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Finding the right label in the lingo of love

When do you become too old to be someone's "boyfriend/girlfriend"?

When do you become too old to be someone's "boyfriend/girlfriend"?

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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97 comments so far

  • Interesting question and one to which I've never given too much thought. I, however, am in the same situation and as he and I both are both in our 40s, divorced (and w/children) from our first marriages, it seems immature to call him my boyfriend. I thought partner but not sure we're quite at that stage either. Toyed with Lover and even though that aspect of the relationship has never fulfilled me more, my love for him goes far beyond his sexual prowess. Next came Man Friend, Man Love, and a few other lame options. In conversation, I usually refer to him as "my friend (name here)" but my family and friends know he is so much more than a friend to me. I end up with (name here). I will ask him what he prefers. Seems to me I have thought of this more than I originally let on.

    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 3:57AM
    • Interesting topic, probably with some lame "labels" for someone you care about? My situation was similar (now married), I was introduced as a "close friend" or "special friend". Both a bit lame, boyfriend would have sounded a bit strange also! A friend of mine has just begun a relationship, she 41 and he 36. He has been very cool about the topic but is just now starting to be more open about their relationship. I have inquired several times about his "lady friend", "new flame" only to find out he has become more revealing about their relationship. He just refers to her by her name! As long as people are not hurtful with labels - does it really matter? Apart from the couples happiness together?

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 8:34AM
  • agree, let's see if anyone comes up with something useful.
    i'm seen people use the term boyfriend/girlfriend in their 70's.
    i've also seen people use the term partner after going out for 2 weeks.

    Victorious Painter
    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 6:52AM
    • people use the term boyfriend/girlfriend in their 70's.
      And why not. It's understood. Usually only suggests you're more than just friends.
      At what age are you not a boy/girl? The girls night out, the girls lunch/coffee together. Are they at some magical age eligible for exclusion?
      The old boys club. Seems you need to be in 70's for membership.

      i've also seen people use the term partner after going out for 2 weeks. If they are partnering each other, would they not be?

      Seems too many place too much relevance on nothing. An introduction is simple a who they are. A personal reference for/of them. Any other/more can come later, if anyone can't figure it out and is interested.

      Date and time
      June 17, 2012, 3:35PM
  • If you're introducing your sig other, don;t label them. Just introduce them by their name.
    [e.g] Hi, this is Sarah
    not; Hi, this is my gf/wife/partner/whatever Sarah

    People aren't stupid, they can work out where your at with each other. Branding is just something you need to do for yourself.

    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 7:55AM
    • I'm probably missing the point of your blog. But, I absolutely agree with Sum. Just introduce them by name. Why the need to label relationships?

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 8:29AM
    • Definitely. Just introduce her as Sarah, if that is her name. It is only an/in reference to her. As in to whom you are speaking/referring.

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 9:58AM
    • Agree also. Whoever you're introducing them to will either know the status of the relationship or not, and if it's the latter why the need for an explanation? I think the need for a label indicates some insecurity about the relationship itself.

      Harvey K-Tel
      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 10:00AM
    • I don't necessarily agree. If I just introduced my boyfriend as "James" people would just assume he's a mate.

      I want people to know that he's my partner.

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 10:16AM
    • I got in trouble once when I introduced a girlfriend by her first name and not volunteering our relationship context. Apparently, even though I was introducing her to friends who knew I was bringing my girlfirend along to the dinner, you need to specify that she is the girlfriend so that people know and not have to guess.

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 10:59AM

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