I have a dilemma. The man who I am now ‘in a relationship with’ or perhaps more accurately, ‘mutually exclusive’ with is nearly 11 years older than me. The age gap is not the problem – he claims that 10 years is the perfect age gap between a woman and an older man. I’m not sure I agree entirely, but so far this has not presented any major complications.
The problem is that I don’t know what to call him. Well, between the two of us we have many soppy and slightly bizarre terms of endearments which would probably make you retch if I listed them here, but it is when I have to refer to him that I’m left desperately fumbling for an appropriate label.
Boyfriend sounds wrong as this conjures up images of lanky, socially inept, adolescent boys who buy you flowers from the petrol station and take you to Burger King for lunch, and he certainly is not like that, being the very grown up, sophisticated man that he is.
The other option is partner, which I absolutely can’t stand. How can you refer to someone, who you love and share your most intimate moments with, as your partner, a term which implies corporate relationships or a co-worker? Very unromantic.
So what am I left with? I thesaurused the word boyfriend and was offered the following alternatives: beau, confidant, suitor, flame, steady, darling, wooer, and even more bizarrely: hound, buff, nut, rooter, freak. Can you imagine introducing the man in your life to your boss at the office Christmas party using any of those terms? “Oh Mr Johnson, I’d like you to meet my rooter, Clive.”
Due to the logistics of our relationship at the moment – he lives in France and we have been doing the long-distance thing for a while – I have often been spared the awkwardness of having to introduce him at social gatherings. The occasions when I have referred to him in conversation I normally revert to using the term boyfriend as I refuse to use the word partner, but I just can’t imagine introducing him in person as my boyfriend.
It’s like that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie and Big are viewing that incredible apartment and the estate agent calls Big her husband by mistake:
Carrie: “He’s not my husband, he’s my boyfriend.”
Big: “Aren’t I a little old to be introduced as your boyfriend?”
Carrie: “Point taken, from now on you’ll be my man-friend.”
Big: “That sounds like a dog.”
Now I’ve always liked the term lover, but this unfortunately stirs up even more vivid images of steamy affairs, infidelity and lewdness. But why should it? He is someone that I love and that loves me, therefore he is my lover. I suppose, many, many years ago the only options were boyfriend or husband. You dated or courted someone and shortly after got married. A lover was usually someone you were having an adulterous affair with and most sexual relationships outside of marriage were talked about in hushed tones and regarded as taboo. This is where the term lover came about.
But these days there are so many grey areas and anomalies when it comes to modern relationships. Perhaps we need to come up with a new term for mature people in committed relationships that simply are not married.
I then told my flat mate about my dilemma. She is from Romania and rather annoyingly informed me that they have a word for that kind of relationship in Romania. The word is ‘iubit’ and it roughly translates as lover. So if I lived in Romania I would not have this problem. This further suggests that lover might be the right word. It’s just unfortunate that it has rather lewd connotations in this country.
I finally decided to ask my mother for some other alternatives, forgetting that she is not known for her tact. Without hesitation she answered saying “Oh, just call him your bitch.” Thanks Mom, but I think I’ll try lover and endure any disapproving looks I get.