By Jen Jones – As a 45-year-old woman with an extensive vocabulary, a flair for excessively descriptive chatter and a true love of language, I find myself at a complete loss when it comes to making my lips formulate that one perfect word to describe, refer to or introduce one of THE MOST important people in my life… my “boyfriend”.

Truth be told, this seemingly innocuous word arouses a visceral reaction in me each and every time I say it. I cringe, while my jaw tightens and my brain races, hoping another, more fitting word will suddenly and surprisingly leap forth from my vibrating vocal chords.

Out of sheer exhaustion from trying to find the RIGHT word (or any word other than “boyfriend”, for that matter), I sometimes just resort to… “this is (insert name here)” with no other identifier, and let people figure it out on their own or leave them to wonder.

I categorize my syndrome and its accompanying symptoms as Unmarried-Long-Term-Committed-Partner-Identifier-itis, and I know I am not the only one who suffers from it.

I categorize my syndrome and its accompanying symptoms as Unmarried-Long-Term-Committed-Partner-Identifier-itis, and I know I am not the only one who suffers from it.

It just doesn’t seem right to have only one single, solitary, juvenile and casual word option at my disposal when referring to the adult man who has been my committed partner in life for the greater part of the last 13 years. So I’ve been exploring others and keep coming up short.

Our lack of a marriage certificate eliminates “husband”. The fact that I’ve had a business “partner” for the last 16 years can lead to confusion and the need for laborious qualifiers, so that’s a no-go. My personal aversion to triggering the gag reflex in myself AND others within earshot takes “beau” and “lover” right off the table.

“Significant other”? Nope. Too clinical and I also can’t pull off the proper high-brow affect this phrase requires to (possibly) be taken seriously when uttered. Anything involving “half” (i.e. better half, other half) is also out of the question, as me, myself and I exist as a whole.

A friend of mine – she’s also 45 and finds herself with the exact same linguistic conundrum and aforementioned ailment, compliments of her 17 year relationship – told me, “I’ve toyed around with ‘This my Dude’ as a nod to The Big Lebowski, but I think that might have to come with a whole synopsis handout to explain.”

So where to turn next? Merriam-Webster, of course, my go-to authoritative source for word inspiration and enlightenment. The site defines the noun – “boyfriend” – as 1. “a male friend” and 2. “a frequent or regular male companion in a romantic or sexual relationship.” The former is WAY TOO broad. The latter makes some sense, but has no implication of commitment, and is just too long and far too creepy for a cocktail party intro, “Oh hey Elaine, I’d like you to meet my ‘regular male companion with whom I’m in a romantic and sexual relationship’ (insert name here).” Imagine?

Moving on from the actual definition of the word, let’s have a look at M-W’s suggested Synonyms. And so the FAIL worsens…

Beau… I already covered that (gag).

Boy… I’m not his mother.

Fellow… I might be able to stomach “fella” just for the comedic value of seeing people’s reactions when I say it.

Man… not helpful, stating the obvious.

Old man… that’s just not nice.

Swain… WTF?!?!

Sadly, the Words Related to “boyfriend” that Merriam-Webster offers are no better than their synonyms. What’s worse, they straddle a fine line between being super cheesy and you-can’t-honestly-expect-a-grown-adult-to-say-that-with-a-straight-face.

Take your pick: admigigolorer, crush, steady, gallant, suitor, wooer, beloved, darling, dear, favorite, flame, honey, love, lover, significant other, soul mate, spark, sparker, squeeze (slang). [SIGH]

Merriam-Webster goes on

sweet, sweetheart, sweetie, sweetie pie… we’re talking about a person, not a confection.

valentine… yeah, maybe on February 14th, when you’re in the 4th grade.

fancy man… let’s try that cocktail party introduction again, “Oh hey Elaine, I’d like you to meet my ‘fancy man’ (insert name here).” Imagine?

gigolo, escort… isn’t that illegal in most States?

groom, husband, fiancé, intended… just plain WRONG as these descriptives require things specifically NOT associated with a “boyfriend”, in order: a bride/a groom, a wife/a husband, an engagement, an in-motion plan to be married.


So it seems that I, along with countless others who suffer from Unmarried-Long-Term-Committed-Partner-Identifier-itis are stuck with “boyfriend”, a silly sounding word that for me, fails to represent biological maturity, depth of commitment and level of true partnership.

But I’m not giving up. I WILL fight on, in search of a cure, in search of something bigger, better, BOLDER… one word that won’t make me want to scrape my tongue every time I say it.

PS – The vocabulary suggestion box is wide open, so feel free to share any “boyfriend” alternatives you have in the comments section below.


Jen Jones is Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Women You Should Know

lead image: screen grab from Merriam-Webster