Before I begin this I concede that I am a prurient ass, and while I hope I am not the only person for whom the following would be such a point of contention as to blog about it, but it does irk me to that degree.
I have a confession to make: I, a writer, am at a loss for a word. Not words, for this is not a post on writer’s block, but a word. A single word -and speaking of single let me roll this back a bit and make my conundrum clear.
My spouse – the person I am married to.
My fiancé/fiancée – the male/female identifier with whom I am engaged to marry.
My betrothed – the gender neutral term for the person I am engaged to.
My intended** – the very informal use of betrothed.
My lover – the person I am having sexual relations with, but who is not necessarily my betrothed or my spouse.
My paramour – the pretentious and/or facetious use of lover, but indicative that the other person’s holy matrimony is the stumbling block between the two of us.
My friend – the person whose company I enjoy, but I have no romantic feelings for.
I’m guessing at this point you have figured out the missing rung. So I say this to you: When I enter into a monogamous relationship with a person I am dating, but not necessarily have engaged physical relations. I do not desire to state it so baldly by using the term lover, or any indicative thereof, especially if we have yet to engage in the more physical aspects of such. How do I introduce that person to others? Please note I am not referring to terms of endearment, the romantic nouns with which we would call each other, but a clear-cut specific term when you are past saying my date, because as a grown woman of 53 years of age, I would feel utterly ridiculous being introduced as someone’s girlfriend. Thusly, I would not want to introduce a male of my peerage as my boyfriend. So what are the alternatives for the mature dating couple?
My woman/My man sounds like someone is trying a buy a couple seconds while desperately trying to remember the other person’s name while not insulting their maturity by addressing them as my boy or my girl.
My lady, while acceptable enough, sounds so stuffy as though bowing of some sort is expected. My gentleman caller evokes, well, peals of laughter, and expectations of bows, curtsies and polite kissing of said lady’s knuckles (*press play on hurl.mp3 here*).
Granted there is the classic sweetheart, but seriously. For those who know me, I can already hear their snort at my attempt to say such with tenderness except maternal and I haven’t done that when addressing my sons since they were in grade school. Saying sweetheart with derision or utter sarcasm? -oh in a heartbeat. Saying it with affection? -never gonna happen. And honestly, could you see me with a man who would call me such, except smartastically? Great the old standard Let Me Call You Sweetheart is now running in the background of my mind as I type this. Ugh!
That leaves the ubiquitous my guy/my gal. The former immediately brings the classic Mary Wells tune to mind, while the latter conjures Judy Garland & Gene Kelly hoofing it. So again, I really would prefer a term that did not engage my already natural tendency to drop a song lyric at any given prompt more chances to run rampant. And cripes – now Bon Jovi’s Runaway is in my head- I really can’t stand myself sometimes.
I have read somewhere that other places, such as in the Chinese language, there are several distinct terms for love. These words define, romantic love, from familial loves, from humanitarian love etc. Whereas English only the generic love which encompasses everything, versus in love, which is solely the providence of romantic relationships. If the English language, which has no qualms in blatantly stealing phrases from every other language in existence to make its point when needed, has such a dearth of more appropriate terms for the varying intricacies of love itself, is it really surprising we are so lacking in terminology for the extended ladder rungs leading to it?
I imagine part of the reason for this lexiconic lacking is a mix of history, tradition and longevity. History in that from the days of yore the human life expectancy was a much shorter one than now. Tradition in that a hundred or so years ago, it was pretty much a given that anyone over the age of 25 was likely either married or widowed, unless the person was a spinster or confirmed bachelor. While it was possible for a widow in antebellum south to reenter the courting pool, she retained her late-husband’s surname if/until she remarried. There was no need, read time, to establish more dating/courting terms for the mature single person beyond the genteel gentleman caller. Longevity in that it is still the relative norm to presume a person will date, became engaged, get married and at some point widowed, and as we’re talking this day and age – possibly divorced. However, as we are living much longer and by extrapolation, dating longer, and/or returning to the dating pool at later ages, the strictures of old-fashioned courting are as outdated the as term gentlemen callers. As such we find ourselves in a bit of linguistic conundrum.
So here I am a week from Valentine’s Day, throwing out a net into the linguistic waters in search of a word in English that is equivalent to the immediate understanding of girlfriend/boyfriend yet does not immediately bring to mind the days of high school. Any takers?
**While intended as a romantic term is used interchangeably with betrothed, I personally have considered it a step down on the romance ladder because of the classic definition of the word intend. Betrothed, brooks no question, two people are definitely going to get married. John Watson proposes to Mary Mortenson in the traditional way with a ring and everything (Yes, I am a huge fan of BBC’s Sherlock – just zip it – would you do that for me please?). There is no question they are a devoted couple and John is going to marry Mary, thus they are betrothed to each other.
When a spontaneous proposal happens, but there is no ring on hand to seal that part of the deal, I think intended should be used. In a moment of passion (not that type of passion – geesh people!) Pat pops the question to Leslie. However, because Pat has more love than moolah at the moment, it takes a bit before an engagement ring is placed on Leslie’s fingers. Until the rings show up, they intend to become engaged/married.
And going back to 221B Baker Street as temporary analogy (I said zip it), in the case of Sherlock flashing an engagement ring at Janine, Sherlock would have introduced her as his betrothed for we would see the evidence of such on her left hand ring finger. However, as she would have been the sole ring wearer, she could introduce him as her intended. After all Sherlock bought the engagement ring because he intended to propose (<– see what I did there?). Intended – you can all but hear the comma, space, but and ellipses immediately following that sentence can’t you? This is why I place intended as a romantic term a rung down on the ladder.
Writing Our Lives #52essays2017 challenge – Week 6
A year-long weekly personal essay/memoir/creative nonfiction writing challenge. To learn more about this challenge or to participate, check out Vanessa Martir’s website and learn about it.
And let’s see how others are slicing this week:
Slice of Life Writing Challenge|Two Writing Teachers