When I talked about a relative and his パートナー visiting for Christmas, the person I was speaking to asked if his パートナー was male. Is this a common interpretation of パートナー? Is there a better word than パートナー to talk about a long-term opposite-sex partner who isn't married?

ガールフレンド was suggested, but in English, "girlfriend" wouldn't be a good choice of words as it tends to be used for short-term relationships, especially involving teenagers.

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    I beg to differ that "girlfriend" (or "boyfriend" for that matter) is either used for short-term relationships and teenagers...it's more a way of saying someone you're seeing romantically, but not married to, at any age, isn't it? For example, my boss's mother in her 70's had a boyfriend for years (same age, both previously married). – silvermaple Jan 21 '12 at 17:07
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    This question strikes me more as about the nuances in English than Japanese. The word 'partner' has different nuances merely across English dialects (British, US, Australian)... – Dave Jan 21 '12 at 18:01
  • Like @silvermaple I disagree that girlfriend/boyfriend has such an implication in English (I'm in the US if that matters). I think these words are used in a whole range of situations - long term, short term, serious, just for fun, etc. – atlantiza Jan 21 '12 at 18:51
  • Question on ELU about whether "girlfriend/boyfriend" has a connotation of a short-term relationship: english.stackexchange.com/questions/76006/… – Andrew Grimm Oct 30 '16 at 1:43

I don't think パートナー has an implication of sex. It refers to work partner or partner in dance, sports, etc.

The goo dictionary has the following explanation:

1 共同で仕事をする相手。相棒。

2 ダンス・スポーツなどで二人一組になるときの相手。

3 つれあい。配偶者。

I don't recall I see the use of the third meaning very often.

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パートナー does not imply homosexual partner, but since there are a few other ways to express a heterosexual partner whereas パートナー is about the only way to express a homosexual partner, it may be more likely that, when パートナー is used in the context of a sexual relationship, it refers to a homosexual partner.

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    I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say...it doesn't imply a homosexual relationship but it does? – silvermaple Jan 21 '12 at 17:09
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    @silvermaple. Think of Venn diagrams. Universal set = ways to express a relationship. Circle A = homosexual. Circle B = heterosexual. パートナー belongs to A and B simultaneously. A has more than one element. B only has that element. – Flaw Jan 21 '12 at 18:26

As for the second question, any reason not to use 彼氏・彼女?

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  • I hadn't heard those terms before! They're pronounced "kareshi" and "kanojo" respectively, right? According to goo, 彼女 can mean 愛人, which according to wiktionary can mean "a lover, a mistress; implies an extra-marital relationship.". Does this mean that adultery is implied? – Andrew Grimm Jan 22 '12 at 0:29
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    Aijin implies adultory, whereas kanojo does not. Another word that would be safe to use is koibito. – Mark Hosang Jan 22 '12 at 7:05

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