We have too flat a vocabulary for those people we become physically, emotionally, or intelectually entangled with.
"Oh ho my friend," I hear you say. "You should hear the euphemisms that the trendy twenty-something café set use. CSP. Fuckbuddy. Friends with benefits. Booty call. Standing arrangement. To name but a few! They have a rich vocabulary! You clearly ought to drink more lattés."
Actually, I am a fully paid-up member of the trendsters association, with a collection of frequent sippers cards to prove it. We don't lack variety. We lack depth.
By which I mean, specifically, we lack words to describe those relationships, sexual or otherwise, that exceed friendship; transcend casual sex; involve tenderness and intimacy; generate insight and mutual care; nourish, surprise, delight, and grow us; yet do not demand monogamy or commitment — at least, not the traditional, to-infinity-and-beyond form of commitment we typically mean. How do we describe the people who are these things to us?
Well. Lovers. The full richness of these relationships is summed up in that simple concept: a lover.
I often wonder, sitting at the trendy cafe that only hires 17-25 year old girls with piercings and tattoos, listening to the other Gen X/Y/Z/whatever kiddies awkwardly mumble the words fuckbuddy, or backslider, or whatever crassness is flavour of the month, whether they really feel like their relationship with this person is that, well, simple. Do they not enjoy the comfort of a warm arm across their chest as they sleep? Enjoy conversations over glasses of wine? Talk in ever-so-slightly charged terms about their hopes and dreams, the children each may one day want to have, should the right person ever come along? Smile quietly when they wake up with someone's breath warming the back of their neck? Want that person's comfort, insight, and advice on those days that break us?
Do they really, honestly, inside their head and heart, see this person as simply someone they fuck?
"Hey, what's 'making love'? What a woman's doing while you fuck her! Hur hur hur hur!"
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not gonna snag you into some utopian vision where we all frolic in a polyamorous Arcadia of emotional clarity and sexual fulfilment. I have had sexual partners where the suggestion of intimacy and mutual vulnerability would have made us laugh so hard we'd have had to stop screwing long enough to get a glass of water. Sometimes you meet someone with whom there is intense physical, lustful, mutual desire, but who truly wants nothing more than no-strings-attached, no-holds-barred, no-kink-too-kinky, no-kissing-above-the-neck, hard, loud, sweaty, bestial, panting, grunting, screaming sex.
And believe me. That is just fine by me.
But even those profoundly shallow, utterly mammalian relationships have a buzz-killing habit of drifting into emotionally complex territory if not kept under tight control. In fact, every relationship, friendship, even familial bond, will inevitably drift through a wide, largely unlabelled landscape of attitudes and emotions, interacting with our neuroses and insecurities, our emotional baggage, the issues of daily life, and the unending, life-long tension between loneliness and independence. It is this inherent fluidity and subtlety of our emotional attachments to the people that participate in our lives that is failed by our anaemic, fornicatorily-obsessed, quasi-bohemian vocabulary.
Every single relationship is genuinely unique, and so is the way we feel about, think about, and look at each significant person in our lives. Yet there is just one word that includes the full sweep of intimate relationships: lover. A person with whom you have romances, affairs (sometimes even love affairs), flings, rendez-vous', tumbles, and even monogamous relationships. I would hope, if someone one day does become the right person, that they would be my partner, and perhaps my spouse, but will always, until the very end, remain my lover.