — Ask Izzy offers tangible expert advice so all readers can have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. Looking for some more guidance? Submit your question at [email protected] with the subject line: Ask Izzy Submission.

Dear Izzy,
I'm a Nonbinary person who recently started dating a Nonbinary person, and we're having trouble finding a gender-neutral name for our relationship. None of the words out there really feel right. It feels too soon for "partner," but "significant other" feels sterile. I'm definitely not calling them my boyfriend. The language around nonbinary folks really needs to evolve! What do I do?!

— Anxious Enby

Dear Anxious,

Congratulations on your new relationship! It is always exciting to find someone whose energy aligns with yours in a way where you feel ready to define the relationship. That's a big step! So, bravo to you!

I agree that "partner" and "significant other" are quite formal, but luckily you are not the first Nonbinary person to date another Nonbinary person. Here are a few options that I found on a handy-dandy Tumblr called Gender Queeries [https://www.genderqueeries.tumblr.com/titles/]:

For a non-serious relationship, hookup, fling, situationship, etc:
• Date: neutral, the person you are dating
• Datefriend: neutral, the person you are dating, but fitting the boyfriend/girlfriend pattern
• Datemate: neutral, the person you are dating, a rhyming version of datefriend
• Lover: neutral, often implies sexual relationship, but simply refers to someone you love/who loves you
• Paramour: neutral, someone you are having a sexual relationship with
• Sweetie: neutral, slightly cheesy
• Sweetheart: neutral, cheesy or old-fashioned
• Cuddle buddy: neutral, cheesy
• Feyfriend: neutral, leaning toward Queer
• Personfriend: neutral, leaning toward Queer, based on boyfriend and girlfriend
• Enbyfriend: Queer, based on boyfriend and girfriend (note: "enby" comes from NB, Nonbinary)
• Bothfriend: Queer, for bigender or androgynous people, or perhaps binary Trans people
• Genderfriend: Queer, based on boyfriend and girlfriend

For a long-term, serious relationship:
• Partner: neutral, boring
• Person: neutral, as in "my person," tender and loving
• Significant other: neutral, quite formal
• S.O.: neutral, short for significant other
• Other half: neutral, informal, and implies monogamy
• Steady: neutral, as in "going steady" or "steady girlfriend/boyfriend"
• Soulmate: neutral, slightly cheesy, implies belief in soulmates
• Beloved, neutral, old-fashioned
• Lovebug: neutral, slightly cheesy, a person you love
• Loveperson: neutral, a person that you love
• Epox: neutral, from the French époux, which means husband/spouse
• Companion: neutral, reference to Doctor Who's or Firefly's companions
• Imzadi: neutral, from Star Trek, a Betazed word similar to beloved

When choosing a name for your relationship, it may take time to find one that works, so play around and see what sticks. You may gravitate to one more than another after trying some out.

Just remember that everyone is unique and so is your relationship! So, if none of those words above work for you, then maybe the best option is to make your own. I personally think "sweetie" and "paramour" are fun, elevated, and classy alternatives, without the weight that "significant other" carries. I also have a soft spot for food-based names, but to each their own.

Best of luck!