Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What is in a Word? Tons!

A week or so ago on Facebook, I asked a question that comes up for the middle-aged, unmarried man or woman who has a partner, a significant other, a lover, a sweetie, a honey, a "man, a "woman," a ball and chain, a companion, a "roommate."

What word to use for that said person that doesn't sound stupid.

When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery and basically not truly all there, a nurse and I had the following conversation. He looked at Michael, who was standing next to my bed, and asked, "Who is that."

I blinked. "That's Michael."

"No," the nurse said. "Who is he?"

"Michael," I said again, certain that I was still under the influence of dilaudid. "My Michael?"

The nurse--obviously used to dealing with drugged out people missing body parts--said patiently, "No, who is he to you?"

"Oh," I said. "He's my boyfriend."

And there I was, a forty-seven-year old woman with a boyfriend. The good news was that I fell asleep right after that and didn't have to contemplate the word for a while.

But for a few years now, I've had issues with boyfriend as it makes me feel so, well, young, and not in the good sense of young. Immature. Unformed. Slightly nutty, really, the old lady with her boyfriend.

It's not that I'm wanting to get married so that I can use the word husband, which has its own trials and tribulations in the culture. It's just the would boy-friend.

Michael is not a boy. And he's not just my friend. The word does not work.

In high school, I loved to say the word, using it whenever I chanced to actually have a boyfriend.
"Oh," I'd say. "My boyfriend is taking me out tonight."

Or, "My boyfriend and I are going to the movies."

Anything, anything, to get that would out into the air. I was wanted by this one boy (and he was a boy, literally, by definition of age). We'd become a couple. We did things together. We used the words to create a box around our relationship. It meant something.

I moved from boyfriend to husband by the time I was 23, and used the word husband for 23 more years, even when we were separated. Husband indicates a marriage. Indicates--at least in most states where you have to be of age--adulthood. It indicates family and togetherness and home. It's a solid word, however patriarchal you might find it. It's a word that makes sense, even if the marriage falls apart.

Now, I'm back to having a boyfriend. Worse, I'm a girlfriend. Not a girl (lord, ask my mirror about that) and not just a friend. We've been demoted to childhood status by the names we call each other. And my Facebook friends couldn't come up with anything that made sense to me, but we were all trying to use the existing lexicon.

For all us middle-aged and older folk who date, who love, who form relationships, I call out for a word that works. You can't use anything old. It won't work. Work on it. I know I will be. And if you come up with anything great, let me know ASAP!
I'm also flush again with copies, so if you leave a comment (a damn boyfriend name!) and write to me at, I will send a copy of either Believe in Me or The Beautiful Being to the first 5 folks.


Alison said...

What about 'Lover'? - said without a blush, and staring them straight in the eyes. Make then jealous!

Linda Henderson said...

I would love to read your book. I am 57 and divorced

CrystalGB said...

Great post. It is hard to come up with the right title. How about loving companion, or significant other?

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Lover. Wasn't there a really funny skit on SNL with Will Ferrell? He and his "lover" kept using the word "Lover" in reference to each other. I think I might crack up if I thought about about using the term, hearing Will saying, "My Loooover."


Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Loving companion (a dog?) and SO. Yes, SO is big these days. I think I am predisposed to not liking any word! Maybe we need to make up something brand new???


Caroline Storer said...

How about "My other (better?!) half" I tend to use "partner" these days. Take care. Caroline x

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Partner is one of those words I associate with two middle aged guys who run a dry cleaning franchise or two accountants or--what about "partner in crime," which does sound more appealing.

Better half is nice, but it doesn't suit for some of those formal situations.

Thanks for the suggestions! I think this will be my new life's work.


Virginia said...

I think I would call him my other half, or like Alison said my lover, either would work but boyfriend does not work at out age.

Emmanuelle said...

In french we say "ami" ("friend"). When you introduce your significant other and you're not in you teens anymore (ha) you say "meet my friend". It's understood as boydriend/girlfriend. Hope I was clear. ;-)

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Ami is lovely.

Meet my friend--I guess there is a lot of subtext there!

I like novio in Spanish, but then there is that language gap, the "Huh?" thing that happens.

Thanks for the thoughts!



Mary said...

I just call him my significant other.

Emmanuelle said...

You're right Jassica... alot of subtext. But somehow it works ;-)

ilona said...

How about 'manfriend' instead of boyfriend as it implies the same thing but reflects the age better?

Of course SO and companion are good fall backs but personally I prefer using 'my loving friend' to using them.