July 15, 2012

Ex-Etiquette: 'Older' couples living together defy labeling


Q: My boyfriend and I are in our 50s and we have been together for 15 years. We have no intentions of marriage or starting a family, but we are committed to each other. We even own a home together. We feel silly introducing each other as "boyfriend" and "girlfriend." We are more than that, and too old for those terms. Do you have a good ex-etiquette suggestion?

A: You are hardly alone in the feeling that boyfriend and girlfriend are inappropriate terms to refer to grown adults in committed relationships. I heard this from readers for years. You can use the terms, but you're not 13 and they really don't fit. You can say "significant other," but that sounds quite formal. The abbreviation, "SO," just plain dumb. "Companion" sounds unromantic, and like you're describing your pet. "Lover" is too explicit. "Partner" sounds business-like and quite a few same-sex couples use the term, so if you are not gay, it may mislead during the introduction. "Paramour," old-fashioned. "Beau," again formal and quite dated, "fiance" implies plans to marry, "escort" may imply "for pay," "soul mate," sappy. We could be here all day.

I like more casual references during intros. For example, "This is my guy, Dave." Your tone of voice and the inflection helps those to understand your introduction. I've heard others say things like "Meet my partner in crime, Lisa," said with a wink, which at the time seemed adorable.

For most things the rules of good ex-etiquette are very clear, but to date, I have heard no completely perfect term for "older" couples living together. For that very reason, some wear rings and call each other "fiance" even though they have no intention of marrying. They feel that better describes their relationship than anything else.

I would love to hear my reader's suggestions and together we can establish proper ex-etiquette for introductions! I will let you all know the final consensus in a future column.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at:



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