Meet What's-His-Face

by Isadora Alman

Once upon a time an unmarried woman, if she was among the fortunate, had a beau, or even more fortunately, beaux. If she and a beau reached some sort of understanding, she had a fiancé. There was a good deal of gray area in being a beau, covering asking for more than one dance in an evening all the way to coming regularly to her family’s home to dinner. Being affianced was far more specific – “we hope some day to be married” – but not necessarily too specific; no date had to be set, not even if years went by.

Today, in this age of technology we went precision in our language. If we have it for the ever-more complicated machinery which runs our lives, all the more do we want it in our interpersonal relationships. (“Who is this person and what is the nature of your relationship?”), the arrangements women have with those who used to be called beaux becomes more cryptic.

Over recent years the one with whom we get it on – or as the Brits say, have it off – has been referred to by a wide assortment of names, all less than adequate for all-purpose usage. Sure, you might opt for the tried and true boyfriend or girlfriend, but doesn’t it sound a bit silly for anyone past adolescence? Columnists favorite euphemism, “good friend”, almost needs to be accompanied by an arch little moue and lift of the eyebrow. The to-the-point title of “lover”, to my mind anyway, immediately conjures graphic images of entangled limbs and sweaty sheets. Fascinating, certainly, but less than ideal in most conversations.

“Significant other” I thought was a most acceptable term until I overheard a luncher in the adjoining booth dishing her “insignificant other.” It set me to ranking years of petitioners for my hand…and other body parts… on a scale of relative importance in my life and the whole concept got lost in the giggles. Likewise the perfectly serviceable and inoffensive “person I’m currently seeing.” We all knew that when two adults are “seeing” each other on a regular basis these days there is a distinct possibility of some sexual interaction. This is at least a more modest, and less erroneous, locution than “the guy you’re sleeping with.” So “the one I’m currently seeing” sounded good to me until I ran across a quote from the late great comic song writer Alan Sherman: “How did we ever get to confuse copulation with vision?” he asked. “Has anyone ever heard of a fucking-eye dog?”

Let’s say you and What’s-his-name agree upon an LTA, (Living Together Arrangement), a step between beau and fiancé totally unknown to our foremothers, forefathers, forebrethren or sisteren. Now who is this guy to you? “Domestic companion” sounds like your faithful old Basset hound or the person hired to push your wheelchair, and “house mate” like someone assigned by the campus roommate referral service. The U.S. Census Bureau inadvertently coined a new euphemism in POSSLQ, pronounced “posselcue”, an acronym for Persons Of The Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. The assumption here being that men and women under the same roof must be up to something that same sex aggregates couldn’t possibly be. Wrong on both counts!

Even if you decide on something to call the person whose whiskers you find in your sink or pantyhose on your shower rod, what about everybody else? Will it not annoy him or her to be designated “and Guest” on the invitations you receive? Or not acknowledged at all when your Aunt Rose phones? One woman I know called her daughter’s live-in beau who was not, to her shame, legally a family member, her “son-out-law”.

So far we’re struggling with the most basic relationship. Let’s look at some graduate-level posers. Like Judy and Rob who ended their marriage in the most amicable of fashions. No litigation, no divorce, simply a mutual decision to live separate lives with the other still very much a part of it. Since they are then not an “ex” to each other, what they have decided upon is “Y’s”, as in close to X and reflecting the questions they constantly are asked regarding their arrangement.

My gardener James married his long time friend Linda. Will they now walk off into the sunset hand in hand? More like hand in hand in hand once you take into account Linda’s lover of many years, Barbara. Linda is, of course, James’ wife, even though it raises the eyebrows of acquaintances. What raises the corners of their mouths is James’ name for Barbara, his wife-in-law.

What could you do with another woman in your man’s life whom you happen to like? Are you her SEXcessor? Sister in skin? What of that embarrassingly brief romancette often referred to as a one-night stand? Since the encounter was unlikely to be vertical anyway, why not retitle it a “one night lay”, or, in some cases having nothing to do with grammar, a “one night lie?”

European Jews have a name for the relationship of the mother of the groom to the mother of the bride and Mexicans for what one godparent to a newly baptized infant is to the other one. There are arrangements and people in my life and I’m sure in yours that are more immediately in need of clarification and classification, such as who is that guy I saw you with. So unless you can manage a maidenly blush and a straight face when introducing him as your beau, maybe you and your “squeeze” could come up with a few alternatives…that is, when you’re not busy “doing each other.”

(C) Copyright Isadora Alman. All rights reserved.