I'm married. Technically speaking, I have no more business using the word "boyfriend." It's part of my past, along with worrying about where my next sex act would be coming from. Nevertheless, the word continues to bug me. It seems to carry a legacy of problems that infantilize adult relationships. So I'm starting a campaign: We should outlaw the use of the word "boyfriend" after the age of 16 — or at least, once people's dating lives evolve beyond shy hand-holding at the movies.
According to the excellent Dialect Blog, the term "boyfriend" evolved, unsurprisingly, from a platonic term for a male friend (as two words: boy friend), with the transition to it signifying a romantic partner coming at the beginning of the 1900s. But the movement to romance wasn't actually complete for decades — word evolution is rarely smooth. According to Allan Metcalfe, author of From Skedaddle to Selfie, "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" retained their just-friends aura until the 1920s and '30s. And for me, that slightly confused origin is part of the problem.
People protest that one of the reasons they cling to "boyfriend" is that there aren't any good replacement words that are widely accepted. "Partner" seems clinical. "Beau" has the aura of twirled mustaches. "Other half" seems frankly anti-feminist. Still, "boyfriend" just isn't good enough for adult women in adult relationships. And this is why:
1. Who Wants To Date A Boy?
Here's the reality: Boys, sweet as they are, are mostly idiots. Men are alright. I have a lot of time for men. But any person of any age will know perfectly well that boys — who are insecure, sensitive, immature, and bursting with hormones — are much better left alone until they learn to live without acting like lunatics. We do date them anyway in the beginning as practice, but the contrast with mature members of the male gender does become rather radically obvious as we age — and I know which one I prefer. Why tar grown-ass men with the brush of their teenage selves?
2. Boyfriends Are For Sharing Milkshakes, Not Sex
There's a peculiar innocence to "boyfriend" that's carried over from its origins at a platonic term and emphasized by its youthfulness. And that's fine, and sweet. That is, if you're having an innocent — or at least casual — relationship. Once you start actually buying condoms and living together, though, it starts to feel vaguely ... creepy.
3. It Doesn't Imply Serious Commitment
You'll probably understand what I'm getting at here. "Boyfriend" is meant to encompass a huge swath of relationships, from teenage smooching and awkwardness right up to buying a house together. But for many of us, it still has such a tangible sense of the early period of dating — first kisses, first breakups, upset notes on our Trapper Keepers — that it doesn't really grow with us.
4. It Makes The Transition To Marriage Too Shocking
"Fiancé" is meant to be the word for the transition period from boyfriend/girlfriend to husband/wife. But realistically, engagements might actually be a bit of a psychological shock if you've been nestling in the potentially immature, easily-shed title of "boyfriend" and suddenly face a Very Big Upgrade. No wonder people get cold feet.
5. It Represents Our Societal Failure To Recognize Unmarried Relationships
"Boyfriend" is only a surface manifestation of a deeper problem. The concept of relationships before marriage is still a very modern phenomenon, and our flawed lexicon represents a societal struggle to cope with it. With the taboo on premarital sex thoroughly broken in some communities and facing an uphill struggle in others, the idea of a non-marital relationship involving sex, commitment, serious partnership, and children is seriously common. According to the U.S. Census, the number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased by 88 percent in the U.S. between 1960 and 2000. And 75 percent of US women will live with an unmarried partner before they turn 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention.
6. There Is A Good Alternative
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