Help! I Don’t Know What To Call The Person With Whom I Am Romantically Involved

Am I overthinking this? There has to be something better than "boyfriend" for those of us past the age of 20.
Publish date:
November 17, 2011
boyfriends, semantics, Sex,

So here’s the deal: I’m almost 30 years old and for the better part of the last year have been involved with someone absolutely amazing. We’re committed to each other, immensely happy, not cohabitating, and see ourselves staying together for quite some time.

At my age, however, it feels odd to refer to the second half of a couple as my “boyfriend,” (or “girlfriend” as the case may be). At first we’d jokingly refer to each other as “partners in crime,” and as time has passed I’ve been content to default to the word “partner” when someone inquires about my personal life.

But, as I joke to some of my close friends, we’re not in business together, nor are we cohabitating, so it seems like “partner,” in this case, is a misnomer. However, we’re also not little kids, so calling each other “boy” or “girl” rubs me the wrong way. “Significant other” is a term that gets bandied about often but quite frankly it just reminds me of freshmen year of college. It was the de rigeur term for other lady students in the process of cajoling their high school sweethearts into engagements.

So what do I say then? I’m really stumped here. I will occasionally use “boyfriend” when referring to Pink* with family members or friendlier acquaintances, as it's just easier. Some people have told me they take issue with my use of “partner” because I’m “just being oh-so-serious and progressive” (usually followed by eyerolls).

Another acquaintance told me “partner” wasn’t appropriate because it seemed like I was “co-opting it from gay couples,” whatever that means. However, I find partner usually to be the best fit, and quite frankly, I feel like I make a pretty good case for its use. (Or maybe not and it’s another case of overthinking, you tell me.)

In the professional sphere, I find that I like to subvert the usual assumptions that people have about women, plain and simple. In this space, I like to enforce a policy of my personal life being my personal life, and being off-limits. I use “partner” in this context for two reasons: a) I want to keep conversation about my private life short if the person isn’t a long time friend, and b) I like to use a pointed reminder that not everyone is straight -- especially in the largely male-dominated, heteronormative space I work in.**

In the end, all of this should probably really just be a private matter between Pink and myself, but after some good-natured ribbing from different friends and colleagues, and way waaaay too much thinking about this stuff (I have insomnia and my brain goes crazy at night), I’ve decided to just ask my fellow xoJane readers and commenters what they think. Should we just all invent a totally new word for relationships past the age of 20?


* Obviously not his real name, but I respect his privacy and his desire to stay relatively off the Internet.

** For the record, I comfortably identify as queer and/or bisexual.