Viewpoint

What Do You Call Someone You’ve Just Started Dating?

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These four little words live rent-free in my head: “I’ve taken a lovaaaaah.” That’s what Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw tells her gal pals when she begins dating the mysterious Russian artist Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) in the show’s final season, and it’s a term that’s haunted me ever since I first heard it in 2004. “Lovaaaaaah”: so vivid, so TMI, so unnecessarily grandiose – but really, what else was she supposed to call the man before he ascended to boyfriend status?

To be fair, Carrie is using the word “lover” somewhat in jest, and the rest of the girls definitely heckle her for it. But now that I’m a single woman making my way through the relationship minefield, I’m revisiting the Carrie/Petrovsky relationship out of a total lack of suitable terminology for “the phase where you’re definitely dating, and definitely like each other, but aren’t capital-P Partnered yet”.

I’ve recently started dating someone and – being a big-mouthed Cancer – I feel compelled to tell all the people in my life about them, but I don’t quite know how to refer to them. We’re not girlfriend/girlfriend, because we haven’t known each other long enough for that title to feel earned (and because they identify as nonbinary); we’re not partners, but we’re also not each other’s casual hookups. I feel confident about where our relationship currently is and where it could be heading (well, as confident as I ever do), but I wish there was a term to describe it that didn’t feel either clinical or cringe.

When in doubt, I’ve been defaulting to “the person I’m dating”, but that sounds, as mentioned above, clinical; “lover” is out of the question, and euphemisms like “main squeeze” and “honey” make me want to projectile vomit. Unsatisfied by the options occurring to me, I turned to Twitter, the last resort of the on-deadline journalist – and of course, answers abounded. In less than half an hour, I was offered “person I’m kissing,” “flame,” “boyfriend applicant,” and “the guy I’m talking to,” but I wanted more; I wanted a term I was actively excited about using. Vogue Senior Fashion News Writer Liana Satenstein suggested “extended fling,” which she insisted would “keep [the relationship] hot,” and I took it under advisement. I like “fling” a lot, and I like anchoring the word with something that sounds a little less whimsical and flighty, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

“I like to use ‘crush’ as long as humanly possible, even after defining the relationship,” 25-year-old web developer Owen Lytle told me. “In the beginning, it’s just an accurate representation, but then it becomes something silly because it’s obviously more serious than a ‘crush.’ Still, the silliness of it means I get to avoid defining it further to anyone.” I’m a fan of that reasoning, and “crush” does have a fun sound to it; all aperitifs and sundresses and long, lazy morning coffees in bed. Let’s call it Option 1, shall we?

Option 2 comes courtesy of music journalist Suzy Exposito, 32, who prefers the term “suitor.” I’m of two minds here; it’s charmingly old-fashioned, yes, and I do think my friends and peers in general would enjoy it, but would it get much traction with family? Would they have any idea what a “suitor” is, even used irreverently, or would they just think I’m a) lying about seeing someone or b) cosplaying a Jane Austen novel?

Option 3 brings us back, as all things worth their salt do, to Sex and the City. Poet and novelist Melissa Lozada-Oliva is also a fan of the term “crush,” but she added, “I like referring to people in a Carrie way by giving them names that apply to how I met them or what their job is – for example, ‘New York Times guy’.” Do I want to flatten people into a capitalist description of who they are via what they do? No, but also... I kind of love this? At least in the early stages, before your friends know your person’s name.

I wish I had a solid answer to round out this investigation, but I’m afraid that – as with so many other dating matters – it all comes down to whatever term doesn’t give you “the ick.” For now, I’m going to run with “crush” in most situations, I think. Sure, it sounds kind of unrequited and sad in a way, but who cares? It’s chill, it’s flirty, and until I have a more solid label to apply to my relationship (all in due time), it works for me. Go forth and figure out what works for you, beloveds!