He is not a boy, and he is not a friend. So why is ‘boyfriend’ the only socially acceptable term for him?
I’m 41 years old and way too old to have a boyfriend.
I haven’t had a boyfriend since I was in my 20’s. And, here I am two decades later single and dating the same man for almost a year. Technically, he is my boyfriend. We are beyond dating. We are in a committed relationship shaping a vision, a contractual agreement of a life together.
But, each time I move to introduce him or refer to him in conversation, I back away from the word “boyfriend.” The term makes me cringe. I know it’s just semantics and I’m certain the singles out there who desire a relationship are shaking their heads in disbelief, “Really? You’ve found the one and are fixating on semantics?”
I am fixating. I’m struggling to find a term that feels age appropriate. I remember what it means to date boys. But I am in a relationship with a man. The term boyfriend feels anachronistic. It in no way communicates how this man I now love exists in my life and how he so deeply matters in the life of my children—who were abandoned by their biological father. I stumble over the word boyfriend to find a term that honors what he means to me, to us. And the stumble goes something like this…
Partner? Sounds too contractual, devoid of intimacy.
Lover? Rings too noncommittal, grounded in the physicality of intimacy and not in the whole heart.
Companion? I have a memory of two adventurous elderly British women I met when I was traveling through Brazil. They carried a jar of Grey Poupon everywhere they went. They were companions.
Soul mate? Fluffy. New age.
My man? I think of him as my man. He’s a man with all the responsibility and drive to commit that comes with manhood. He lacks the ego of a boy and expresses the humility of a man. He is comfortable in his skin and his inner child—another wonderful mark of manhood. How could I ever associate all of that with the awkward image of adolescence and irresponsibility the term boyfriend evokes in me? He is not a boy and he is not a friend. He is a man and thank goodness, he is happy to be my man.
Now, I’ve tried to put the term “my man” in practice when referring to him. I am greeted with an inquisitive look, “Your man?” I pause, stumble, and explain through my nonsensical struggle with the word boyfriend. I am woman, a mother, and executive. Boyfriend doesn’t fit with who I am. Most people nod in agreement. I can see their wheels begin to churn trying to find the right age-appropriate term.
Words matter. Nuance matters. It’s why I make a strong distinction between the sole and single parent. The latter gets a break. The former does not.
I wonder why we have not yet caught up to the changing dynamics of dating. In decades past, girls did have boyfriends, then married and stayed married until they became widows. Then, maybe they found a companion with whom to spend their twilight years. Somewhere in that timeline, they might have stepped beyond the bonds of marriage to take on a lover or flirt with the notion of a soul mate. And, if they stepped into a feminist framework, they might have chosen to use the term partner in reference to their husband to communicate their political and social repurposing of marriage. The word matters. The nuance communicates everything.
These days, women extend single life longer and/or choose not to marry. They get divorced and move on, choosing to date and build relationships with men that are not contingent upon marriage or permanency. They are 37, 41, 49, 54, 63 and they are in relationships with men. They are executives, community leaders, accomplished mothers, sole or single parents holding down a home. They are grandparents, artists, engineers, independent of past conformities or social norms They have wisdom, experience, a voice.
They are women who boys admire, identify as mentors, respect as role models. These women are not girls and the men who walk beside them are not boys. Boyfriend/girlfriend undercuts the real meaning of the relationship. So, for now, I’m going to steer clear of boyfriend and insert “my man” into the vernacular. Let’s see where we land.
Katerina Zacharia is a media executive, teacher, and sole parent raising two children on her own. She is passionate about her work in media, diversity, and education, her children, her friendships and family, and keeping her sanity. She has no nanny.