Alison Taylor on relationships: What do I call my man friend?


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The Independent Online

Let's talk about the language of exclusivity. It feels like the term boyfriend has become like gluten: we're increasingly sensitive to it. Take last week, at a book launch. I introduced my current squeeze to the publisher as my "man friend".

Let's just sit and cringe together a while and let it sink in. I mean, the last time I heard that particular term was when my mum attempted to matchmake my grandma with a bloke from the local bowling club. And it didn't wash then, either.

Thinking about it, as I'm wont to do post-event, I was trying to be funny but, as is too often the case, I just came across as odd. So then – a retaliation? – whenever said man friend was in a similar small talk-y position, he came out with: "We've been on 22 dates", which, to be fair to him, is quite funny.

It doesn't stop there. The next dilemma, one we've all at some point faced, is: how do I introduce the guy my friend has been seeing but whose status in her life is, as yet, undefined? Her "fella", I plump for. Sounds sort of casual, sort of back-slappy and also makes him sound a bit older, which he is. I was tempted to go with "the guy she's been sleeping with most regularly", but you can't, can you?

Up in Manchester, my friend who's a mum (we're not all swanning around childless in our mid-thirties) has been getting grief from her own mother for referring to her daughter's father as her "boyfriend" and not "partner" – as if that bit of linguistic shuffling will have a profound effect on the future of her grandchild. Personally, I think she should go the full Kardashian and call him her "baby daddy".

It all seems to smack of the school yard. And, does, in fact, remind me of a time in my late primary school days and a vivid memory of being on a school trip when a classmate asked if I was "going with" Steven. To which I replied, like any sane child would, "going where?". Cue instant ridicule from my tween classmates.

When I think about it, the nonsense of dating jargon has always baffled me. It feels like these labels are increasingly tricksy. I think we're scared of committing. Not to each other, but to the terminology. It is as if we fall at the first jump.

The man friend and I have had a romantic weekend away, he's met a lot of my friends, we made a peach crumble together for God's sake. All the hallmarks of 'boyfriend' are there, whether I'm into that label or not