What To Call The Person You Love (When Labels Can’t Define You)

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Couple in love

Sometimes there's no PERFECT word to describe your love...

I’m over 50 — well, nearly 60 — and madly in love. So I’m sure you can understand why I don’t want to call my man, “my boyfriend.” At 61, he’s hardly a boy and we are MUCH more than friends.

“Hi Peter, this is my friend, Steve.” I muster when we ran into a friend at the local espresso bar last Sunday.

“It’s so strange to call you my friend.” I said to Steve afterward. What do I say? “This is my man, Steve?” “Hey Peter, meet my soulmate?” “Meet my life partner?” They all feel SO awkward and wrong!

Why isn’t there a better label for our partners when we’re in love  but not married?


Some friends I know who have been together for 10, 20, or even 30 years and are not married introduce the other as "husband" or "wife." It’s one of those conundrums that people face when they are partnered, but not married. How do you introduce the person you love?

“Lover” sort of leaves the wrong impression that this is just a salacious affair.

“I don’t want to marry you.” Steve says to me out of the blue one day. “Of course not!” I reply (although my heart twinged just a little bit in that moment). He should WANT to marry me, I think. But, for a variety of reasons, it just doesn’t make sense given our circumstance. So “husband” is definitely out of the running.

In my heart, he’s the love of my life — but that’s a rather long intro. “Meet the love of my life, Steve” seems like it should be met with some pomp and circumstance. After all, I've been married twice before and have had several long-term relationships, and I now know I've finally found, "the one."

Others say “significant other” or your “plus 1” when inviting you to a party.

But here he is, standing right beside me and you  I’m looking an acquaintance straight in the eye and saying, “Meet Steve, my …. ???”


So, I reached out to my Facebook friends and asked them, “How do you refer to your life partner when you are over 50 and “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” are just out of the question? Here are their replies:

1. Say it like the Europeans do.

“I did this for 10 years and hated every option. Especially didn’t like that he always introduced me as ‘my partner.’” Said a close friend. “I like mi amor.” 

Another friend added, “In German it’s easier — we refer to that person as 'Lebensabschittsgefärhrte,’ which loosely translates to ‘companion for a phase in one’s life.’” Here’s to the Germans for making things CRYSTAL clear! It’s the equivalent of “I like you pretty good ... let’s see how it goes.”

2. Call them your “partner.”

It's the most generically accepted term, and seemed fine for most, but feels — well — generic. With the marriage equality act firmly in place, using the term ‘partner’ doesn’t automatically signal that you're gay, and when you're not sure, it is the politically correct way to ask, “do you have a partner?”

3. They are your "significant other.”

This preference tended to fall into the over 60 closer to 70 crowd, although it sounds a little too proper to be used in conversation.

4. You can have your “male friend” or “man friend”

Really?" my man said. "Why does that feel so 19th century?"

5. Say they are your "fiance."

“I call him my ‘fiancé’ even though we have no plans to get married,” one friend added. Although that was awkward for some women who then have the inevitable follow on question, “when’s the wedding?”

6. Just give in and tell them he's your husband.

An equal number refer to each other as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ — even if they aren't officially married. “Even though we are not technically married, it’s the spirit of it that counts. Everything remains as if we are married except the paperwork.”

7. Or just say it like it is. 

What seemed to ring most true to me are those who just lay it on the line, “the love of my life” or “my reason for living” or “my true love.” The more avante guard stepped forth and said, “There’s no label needed.”

It’s up to the receiver to draw his or her own conclusions.


My own man said, “as I introduce you, I touch on the small of your back — it shows intimacy without overdoing it.” (swoon... In case you are wondering, yes, I do know how lucky I am!)

Let's face it, these days there's NO need to hide our feelings or crouch behind labels ... and we are the 'say it like it is' generation, aren't we?

Next time you introduce your life partner, your one true love, the one that sets your soul on fire, what will you say?


Debra Boulanger is the creator of The Great Do-Over Retreats where she coaches clients in the basic tenants of how to clear away doubt and fear and live a courageous life. You can learn more about her practice here, or contact her directly here.



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