"Now, it's an issue for a lot of people." Lynn Bartholome knows this question firsthand.
And the number of unmarried opposite-sex couples who live together has also increased to 5 million cohabiting households. People who might not have been on the sexual marketplace years ago now find themselves in it or choosing not to go into it," Zwicky says.
"People feel a real need for a term that refers to one's romantic partner that does not sound childish," says Jesse Sheidlower of Manhattan, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. More than 30 million live alone, making up 27% of all households; that's up from 17% of all households in 1970. One member of a couple is alone after a spouse dies.
'Boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' seem inappropriate unless you're a teenager.
The associate professor of English and philosophy at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.
Y., is president of the Popular Culture Association and the American Culture Association, international academic groups that study everyday culture worldwide. "I've talked about this with some of my female friends," Bartholome says. I say 'the guy I'm dating.' I really honestly feel weird calling him my 'boyfriend.' Is a man you date and are intimate with a 'beau,' 'a significant other,' a 'partner'?
I don't know." A 2005 study of 115 people ages 21 to 35 who were either cohabiting or had lived with a romantic partner notes that the lack of proper terms often leads to awkward situations, such as someone upset over not being introduced in social situations to avoid the question.
"Our findings suggest that cohabitors frequently refer to their partners as girlfriend/boyfriend or fiancé, although there appears to be no universally accepted term or language. At times, the lack of a term can create conflict and problems," the study says.
It was written by Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University and Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan and was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
The aging of baby boomers may be one reason society has been seeking a mature version of boyfriend and girlfriend, suggests Dennis Baron, an English and linguistics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Y., a lexicographer and dictionary editor who co-hosts the public radio show A Way With Words, says such questions are asked fairly regularly on the show.
"If you're in your 50s and living with somebody in a romantic relationship, what to call each other?
You can say 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend,' but you're not 13 and it doesn't really fit.