Life lessons at 50 plus: What’s in a name?



We’ve faced a dilemma that challenges many other women and men of our vintage. How do we refer to the men we date when we’re out in public and want to introduce them? Same challenge arises whether you’re a woman dating another woman or a man dating a man.

US: Oh hi, Mrs. Wagner, this is my boyfriend, “Bob.” At that point, she looks at us incredulously because Bob is not a boy – he’s in his 70s in Barbara’s case; the same case a few years back for Margaret’s guy. And in both cases, they’re certainly more than a friend, though we know from experience that the best romantic relationships offer great friendship and companionship.

This was another challenge that was so much easier to deal with when we were younger. However, wasn’t everything?

Long before we turned 50, the guy in our romantic life was a boyfriend and before that a date. Now that we are skipping down the path of senior citizenship or have arrived, the term sounds so teenager-ish, like trying to wear our skirts too short, our heels too high and our hair too long.

And then there are our mothers who tended to refer to the men in our lives as “your friend,” which removed any trace of sexual intimacy. OK, Mom, that’s fine; we understand where you’re coming from. We don’t have to throw that part of our relationship in your face!

We suggested, why not just call him by name (if you can remember it?) How’s Bob or Joe or George? It’s so much easier.

One of our relatives who will remain anonymous prefers “significant other,” which to us is a euphemism and skirts the issue of what he really is. How significant is he? Aren’t all our loved ones significant others in some way? One of the guys in our lives has suggested the term “life partner,” which is okay, but sounds so long lasting. What if we want to cut things short? Like tomorrow, it’s au revoir, ciao, or it’s been wonderful, but….Then, should we call him simply partner, which makes it sound a bit like a business arrangement.

Barbara prefers “beau,” since it sounds so sweet, charming and Southern-ish and was suggested by a Southern guy she dated for several years. Margaret thinks it’s a bit silly and geographically limiting, better for Scarlett O’Hara when she’s referring to Rhett Butler, who once was her husband until he made his dramatic departure. And he frankly didn’t give a damn what she called him.

Then, there’s always “hey you,” or “sweetie,” or “honey.” Try these terms in polite conversation and see if they fit.

US: Oh, hi Mrs. Wagner. This is “Hey you,” or “My sweetie,” or “My honey.”

Mrs. Wagner replies: Now, isn’t that cute. You are so endearing.

US: No. It’s ridiculous because we don’t really know what else to call him, but thanks for the compliment.

Of course, we can simply come up with cutsie monikers like “Fixup” (Barbara was fixed up by close friends so she likes that term for her beau) or “OHSB, “old high school boyfriend,” which is what Margaret’s guy was when they reconnected at a very trendy spot, an Apple store, when people were out and about long before the coronavirus hit. But all of this requires a long-winded back story that we might not want to tell every time we run into someone new. They probably could care less.

Why not make up our own word? This is my “dneirfyob” or boyfriend backwards, partner or “rentrap,” date or “etad”…egad! This gets even more complicated. However, we could Tweet it out and hope it goes viral and see what everyone thinks in our sharing economy.

Finally, there’s always the option of using body language and avoiding any designated moniker at all.

US: Oh, hi Mrs. Wagner. Meet Bob …and give him a big hug or point.

This is really exhausting, isn’t it? Bottom line: we say just keep it simple, pick a name that works for you and him or her or THEM to be politically correct, and ignore everyone else!

Margaret (Meg) Crane lived most of her life in St. Louis, was associate editor of the Jewish Light in the early 70s and from 2001-2012, was senior writer for Jewish Federation. Two years ago, she moved to New York City to be closer to family living there. Barbara Ballinger, originally from New York, lived in St. Louis for 23 years and worked at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. She now lives in upstate New York. Follow their blog here.