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An acquaintance of mine referred to her mother, aged 95, as having a "boyfriend", aged 104, in their assisted living facility. I find this word in this context inappropriate.

I don't know what age an adult has to be before calling him/her a boy or girl outside their own immediate circle becomes inappropriate, but surely it is before they hit 100.

What is an age-appropriate term for boyfriend (girlfriend) for adults, especially adults of an advanced age?

There must be a word or phrase (borrowed from the French ?) to describe this lady's companion. Cher ami is not found even in the OED, although the feminine form cherie amie is, with the definition "mistress". (Same link.) In any case, cher ami is too obscure for most people.

Companion may be the best word, but I'm hoping that the perfect word or short phrase exists, that conveys the romantic nature of the companionship, without calling an adult a boy.

Companion, according to Merriam Webster is

one that accompanies another : COMRADE, ASSOCIATE traveling companions also : one that keeps company with another his longtime companion

The OED has a definition that encompasses lover or partner, which is, I suppose, a vote for companion. See Definition I.3.a.

Why this is not a Duplicate: @Mitch pointed out that my question may possibly be a duplicate of this question. The two are on the same topic, but approach it from opposite directions. I am looking for an age-appropriate substitute for boyfriend (or girlfriend). The other question wants to validate girlfriend for a woman in her sixties. Another similar question has many answers (along the lines of sweetie, significant other), of which only beau is a candidate IMO, that is, not there yet.

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In most of the developed world, the traditional male-female courting towards and partnering of marriage has become cultural just one of many options. But in English at least the labels, nouns, verbs, or phrasing, really has not moved on much. Sure, people of all ages can have romantic relationships outside of marriage (and always have), but without the variety of nomenclature (at least in English) as for younger relationships. 'Boyfriend'/'girlfriend' just seem weird for people older than say ... 30? just because of the boy/girl part, even though the situation is mostly the same.

Companion, partner, friend all work fine, but they do have their primary, non-romantic meanings, and using them for romantic relationships, which people certainly do, always comes with some ambiguity nowadays: "Partner? Are they in business together? But they seem so close.". It always feels like there needs to be some disambiguation or a gesture or further explanation. Though these words have been used for romantic pairs, it is not (yet?) unambiguous even in context.

But as with all language, why is it necessary to force a single word onto things? That's what phrases are for. The seemingly empty but pragmatically accurate statement

"We're seeing each other"

gets the point across without that weird gossipy stigma about it.

TL DR:

  • Yes 'boyfriend' sounds childish
  • Companion, partner, friend are fine and can be disambiguated with further explanation.
  • "We're seeing each other" is how I would say it to avoid all the issues.
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    There is a lot of commentary that could be made, going through all the alternatives and history (dating, going steady, 'her man'). As to loanwords (novio or petit ami) or archaic ones (swain or paramour or suitor) ...they all sound weird (or impenetrable or have the same incongruity of youth in 'boyfriend'). – Mitch Jul 14 at 22:16
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A possibility is "gentleman friend", which I have heard used in similar situations. It does not alway capture the distinction between "boy friend" and "boyfriend", but context can often clarify this. "Her gentleman friend" is more likely to correspond to boyfriend than "a gentleman friend".

For example

Is there a significant other in Aunt Wilma's life yet? Yes, she is going out to dinner with her gentleman friend tonight.

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    We normally drop the gentle and just say man friend or lady friend. – cup Jul 15 at 7:42
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    @cup "man friend"? Really? – terdon Jul 15 at 8:30
  • @cup out of curiosity what generation do most of the people in that “we” belong to? I have never heard “man friend” used in a serious way. – ColleenV Jul 15 at 14:17
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    We - in the 60s. The man/lady friends in the 60 to 80s. Something like your man friend has arrived or is your lady friend coming over tonight – cup Jul 15 at 16:33
  • @cup It just seems odd to use man/lady instead of man/woman or gentleman/lady. I guess gentleman is just one syllable too far :) – ColleenV Jul 20 at 17:57
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Is there a reason one couldn’t use “beau” in this context ?
While it may be somewhat dated, that could be construed as making it more appropriate here.

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No, not really. There is a quote I've heard several times but can't quite put my finger on that addresses this, that criticizes English and its puritanical history as leaving it sorely lacking in adequate terminology for such things, thus forcing English speakers to use infantilizing misnomers like "boyfriend" and "girlfriend," along with odd euphemisms, and that's if there's a term at all, which there often isn't, like is actually the case here.

I mean, you could use a term like "gentleman caller," but only if you don't mind sounding like you're a character in Jane Austen novel and only if you don't mind that, while it does get rid of the infantilizing "boy" misnomer, it falls short of denoting the man is elderly, never mind how it may be a misnomer if the man isn't actually, by definition, a "gentleman." Like I said, English, because of the English's storied historical weirdness about sex and relationships, is sorely lacking in adequate terminology for such things, a veritable famine.

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    I think gentleman caller is more Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie) than Jane Austen. – Brian Donovan Jul 18 at 11:05
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One word I've actually heard used in this situation (a little younger than yours but still plenty old, the two were in their 70s) is "fella", as in "Is it okay if I bring my fella George along?" Similar from the other side would be "gal".

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Perhaps this is a bit of aside but...the use of ‘boyfriend’ in such situations is usually intended as humourous. Another such term is ‘lover boy’. Affections can run deep in aged care, but holding hands and gazing wistfully is about as far as things can go. I doubt offence would be taken. Perhaps ask the centenarian himself; I bet he’d be tickled by the term.

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  • +1 for "ask the centenarian". Always good to use the term the person prefers. But I would add, ask the mother, too. She may not like the term boyfriend, although he does. – ab2 Jul 22 at 17:29
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I like beau, but it's a little problematic in that it has no feminine equivalent. And fella works when the person in the relationship is speaking of his-her-their, well, fella, but it sounds too familiar if someone else is speaking of him (my mother and her fella attended an interesting lecture).

The man my mother is seeing is only three syllables longer than my mother's boyfriend, and that expenditure is worthwhile bc it avoids the latter's infantilizing quality.

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    Belle is the feminine of beau in French. – Royster Jul 18 at 22:47
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104? Really? Wow. Lover man…Valentino.

Or rather, her steady (Etymonline).

Meaning "one's boyfriend or girlfriend" is from 1897; to go steady is 1905 in teenager slang.

(So it seems dated, but the noun is only 20 years older than he is.)

But actually…two short and sweet alternatives:

  1. her guy
  2. her mate

I thought of the first one, googled it, and found the last one (somewhat context dependent) in this article (What to Label Your Romantic Partner When You’re Older).


Note: I didn't know that "SO" was short for "significant other" before reading that article, but some older people do evidently.

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I'm a little puzzled here. I had an English girlfriend once, whose mother called me her daughter's fiancé.

Yet I see no suggestion to this title.
(I'm not a native English speaker, so maybe I have misunderstood something).

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    fiancé means you're engaged to be married, so only applies if that's actually true – Richard Tingle Jul 15 at 6:39
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    Her mother was hinting. – ab2 Jul 15 at 13:03

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