But you don’t need a ring to anoint someone as “your person.” The interesting thing about this term (a sort of secular version of “soul mate”) is that it began as a signifier of platonic love, not romance. Then the love birds swooped in and adopted it.
The term was coined over a decade ago on “Grey’s Anatomy” — to describe the deep bond between best friends Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). The first time it’s uttered, they’re seated at Joe’s Bar when Cristina matter-of-factly tells Meredith that she put her name down as an emergency contact for an abortion she has scheduled. “The clinic has a policy. They wouldn’t let me confirm my appointment unless I designated an emergency contact person, someone to be there just in case and to help me home, you know, after. Anyway, I put your name down. That’s why I told you I’m pregnant. You’re my person,” Cristina says.
“I am?” Meredith responds. She doesn’t ask, “What is that?” She just gets it. Which is hallmark behavior from one “person” to another. It’s someone who understands what you’re thinking or feeling, no explanation required.
Cristina ends up having a miscarriage and does not go to that appointment. But she and Meredith continue showing up for one another in the moments that matter most. Cristina sits watch when Meredith is close to death. Meredith helps Cristina out of her wedding dress when she realizes she can’t go through with her wedding to fellow surgeon Preston Burke. Of Meredith, Cristina says: “If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help drag the corpse across the living room floor.” And Meredith tells Cristina: “You’re my sister. You’re my family. You’re all I’ve got.”
That’s the beauty of the term — it’s not defined by blood or by law. Your person can be constant, or it can change. The term emerged right as it was becoming clear that millennials would be delaying marriage while investing in their friendships and their careers. Until there is a life partner in the picture, or even if there never is one, we need a word for the people who show up for us like Cristina and Meredith do for one another.
On Instagram, about 1 million posts contain the hashtag #myperson. The term’s pop cultural presence extends far beyond “Grey’s,” which is now in its 15th season: When singles go on reality dating shows like “The Bachelor,” they admit it’s because “I want to find my person and will do whatever it takes.” You can buy your person a keychain or bridesmaid gift on Etsy; Target sells “You’re my person” mugs; Nordstrom sells “you’re my person” bracelets.
Even if you don’t want use the term (it is a bit mawkish), you probably have a person — or persons. Sociologist and Solo-ish contributor Bella DePaulo writes that “having just one person who completes you [is] a ticket to vulnerability.” Some have an entire village — or acknowledge that the importance one person plays in your life now might shift to another later on.
Esther Lee, a senior news editor at the wedding website the Knot, refers to her best friend as her “person,” but acknowledges that a would-be husband might usurp that title someday. “What I love about the term is that it’s applicable to anyone from a best friend to a parent to a significant other,” Lee said in an interview. Whoever your person is, she added, they’re your champion — advocating for you and cheering you on — while also delivering tough love when needed.
Which sounds a lot like the standard for marriage these days. For example, in sociologist Eli J. Finkel’s book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage,” he notes that the ideal partner offers not just love and companionship, but self-actualization. “Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth,” Finkel writes.
We need a word for the people who show up for us like Cristina and Meredith do for one another. The term is gender-neutral and comes with fewer preconceived notions than “husband” or “wife.” It can even be a term of endearment for someone you’re no longer with. For example, Natalie Karneef, a 41-year-old woman in Ottawa, has split from her husband, but she still considers him her “person.”
“We had all these ridiculous nicknames for each other we can’t use anymore, But [he’ll] always be my person,” Karneef said in a phone interview. She sees the term as embodying “this spirit and this light of a person that you love, but you know that you can’t be with — and you don’t want to be with.”
By calling her ex her “person,” it’s a way of acknowledging that there are all different kinds of love, she says. Karneef and her ex “have the friendship and the unconditional love that we couldn’t have when we were married — and that’s why we call each other ‘my person.’ ”
And she didn’t even realize the term came from a soapy TV show.