Remember in high school (or primary school for you ‘early bloomers’) when you finally plucked up the courage to ask, “will you be my ___friend?”. You were nervous, it was embarassing, your mates were primed to pay you out – but it was answer pending that proved problematic, not the terms of engagement. In high school, being someone’s girl-or-boy-friend is fine and dandy.
But what about when you’re 30ish-plus and you’ve plunged, like a timorous teenager, into the dating pool? When you’ve met someone, and you’ve seen them a bit, and you’re ready to ask them to, er, be your... your... your – your what? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? ...Partner?
Of course, we adults know such wrigners wouldn’t happen as writ. Though the whole “are we ‘together’-together quandary can indeed be tricky, it’s navigable if you’re, y’know, mature enough to simply ask.
Yet the whole ‘what do I call you’ conundrum is a bigger dill pickle. Why? Because social jams are jacked up an awkward notch for every extra person involved, and labels for our lovers are most keenly needed when it comes to public proclamations.
Cue reader letter:
“I've been pondering this lately and I thought it might be an interesting thing to get people’s thoughts on.
"I've recently started a relationship, my first since my divorce, and I often find myself struggling in what word to use to when introducing his status in my life at social events, to family etc.
"We've moved past the dating stage- there's a drawer of my things at his place and vice versa. But we're not living together and we don't spend every night together- perhaps four, maybe five nights a week.
"Obviously introducing as 'this is Joe, the guy I'm dating' isn't appropriate, but neither is 'this is my partner, Joe' as are we at the stage yet where we're partners. If we were living together, I would have no hesitation in introducing him as my partner.
"I've found myself falling into saying 'boyfriend' and this is what I have an issue with. At almost 30, post-divorce and in a relationship with someone else in the same age group who also has a child from a previous relationship, 'boyfriend' just seems childish and like we're still in high school.
"So what is the correct term between 'person I'm dating' and 'partner' for adults? It seems trivial, but I also worry that by using boyfriend or partner I'm under or over stating the relationship- boyfriend makes it seem more casual than it is, but partner makes it seem more serious than it actually is.
"Maybe I'm just over thinking something trivial, I tend to do that, but it's been on my mind and I'm sure there'd be other people out there in the same situation!
So what’s the answer?
Labels are getting a look-over in this day and age as people come to terms with a greater spectrum of conventionality. Relationship models that were taboo a generation ago are now socially acceptable. My older lesbian mate doesn’t feel compelled to introduce her girlfriend as her ‘friend’ for example, and my mates in long-term, unmarried relationships with kids don’t feel shamed into pretending they’ve wed.
But the language of love is lagging behind these leaps in cultural progress. Our self-identifiers are similarly slack (we still have Ms, Mrs and Miss doddering around plain old Mr for crying out loud). Hence Leigh’s dilemma – a dilemma I’m sure is shared.
So how do you deal with this lingo-thingo? When it comes to talking ‘bout your baby, how do you choose the right words?
*Not her real name.
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