By Jen Jones – As a 41 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, the 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, but his name, and let people figure it out on their own or leave them to wonder.
I categorize my female specific syndrome and its accompanying symptoms as Unmarried-Hetero-Long-Term-Partner-Identifyer-itis, and I know I am not the only woman who suffers from it.
It just doesn’t seem right to have only one single, solitary, seemingly juvenile and casual word option at my disposal when referring to the adult man, who has been my partner in life for the greater part of 9 years.
Our lack of a marriage certificate eliminates “husband” and our heterosexual status knocks out “partner.” My personal aversion to inducing the heebie-jeebies in myself AND others within earshot takes “beau” and “lover” right off the table too.
“Significant other”? Um… no. Too clinical and I also can’t pull off the proper British affect this phrase requires to be taken seriously when uttered. Anything involving “half” (i.e. better half, other half, better looking half) is also out of the question, as me, myself and I exist as a whole.
A 40-something friend of mine who finds herself with the exact same linguistic conundrum and aforementioned ailment, compliments of her 13 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 a male romantic companion. Makes perfect sense, but that’s just too long and far too creepy for a cocktail party intro, “Oh hey Elaine, I’d like you to meet my male romantic companion (insert name here).” Imagine?
Moving on from the actual definition of the word, let’s have a look at their suggested Synonyms. And so the FAIL begins…
Beau… I already covered that (heebie jeebies).
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.
Sadly, the Related Words M-W.com offers for “boyfriend” 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 woman to say that with a straight face.
Take your pick: admirer, crush, steady, gallant, suitor, wooer, beloved, darling, dear, favorite, flame, honey, love, lover, significant other, soul mate, spark, sparker, squeeze. [SIGH]
M-W’s Slang options also take a big piece of the FAIL cake:
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?
groom, husband, fiancé, intended… just plain WRONG as these descriptives require things specifically NOT associated with a “boyfriend”, in order: a bride, a wife, an engagement, an in motion plan to be married.
So it seems that I, along with countless other women who suffer from Unmarried-Hetero-Long-Term-Partner-Identifyer-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.