It is pretty well known within my close circle of friends that I refer to my partner as my FLOG – Friend, Lover and Occasional Girlfriend – and not simply as my ‘girlfriend’. I also usually introduce her as my FLOG in social circles. It is thus not unexpected that I am often faced with perplexed expressions, and am asked to explain what I mean by this strange term. It’s a very sincere question, and I can well understand that such a term is sure to generate curiosity and amusement. The broad idea that I try to reinforce through this is the fact that due to constraints of language, words or terms are essentially inadequate in describing the nuances of interpersonal relationships, as they tend to ‘flatten’ them out into forced watertight compartments, thus completely ignoring their subtle dynamics.
Human relationships are varied. We have the realm of biological relationships, and that of social/interpersonal relationships.
Biological relationships are those, which are defined by nature itself, and hence set in stone. When we use the term ‘Biological Mother’, we unambiguously refer to the woman who has given birth to the person in question. Similarly, biological ‘Brother’ or ‘Sister’ refers to siblings who have been born of the same mother. There is not much ambiguity with regards to the definitions of these relationships.
Social/Interpersonal relationships however are those, which are not defined by nature, and are thus infinitely more complicated. Take for example the term ‘friend’. Most would agree, that this term definitely describes a certain interpersonal configuration between two people. However, there is no biological or natural relationship that can unambiguously define its nature. A person may have a number of friends, but that does not mean that he or she shares the exact same nature of relationship with each one of them. That is never the case. Some friends are close – people with whom we share our deepest and darkest secrets. Some friends are more of acquaintances, with whom we are at ease only in the company of others. The dynamics of each of these different relationships are very, very different. However, in common use of language, they are all our ‘friends’.
This is the case for every single interpersonal relationship. We share very different and very unique relationships with every person we know. However, due to constraints of language, and for the sake of simplicity and clarity within a social structure, we adopt an essentially structuralist standpoint, and compartmentalize these relationships into these sealed jars – friend, colleague, acquaintance, boyfriend, girlfriend, and so on.
A rainbow would never be a wonder of nature if it really did comprise of only seven colors.
This brings me to the core of my argument. Since our relationships with different people we know present very unique interpersonal configurations, describing them using single words that instantly compartmentalize them amounts to a gross injustice to the nuances of the individual configurations. The relationships between different ‘friends’ may be vastly different. Yet, the word ‘friend’ flattens out the dynamics of each of these configurations into one monochromatic block. And that is unfortunate.
Consider different ‘couples’ around the world. Different people engaged in romantic associations may have vastly different interpersonal relationships with their partners. Some may completely set their ego aside and be themselves, while others may try to assume a dominant or a submissive role. Some may share every detail of their feelings to each other, while others may prefer to maintain a certain emotional distance.
The words ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ or even ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ do not acknowledge these nuances. They forcefully merge them into a uniform idea. An idea that is often far removed the subtleties that the relationships present. It is important to acknowledge that different relationships do not form a discrete set. They may rather be described as a spectrum. The visible color spectrum, for example, consists of an infinite number of different wavelengths. Yet we usually describe only seven – VIBGYOR. We tag millions of wavelengths as Red, and millions as Blue. We adopt the similarities, but discard the differences, And that is what kills the rainbow, A rainbow would never be a wonder of nature if it really did comprise of only seven colors.
So no. I do not refer to my partner as my girlfriend. That would not do justice to my relationship with her, just as the term would not do justice to the nuances and subtleties of any romantic association between two people. But it is ever so convenient for society to use such terms. Well, it does make things a lot easier I guess. But it also kills the rainbow of human interactions within a social structure. By consciously refraining from the convenience of the term ‘girlfriend’, I acknowledge the very fact that different human relationships are unique. It is a stand against the killing of the rainbow.
The question remains, why Friend, or Lover, or Occasional Girlfriend? Well, that is the second step. Now that I have taken a stand against the killing of the rainbow, I do need to attempt to do justice to the configurations of our relationship. The paradox here is that any word or term that I may use already comes with strong connotations, which again flatten out the very relationships they attempt to describe.
In the same spirit of taking a stand, I chose a phrase that does not have any distinct social connotations – FLOG. Something that nobody has heard before. It is an attempt to break free from the shackles of VIBGYOR. FLOG does not instantly flatten or compartmentalize the relationship. Because it does not have any previous connotations in peoples’ minds that will make them snap it into a jar with a label. It is bound to generate curiosity, and invite a few questions. I thus get the opportunity to briefly remind people of the subtleties of human relationships, rather than having someone nod politely at my ‘girlfriend’.
The choice of the phrase, FLOG, is not at all of paramount importance. It could have been any other fitting phrase that did not have any strong social connotations. Because any term I use would ultimately succumb to the shortcomings of language. It is the intent that I mean to stress upon. It is the acknowledgement of the spectrum that is important.
I decided upon the three terms in an attempt to shatter the idea of watertight compartments. Yes, my partner is my Friend. She is also my Lover. And occasionally, when I’m really not in mood to explain FLOG to some poor perplexed soul, she is my Girlfriend. The three terms are not mutually exclusive. Because in reality, none of these terms adequately describe the spectrum. The Friend and the Girlfriend kill the spectrum just as Red and Blue kill the rainbow.