How do you refer to “the person you’re seeing” when you’re an adult?

As a single man again, after almost two decades of being in a relationship, I’m finding that dating in my 40s is very different from dating in my 20s. One huge difference in me is self-confidence: I’m far more self-assured than I ever was back then.
Just as importantly, I know what I don’t like and am comfortable saying so. Want to go ski the black diamond slopes in Aspen? I’m not your man. Want to go sky-diving? I’ll see you on the ground and good luck to you! Going to see a movie? Going for a hike? Need a pal at a local rep theater production? Having a spontaneous weekend somewhere? Now we’re talking…
But here’s what’s baffling me: if I’m seeing someone, if we’ve been dating for long enough that we’ve reprogrammed our phones to have each other on speed dial (I know, quite trés modern, eh?), what’s the word we should be using to describe each other?


When I was in college, the gal would be my “girlfriend” and I her “boyfriend”, but as someone in the latter part of my 40s, I don’t really see myself as a “boy” and the gals that I have been hanging out with, uh, dating, definitely are more women than girls (heck, that’s the attraction!)
Last week, a gal with whom I have been dating made a comment about us potentially becoming “an item” and it really struck me at the time what an odd expression that was to describe… what?
For that matter, how many dates does it take before you’re “in a relationship” instead of just “dating”? And what is a date? I like to think of it as “hanging out” with someone, but I can’t deny that there’s a tiny charge to hearing a “yes, definitely” to the question “wanna go out on a date?”
I can recall seniors referring to their “man friend” and “lady friend” but that sounds oddly stilted too, so I’m not sure that’s the solution. At least, not for me.
So I’m totally baffled by this all. Am I “dating” or “going out with” or “hanging out with” or ‘spending time with” someone if we are both testing the proverbial waters for the possibility of a longer-term, more intimate relationship? If we do agree to being each other’s sort of “automatic date” when we’re available, are we “dating” or “in a relationship” or ?
Help me out, gang. I’m clueless and confused by it all (as you can see!)

12 comments on “How do you refer to “the person you’re seeing” when you’re an adult?

  1. Tom Leykis said “dating” for men means “porking” – I like to put it this way, for men dating means having a sexual relationship on an ongoing basis and also enjoying other activities like movies or dancing and good conversation with your woman.

  2. From a woman’s point of view, I think “significant other” implies exclusivity, and I think many women over 40 will say that an ongoing sexual relationship implies exclusivity (at least on her part). So it sounds like you have a significant other.
    As an over 40 dater, I can’t bring myself to say “boyfriend” about a man over 40 (and I deny dating men under 40). I generally say “I’m seeing so and so”.

  3. My thoughts:
    a) I have heard your ‘lament’ from other people too; BOYfriend and GIRLfriend really don’t seem to fit, do they? I say Who Cares? I’m knocking on the door to 40 myself and call my s/o my boyfriend. It’s what he is. It’s short, sweet and to the point, “we” know what it means. Do we still think of breakfast as breaking the fast? No, it’s one word with a certain meaning. I’d say “get over it” and use the term girlfriend because you and I both know that being this age certainly doesn’t feel like we THOUGHT it would feel, right? 😉
    b) It’s dating. “Seeing” is OK too. I’d say if you’re introducing her, no need to append with “…the person I’m dating/seeing” or anything. Simply “Hey Bob, this is Julie; Julie, this is Bob.” You’d be amazed how little it comes up. People know… they don’t need a neon sign pointing to her saying “THIS IS DAVE’S GIRLFRIEND! AND THEY’RE DATING! *blink* *blink* *blink*”
    c) It’s a relationship when *both* of you i) have no desire to seek dates with other people ii) wish you could spend as much time as possible together even AFTER the initial, exciting “honeymoon” period and you’ve iced all the joints iv) you start shopping for groceries (or other, equally mundane tasks) together and v) she asks if she could leave a small overnight bag tucked away in the bathroom (and by small, I mean large-purse-sized, beach tote-esque bag… mine had a hairdryer in it too…)
    c.1) And, personally, I wouldn’t call someone up and say “want to go on a date?” I’d ask if they want to do the activity, as in “Hey, I’m not going parachuting, want to go on a hike with me? I’m packing some awesome sandwiches; do you prefer rye or whole wheat bread?” What got my proverbial foot in the door was me asking him if he wanted to do a Monty Python-a-thon. The airspeed of a laden swallow you ask? Not sure… never made it that far. *cough*
    d) For bonus points: my ex and I actually had the dating “issue” written in our separation agreement because both of us wanted it to be clear about who was and wasn’t allowed in our son’s life. We were not to introduce any potential partner as a b/g/friend NOR hold hands or otherwise act in a relationshippy way in front of him until we had been dating the person for 6 months steadily. The thought was to reduce the number of any “revolving door temporary parental stand-ins” so as to not have our son become attached to someone who could be “ripped” away.
    In the end… really… I’ll say it again: Who Cares? You’re having fun (Whee BTW!). You could call her a tuna sandwich for all I care ;). Carpe Diem.

  4. Dating implies the potential for sex and eventual exclusivity is in the intent. I think that’s what gals think. “Just dating” means to me: looking for the above and not exclusive. It’s risky to ask a gal, “Wanna hang out?” without clarifying that it’s not a date. Too confusing.

  5. I’ve been off the market for a while now, but I think I can offer two cents. Our culture stinks at the whole dating thing. There are so many mixed messages – one calls last Tuesday’s coffee a date, the other calls it coffee. One thinks you’re dating exclusively, the other throws around terms like “hanging out.” Other cultures have much clearer lines as to what constitutes a relationship phase (and I’m sure there are more mature-sounding names to replace boyfriend/girlfriend). Onto the names…
    Call her the one you’re “porking” only if you’re prepared to end the relationship. “Dating” or “seeing” leaves the seriousness of the relationship open to interpretation, since you could technically use those terms after a single meeting.
    It’s safe to call her your better half. I think people generally take that to mean exclusively dating to a serious level. She’ll probably follow suit.
    Or, go ahead a coin a term. Include male/female versions. See if it catches on!

  6. I agree with Jodie. Who cares what you call each other as long as you both know what it means. But, if you really need to have a name that you think is better the boyfriend, try using beau. It seems a little more grown-up and I kind of like it. Unfortunately, I can’t think of or find a similar grown-up word for the lady of a relationship. Ideas?

  7. I wrote an article about this once myself. With all the words in the English language you’d think we could come up with an “older” version of boyfriend/girlfriend. “Beau” sounds too old-fashioned for me. “Lover” is too personal. “Significant Other” to me implies a long-term (ie. living together) relationship — almost the equivalent of marriage.
    It’s really tough when you’re in a relatively new relationship and you’re not really sure of the commitment level. I think “boyfriend/girlfriend” implies commitment and exclusivity and that can feel like a big step. So beyond the “age factor” there’s the “commitment factor” implied with these words.
    I’ve gotten to the point of accepting “boyfriend/girlfriend” as the terms used to imply a committed relationship… I’ve heard those words used for people in their 80’s, even though it kind of makes me chuckle. It seems odd at first, but you get used to it. And I have to admit, I like the idea of being a “girlfriend” even if I am almost 50.

  8. The term “partner” seems to work considerably well in situations such as this. But, as most others have commented, it really doesn’t matter what you call ’em, as long as you know what you mean to each other! 😀

  9. Oh I loved this…
    This has been a question that myself (47) and my 55 year old “boyfriend” have been addressing.
    I decided ‘partner’ was too nancy-ish; male/man friend made us sound like gay porn stars; boyfriend was ridiculous when he is 55.
    I settled on “latest squeeze”
    🙂

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