The trouble with relationship labels when you're pushing 30 (and up)

Aug 13, 2015 at 7:30 a.m. ET
Image: Dean Mitchell/Vetta/Getty Images

It pains me to say it, but I'm pretty sure that the term "boyfriend" is dead to me.

Unless, of course, we are talking about my favorite pair of relaxed-fit jeans with the permanent guacamole stain on the left leg. I'm nearly 30. "Boyfriend" just isn't a word that makes sense anymore.

I never thought I'd be dating at 30-ish. I was supposed to still be married and raising a brood of adorable, well-behaved children with matching overalls and well-planned chore charts. But life happens, divorce happened, and I found myself launched back into a world of online dating with a cohort of humans that seem just as perplexed as me. You know those first few episodes of The Walking Dead where the survivors realize that all they have is each other? Yeah, dating is like that.

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And since dating as a real grown-up is eerily reminiscent of The Walking Dead, the term "boyfriend" doesn't exist anymore. I'm not saying it shouldn't. But it doesn't.

I've had "that guy who calls me once every three months because he is trying to have sex tonight." There's also been "chauvinist d-bag who I keep around because he can occasionally be funny." I've spent several months with a "38-year-old who doesn't like labels because commitment is scary." And let us not forget "super fun dance partner who — hey, what the hell, is that a wedding ring?!"

I've dated a ton, and the reality is that even with all the activities and all my expended energy, I still haven't had a "boyfriend" since I was 22 and my ex asked me to marry him.

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Depressing? Only on a Saturday night when all I can find on HGTV is an Island Hunters marathon.

As I've thought about the new dating landscape, I've determined that my fearless cohort doesn't readily use the word "boyfriend" because it's not very functional anymore. Adults don't need to claim the object of their affection by using a label straight from the halls of high school. We don't need to lay claim to anything at all. If, in the course of a million online dates, we decide that there's someone worth spending time with — we should just go for it.

We should stipulate which expectations are important to us when the relationship turns exclusive, and stick to those agreements. Because we're g-d grownups. It's OK to shut down the games and labels that keep us acting like high school kids even though we have mortgages and jobs with retirement plans.

When we find that there is a person worthy of the label "boyfriend," we shouldn't land that beloved person in the purgatory of boyfriend-hood. Instead, we need to ask ourselves if he is a man worth forging a partnership with, and just go for it.

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