learn it! title
 The language of love

Mojca Belak from Slovenia asks:

How old can a boyfriend/girlfriend be?

A friend who is 50 recently sent me an email gladly informing me that he now has a girlfriend. In Slovenian this sounds really funny. Which could be the alternatives ?if there are any? ‘Partner?didn't seem to be accepted, so what DO you say for somebody who is not in his/her teens or twenties any longer and is in a relationship, but they are not married?


Roger replies:
We don't have very much choice in the matter, Mojca. ‘Boyfriend/girlfriend? and ‘partner?are the words that we normally use to describe somebody who is in a sexual relationship. Although boyfriends and girlfriends are often associated with teenager years, as in:
  • 'I remember my first boyfriend was a very spotty individual whose voice had only just broken.'
it is also quite common for people in their twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties to use the words 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' to describe someone that they are in a relationship with, but do not necessarily live with.
‘Partner? is perhaps the preferred term to describe the person you are living with on a more permanent basis, but are not married to:
  • 'I don't think you've met my partner. This is Guy Wilkinson.'
It is unlikely that teenagers would have ‘partners? although people from their twenties onwards may well have.
However, 'partner' can sound rather formal because partnerships, of course, are not only of a sexual nature. If you play a game against another pair of people, or dance then you would do so with a ‘partner? Consider the following:
  • 'After their Wimbledon experience, it looks as if sister Serena will be Venus Williams?doubles' partner for some time to come.'

  • 'He is such a good dancer that he has no difficulty in finding appropriate partners for all the Latin-American competitions.'

  • 'Will you be my partner at bridge this afternoon?'
And ‘partners?in a firm or business are the people who share the ownership of it:
  • 'He was partner in a firm of lawyers.'
There are some other expressions that can be used, such as 'lover' and 'other half' but it's true to say that in English there is no one preferred term!