April 7, 2005
He’s my ...
The term "boyfriend" is like the knee joint on someone who is morbidly obese. It is being asked to do way more than it was designed
to do. It is buckling under the pressure. Where it once could do the job, it is now carrying too much weight.
Example: My grandma had a companion with whom she would converse and play bridge after my grandpa died. They had long phone conversations, saw movies together. He accompanied grandma to certain family events. He was over 90, he used a walker, but, technically, Roy was grandma's boyfriend.
Something about the word is just so precious. And misleading. Unless you're safely within the confines of a sorority house or discussing someone you met in a chat room last week, that word just doesn't work. No matter how serious or long-standing the relationship is, once you refer to him as your boyfriend, it sounds all fluffy and insignificant -- and gives me the distinct sense a pillow fight is going to break out any second.
So what should you call him if "boyfriend" doesn't seem right to you, as it never has to me?
Let me help you avoid a mistake I recently made: do not say "my friend" when referring to your romantic partner. If you refer him simply as a friend, you might as well take him for a salt scrub followed by a matinee of "Miss Congeniality 2"; that's how emasculated he will feel. This is because, sadly, "friend" is also the word used to describe male friends with whom you have no intention of having sex, so you see the problem here. It may be satisfyingly vague and pretty much accurate, but it's also eunuch-izing.
Moving on. Let's get into the novelty options: there's "my old man" and "the old ball and chain."
I like the former, as it seems to conjure a Hell's Angels clubhouse and leather pants. Although it's nice to use the argot of an extra in the movie "Mask," it can seem somewhat out of place if your "old man" drives a Camry and invests regularly in his 401(k).
"The old ball and chain" has some camp value. But like "my old man" it can be tricky using a term to refer to your partner that contains the word "old." If he actually is old, that's uncomfortable. If he's much younger, in the Demi/Ashton sense, no need to bring that into relief. I'll throw in "my main squeeze" here as another troubling novelty term. The modifier "main" suggests you have numerous other "squeezes." Is it just me, or does that sound like "Meet Joe, he's my main squeeze. I have so many 'squeezes' I have to break them down into main, secondary and auxiliary"?
Above, I used the word "partner," which I will lump in with "companion" as totally useless if you happen to be straight, because everyone associates these expressions with same-sex couples.
Here we head into the category of sugary terms: my sweetie, my honey, my cutie pie. These make me long for the relative class of "my baby daddy."
A nickname that is used privately is one thing, but I'm talking about the need for a public term. He can be monkey, puppy, bobo or baby in private, but when it's time to introduce him at a party, you will need a descriptor.
"This is my little puppy pants" is just not going to do when introducing him to your boss. Here is where "my honey" nauseates anyone within earshot, "my friend" pisses him off, "my old man" is trying too hard and "my baby daddy" only works if you have kids. You are stuck with boyfriend, which will make you feel like you're in the 1950s. Or you're 15. Or you just wrote his name on your sweatshirt in puffy paint.
If there's one good reason to get married, it is simply to be able to use the dignified moniker "my husband." Even "my fiancé" has limited appeal, but husband is solid, works for all ages (except maybe under 15, like in Appalachia, when it's creepy).
This brings me to "my man," which has a certain twangy charm. If you can pull it off, good for you and Tammy Wynette, but it's a bit country for most of us. There's always "beau," which is old-fashioned and sweet, but also cloyingly French. "Lover" barely rates a mention, because even in the 1970s it was way too '70s.
This is where I'm left. Lucky to have the guy, but wishing I had something better to call him.
Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?"
But I notice he didn't call his play "Ralph and Bertha."
Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She's on the Web at teresastrasser.com.