Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What do you call a grown-up boyfriend?

A friend was talking about her thrice-divorced, forty-something sister's new boyfriend, and at the time, it didn't strike me as odd. But later, as I was reading a novel about a self-professed middle-aged woman, referring (at 47) to her "sort-of boyfriend," I thought: what a stupid term to have to cling to.

Clearly this is a case of vocabulary not keeping pace with the times. In the days when boyfriend was an adequate term, the people who had them were girls. It was an age-appropriate word.

Now, although mating practices have evolved, we nonetheless retain this biased and inadequate terminology. Today's women need a new expression, indeed a whole new category, for the mutually-connective quasi-sexual attraction a mature single woman feels for a potential-but-not-yet-seriously-committed coupleship candidate.

Certainly both "guy" and "man" (as in my guy or my man) are too concretely possessive for the more chancy but hopeful ephemeral longing implied, however subtly, by the term "boyfriend." "Companion" seems too nebulous, inexact, and vaguely distant; "partner" lacks the necessary uncertainty of outcome while being too legalistic and clinical anyway. "Beau," "suitor," and "gentleman caller" sound too quaint and imply pursuit, whereas "sweetheart," "dear," and other pet names of endearment are too cutesy and coy. "Date" and "escort" are too temporary (and too often euphemistic); "lover," "fiancé," "consort," and "mate" register way too far down the relational continuum; and that online promise of "potential match" just doesn't cut it.

Surely all the clever, smart, articulate women out there can come up with a better word to describe the potential-but-not-yet-serious coupleship candidates they interact with and assess for ongoing relational connection.

Women today don't need "boyfriends;" boyfriends need to grow up.
I wonder... what you think.

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