What Do You Call Your Live-In Lover?  

Lover? Boyfriend? Par amour? Fiancé? Baby? Dependent? Consort? Sweetheart? Honey? Roommate?

What Do You Call Your Live-In Lover?  

Lover? Boyfriend? Par amour? Fiancé? Baby? Dependent? Consort? Sweetheart? Honey? Roommate? If he’s not your husband and you’re living together, he’s your…? You’re his…?

It’s about time there was a word. An appropriate appellation. In lieu of husband, what do you call your live-in lover, the person with whom you share everything in life but a marriage license? What does he call you?

What's in a name?

Without clergy or state sanctifying your domestic arrangement, the linguists fumble and the etiquette writers shut their eyes. Yet, God only knows, nomenclature can get sticky. Been to any high school reunions lately? Bar Mitzvahs? Stuffy black-tie affairs? If he’s not your husband, what do you tell the internet company when they call to register? What do you say when a friend of your father’s kindly inquires about the health of your husband? What do you call his parents, outlaws? What do they call you?

Among us, there exists a secret group of people sworn to fulfill the ever increasing need to attach labels. And if you don’t believe me, try defining your relationship to a bureaucrat like the account executive from the electric company, who will catch you in a speechless bind when he asks, “Is this Mrs. So-and-so?”

Attention non-wives everywhere!

A girl friend of mine, an older, progressive type who prefers consecutive monogamy to marriage (that’s one live-in lover after another) is always whining about how to refer to her ex-something or other, when there’s been two before and two after. To simplify matters, she usually calls ex-number one her first husband. “It sums up the seriousness of the relationships,” she says, “only it makes me feel like a liar.”

So in the interest of non-wives everywhere, who would like to refer to their non-husbands in a meaningful, non-oppressive, yet descriptive way, l polled my friends for some viable suggestions. It’s also a marvelous way of picking up gossip.

In any event, "my friend" was a heavy favorite, largely because of the sheer innocuousness of the term. But it annoyed the more flamboyant of the group who screamed, “Cop out!” “Hypocrisy!” “Dumb!”

“Lover”took second place, though critics hastened to point out that it was pretentious, not so hot for grandmothers and the conservative right (though maybe they don't have those kind of relationships), and a description that fixated on the physical.

Hi there, roomie...

Photo by Brooke Olimpieri

“Roommate” was suggested but dismissed as too collegiate by the sophisticates. And “mate”, though a nice blending of roommate and husband, seemed somehow too stuffy. The old time hipsters came up with “my old man” and “my old lady” which are alright so long as you’re young. It gets rough when you call a 40 something lover, your old lady. Cute at 25, not so much at 45.

The cornier suggestions: “my better half”“my tax deduction””my parole officer”“my chairman of the board.”

Of course, the romanticists went continental, i.e., “paramour,” originally meaning, “my love.” But again, this literally applies only to physical love. And can you imagine calling up the gas company and saying, “Hello, this is Mr. So-and-So’s paramour.”

“Innamorata” (Italian) and “doudou” (French) are nice endearments but a bit much for ordinary conversation. Obscenities like here’s "the bitch I live with,” air too much dirty laundry. A word like “consort” connoting partnership and sharing, would seem to be a nice, solid compromise, but I seem to recall birth control instructions prefaced with the message, “When with your consort…”

Meet my man-friend?

Camille Row by Guy Aroch

In a pinch, there’s always “boyfriend” if you can live with that when you’re sixty-five. “My man” and “my lady” are okay. But “my ex man” and “my ex-lady”? Oh, come on.

Perhaps the best thing to do is sit tight while linguists make there way through this progressive issue in a world where over 50% of us are sure to get divorced. Or perhaps we should just stick with ambiguity, no titles and a simple introduction along the lines of, "Hi mom, I want to introduce you to Joe", and leave the rest to her imagination.

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Emily McCay


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