(This article was originally published in The Daily Beast.)
“I don’t want to see other people” he announced after our third date. “I want to see you exclusively”.
“Does this mean you are my boyfriend?” I asked.
When this dialogue took place I had been out of the dating scene for a bit. 20 years, to be exact. The world had become a different place and I found myself unequipped to interpret a whole new landmine-strewn nomenclature. An overwhelming amount of subtleties and implications were going over my head. I realized, a bit too late, that certain words I had always known were now loaded, and therefore off limits. Apparently, “boyfriend” was one of them.
To be clear, I was not treading anywhere near the even more incomprehensible realm of (gasp) relationship definition. Nothing even close to “where is this going? What do I mean to you? Before we go any further, will you love me forever?”
This was more about a dilemma about vocabulary. How am I supposed to refer to a person of the opposite sex whom I am not married to but who is, well, “special”? (I was going to say “mine”, but I now know better.)
And what do I call him now that we are living together but are not engaged or married?
I could refer to him as “my dude”, but I’m not that hipster. I find both “admirer” and “suitor” to be presumptuous and one-sided. “Betrothed”sounds too royal. “Beau” does have a je ne sais quoi, but isn’t homey. “Confidant” holds too many secrets. “Escort”sounds like I would need to look into service renewal. “Flame” is hot, but flickering. “Fellow” is affectionate, yet too casual. I could call him my “friend”,which he is, or my “companion”, which is technically accurate, but then, for the sake of precision, I’d have to mention the additional benefits our friendship comes with, which you’d rightfully consider TMI.
“Significant other” is stiff. “Lover” is too one-faceted, as is “object”. I could call him “cutsicle”; according to the urban dictionary it’s the word to use “when someone is so cute you can’t handle their cuteness”which certainly applies but doesn’t really suit his personality. Tragically, this is also the case with “stud muffin”.
I could call him my “boo”, but when I tried it out he rolled his eyes. Or “bae”, except I can’t really pull that off. I’m not even sure exactly how to pronounce it.
I could go for “fiancée”, but that would be misleading. “Partner”sounds like we work in a law firm or should be on horses and “roommate” leaves out one of my favorite parts, the one that hints at romantic entanglement and other shenanigans. As exuberant as I tend to be, I did feel “knight” would be too melodramatic.
After weighing all my options I decided that referring to him as Boyfriend gives him a solid title that clearly explains what he is in reference to me, is both socially appropriate and universally understood.
As an added bonus, Boyfriend subtly honors the fact that he makes me feel like a teenager, in an exciting, adventurous, I-really-wasn’t-expecting-this-to-happen-to-my-life-and-thank-you-for-being-so-wonderful sort of a way. It’s committed, yet fun. Exclusive, without being excessively possessive. Young, which we both are.
I’m going with it.