I’d Rather Have a Man Friend Than a Boyfriend

D.A. Wolf is too old for “dates” with “boys”… so what’s the right word for the men she likes?

Sometimes they were hunky – my type as defined in my twenties and thirties. A real man. A good man. Maybe a lover. Better yet, a future boyfriend.

Not handsome, but expressive. Not tall; I liked them Crazy Tall. And that, I confess, was to compensate for my excessive tininess.

What else did I go for? Dark hair was a must. Dark eyes, delicious. A twinkle in those eyes, more important than color. That, after all, could be the all-important sign of a playful sense of humor – as critical to my vision of the Classic Man as his intelligence, mischief-making, and touch of edge.

Naturally, along with the occasional smoldering gaze, he would be affectionate, kind, giving, and non-judgmental.

But everything to do with appearance, frankly, was negotiable. Readily nudged aside for wit, smarts, and what I perceived as a “heart in the right place.”

As for the adage that it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one, I’ve found that to be woefully untrue. I prefer not to make sweeping statements – (oh dear, have I already done so?) – but much as I would’ve loved a closet full of Louboutins, for me it’s easier to fall in love with a man who shares my values and understands my conflicts. That is – and always has been – less likely to be a wealthy man.

♦◊♦

Of course, I’m a little more “mature” now. I can look back and say (with relish) that my man friends have consisted of a fantastic array of personalities: a bouquet of winsome, wily, mysterious and marvelous creatures. I admit to a fondness for the Nerdy Guy. (Gentlemen, take note. Women appreciate you far more than you realize.)

And yes, there have been a few creeps. Apparently, into every life a little Creepdom must fall – especially if it’s raining men – and older men at that.

Strangest and most wondrous of all is the evolution of a friend into something more – a man who becomes a confidante, a lover, a resident of the expansive heart: a man friend who becomes a boyfriend.

But here’s the rub. That word. “Boy.” Don’t women bemoan the fact that men regress in relationships, becoming boys and taking us for granted? Don’t women grow to resent the boyish charm and nights out with the guys? Even the appeal of the Bad Boy gets old, doesn’t it? (Note to self: Explore further. Fact or fiction? Do we cease to treat them as men, thus encouraging behavior as boys?)

So why do we use language that reduces men to boys as they take up the role of committed partner? Is “girlfriend” as petulant a puzzle for a guy, or for that matter, for a midlife momma on the receiving end? As we hit middle age, how on earth do we say “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” with a straight face? Couldn’t we find more suitable terms for the stalwart fellows in our beds and our heads, and the wonderful women in our lives – not wives?

♦◊♦

A recent article in the New York Times offers other options for those who don’t engage in the usual legalities. In “Unmarried Spouses Have a Way With Words,” Elizabeth Weil discusses the definitional dilemmas for those who live together, share children, and eschew the traditional stroll down the aisle.

Our culture is increasingly comfortable with the fact of these families – or perhaps I’m kidding myself and marital status remains as defining as ever. Yet we lack labels for cohabiting couples, and apparently the relationship partners themselves tiptoe through terms (of endearment?) to use for one another.

According to the Times, it seems there was a phrase devised by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 1980s:

“person of opposite sex sharing living quarters,” abbreviated to POSSLQ and pronounced “possle cue.”

POSSLQ. Go figure!

Other terminology mentioned in the article – and, I might add, described as comic or cold – fusband (for fake husband), consort, paramour, baby daddy (this last, best offered in a sarcastic tone).

Padding phrases are also useful – I’ve relied on a few of these myself along the lines of “the person I’m in a relationship with” – (dreadful for the dangling preposition alone) or “the man I’m seeing” which rolls off the tongue with greater ease. Still, it’s simultaneously inexact and amorously ambiguous.

♦◊♦

As I can’t seem to bring myself to say “boyfriend” at this stage in my life, I fall back on a scene from Sex and the City (The Movie), which takes place between Carrie and Big. She’s in her forties, and he’s in his fifties. They’re in the process of purchasing an apartment together. She refers to him as her boyfriend, to which he responds “Aren’t I a little old to be your boyfriend?” and her reply is something to the effect of “Alright then – Man Friend.”

As for Yours Truly, for now I’ll take Man Friend and consider it good fortune, adequate etiquette, and in French, a reasonable “etiquette” or label.

Significant Other?

Too sterile.

The Man in my Life?

Not bad, though I rather like the simplicity of “My Man,” and find no objections in My Man’s referring to me as “My Woman.”

But I ask you as I ask myself: Why do we struggle so with language, even as it reflects our cultural contradictions? If you aren’t legally wed, what do you call the Object of Your Desire, or the Companion at Your Breakfast Table? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Faux Spouse About the House?

 

Photo—KyleBGalleries/Flickr

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About D. A. Wolf

D. A. Wolf is a freelance writer, marketing consultant, and devotee of fine footwear & French lingerie. She admits to two sons in college and eight imaginary friends in Paris. When not saving the world one high heel at a time (or blogging at The Huffington Post), she can be found at Daily Plate of Crazy, reflecting on relationships, parenting, pop culture, and anything else that strikes her fancy. Find her on Facebook at MyDailyPlateOfCrazy or Twitter at Big Little Wolf.

Comments

  1. I am so glad I am married and don’t have to figure this out. Funny dilemma! Great post!

  2. How about just partner?

    • i use ‘partner’ or less often ‘companion,’ but they both seem to my ear to lack an implicit heightened connection eg. as partner could be used to describe a business colleague

  3. In print I say my “lovah” and in person I mumble boyfriend or friend and feel foolish.

  4. I love this piece. Though happily married for the last 35 plus years, I understand how you might feel. But you know what forget stereotypes, labels or feeling uncomfortable. The best man will be the one who doesn’t care how you introduce him anywho or how he introduces you.

  5. My boss told me once she struggled with what to call her boyfriend when they were both in their 50s. She settled on “significant other” and “partner.” Only issue with that is people may assume that she means a “life partner” as in LGBT. Personally I’ve always been called “my lady” to guys I’ve dated. Guy wise? I just called them boyfriend. I cringe at other crazy names like “boo thing” and all that.

    • I hear you at the cringe, Maroonista. Do you wonder if our lack of appropriate language has something to do with discomfort over any coupling other than conventional marriage?

      I wonder how the men of 50+ feel about being referred to as “boy” friends…

  6. Great post, and interesting topic. I am married, but several of my unmarried friends are in serious committed relationships, and I never know what to call their significant other, other than boyfriend. One of my friends calls her boyfriend her “Man of Interest” which is creative, and always gets a chuckle…

  7. This is truly a case where the language has not kept up with the culture. I can’t think of a single descriptor that has the right connotation. As I think more about it, most of the words we use for more-than-friend relationships don’t actually imply much about the qualities of the relationship, they simply relate some polar relationship to commitment. You have dating (assessing a candidate with respect to commitment), engagement (more serious with respect to commitment), married (committed) and divorce (de-committed). Ironically, the word lover, scandalous in some eyes, is probably the only genuinely descriptive word in the bunch. Apparently we don’t care about the quality of the relationship as much as we care that the relationship be binding.

    On the other hand, maybe we are acknowledging that the essences of romantic and quasi-romantic relationships (both married and quasi-married) are so complex, variable and multi-layered as to be beyond description, so why try to get granular?

    If the relationship had the right elements I wouldn’t mind being called My Man. There seems to be a personal regard there that is not necessarily present even in Husband. Conversely, I can imagine situations where My Man would have a very imposing, possessive feel, and for that same reason I don’t think I would want to use My Woman. That is reminiscent of My Old Lady, surely one of the worst relationship phrases ever in common usage.

    But I could maybe see just “My Lady”. That captures the way I want to feel about my…..um….????

  8. I’d just call them a boyfriend, unless it’s a live-in relationship as one of my BFFs has been in for 15 years and she calls her partner, her husband. You’ve brought up some interesting points.

  9. I don’t mind the term “boyfriend,” although maybe that says something about my own maturity level! Fusband? That’s a good one!

  10. Me and my social circle just use the word partner to describe any relationship. Doesn’t matter if you’re married, dating, poly whatever. We just use partner to describe it.

  11. I have an unusual first name for a woman- Walker. In a past relationship my ‘guy’ referred to me as his partner and then said my name–the listener, unfamiliar with this guy, assumed he was gay.
    I struggle with names as well. The older we get ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ don’t feel quite right.

    What I love about your article, in addition to language and culture, is your description of what you want in a man. LIke you, intellect is high on my list. Looks are an added bonus, but I’ve found that deeper connections serve to make us all more pleasing to the eye. It’s so nice to hear an honest assessment of what women want–thoughtful, well spoken. Thank you.

  12. How about “dude”? As in, “This is my dude, dude.”

    Seriously, this would be a hard one to figure out. I’m happily married, but if I were single I’d probably go for boyfriend – as inappropriately youthful as it may sound, there’s a hopefulness to the word that I like.

    • My response to being introduced that way would be “The Dude Abides” :)

    • Sharon, your response made me chuckle. I can just seen the look on my college kids’ faces if I ever came out with the word “dude” in any context. It’s strange enough for them to imagine anyone over 40 involved in a romantic relationship!

  13. Oh my, it could be worse…you could live in FRANCE. Where there are whole different layers in the language, all equally as vague, for this exact situation. And as a woman in her 40s who is not married but has a French PACS (Pact of Civil Solidarity), I have to struggle through this all the time. The most appropriate word is “companion” but hello? I am not 90 and have hired some young Joe to escort me through my final years–this is my love we are talking about! But to say “mon amour” brings about embarrassment and a blush on the listeners part, so no. “Mon ami?” Um, no he is more than a friend just as he is more than a buddy “mon copin”. Sigh. Honestly? Especially where I live in the South of France which is more old-fashioned, it is outright easier just to lie and say “mon mari” –my husband! And you know what, my honey calls me his wife too when it passes easier. Complicated…

    • With the additional PACS status, I would’ve thought there might be more labeling options. I wonder if you’re asked the question or expected to label when making introductions as much as we are in the US. I’m guessing that remains “oui.”

  14. Ok D.A, maybe I can make some interesting remarks on what you say here, from my French point of view. One of the first things to point out is that we French not only differ in words with Americans, in the love and sex department, we also differ in concepts! For a start it has to be noted that the very notion of dating hardly make sense in France. We don’t date, “nous sortons ensemble” :) More details on this important difference in my book: Being French (information about the book in my URL).

    Now this issue about calling your “boy friend” a man who give you some company and eventually good time in the sack but is nonetheless over his 50s, doesn’t really exists in France. A woman who has such a man in her life, will simply say: “Je vous présente Jacques, mon ami” (let me introduce to you Jacques, my friend) and everyone will have understood who exactly is Jacques for her. When it’s more recent, or more casual we often use “petit ami” and “petite amie” which really are the equivalent of boy friend/ girl friend but have this same advantage of referring to friendship plus not talking of you as if you were a teen! :)

    A woman can eventually say “mon homme” (my man) but it will acquire a little working class connotation you know like Edith Piaf saying “he’s tall and hunky, eventually beat me at times but I love him just the same!” Now the saying doesn’t work the other way around because in French “my woman” would be translated by “ma femme”, and since “femme” is not only “woman” but also “wife” in French, then everybody will understand that this woman is simply his wife.

    • I agree Francois and the term “petite amie” makes sense in French. My man does not have the same social connotations in North America that it has in France.

  15. I suppose that to in order to be somewhat accurate we could use My Beloved/My Befriended/or My BeSexed (although maybe that last one is Too Much Information)…..

  16. How about “special friend”? win k. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Say no more. Etc

  17. What ever happened to “my main sqeeze”? Too hip? Then man/woman of interest gets my vote.

  18. i have always liked “my beau.” don’t know how the french would feel about that, but to me it has just the right amount of affection, possessiveness and charm, while clearly stating a romantic connection. could be a bit casual for a long-term relationship. although, i love the idea of hearing it come from a grey-haired couple. :)

  19. -> Lucy

    Well it’s peculiar for French because we also have the word “beau” but it just means “handsome” or “beautiful” while in English, if I don’t mistake, it acquires a little outmoded sense of “boyfriend” in the same way that we would say in France “mon galant”.
    What I can tell is that a Frenchwoman can eventually address her boyfriend calling him “mon beau”, but she will not talk about him with the same words to others. Funnily the other way around is available. I’m mean to says that he will join his girlfriend somewhere, a Frenchman can perfectly say: “Je l’en vais retrouver ma belle”. Languages are so subtle! :)

  20. The more I say it out loud, the more I like it. Man Friend. Sounds better than boy friend, at any age, because he ‘s a MAN.

  21. Boyfriend and girlfriend are fine.

    Here in Quebec province, where most people cohabitate and the married rate keeps going down and down (religion died here, quite suddenly in the 1960s, and as more and more people haven’t known differently, they have no attachment to it), we don’t find it has connotations of youthfulness or of non-commitment. It’s just what we do.

  22. I think if it’s someone you’re close to in a way that is not “friend” like, or “lover” like, you should introduce them as “my VIP, (name)” It sounds silly, but if a man introduced me that way to his friends, I’d kinda like it.

  23. A friend is a friend and if they are a friend I don’t specify their gender. It’s been a good long while since I dated, but I expect if I did that again (horrors!) and I hadn’t settled one any one, I might call them ‘men friends’. I think calling someone a ‘lover’ is too much information and I’m about 30 years too old to have a “boy” friend. Bill and I were together for more than a decade before we married. He was my ‘partner’ and a brilliant one at that. I’ve had two other husbands, one an authoritarian, the other a kid at heart (probably a ‘bad boy’). They made me appreciate just how valuable partnership can be.

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