How to navigate dating labels as a mature couple

Mature couples dating relationships. (Getty Images)
What do you call the person you're dating? (Getty Images)

It's known that younger generations are increasingly shying away from any labels that reflect commitment, often instead living in the grey, more casual area for long periods of time.

But how are mature couples navigating labels when dating? Do they instil less fear than they do in some 20-something year olds? Or do they consider actions to speak louder than words?

Here, Kate Taylor, dating expert for over 50s dating app Ourtime shares insights on how older generations typically engage with labels, tips for navigating them well for those unsure, and what advice she has for being on the same page about a relationship at this age.

Mature couples and labels

couple on date
'Date', 'boyfriend', 'partner', 'other half' or 'sweetheart' are just a few of the labels you might want to use. (Getty Images)

"Younger daters typically have more labels than older daters because every step is mapped out. For example, Gen Z singles carefully categorise people into 'talking', 'dating', 'seeing' stages, before they’re even 'exclusive'," says Taylor.

"Whereas for Gen X daters, there are fewer categories; you’re in or you’re out. So, we stick to simpler labels such as friend, date, boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner, often not having the time for situationships or anything in between."

Mature couples tend to lean towards these more traditional relationship labels, though, as Taylor points out, can also use labels playfully. "You’ll find couples in their 70s referring to each other as 'boyfriend' and 'girlfriend' with a smile. The term 'partner' is useful in that it signifies a very serious relationship, but it’s generally an unpopular term because it’s unromantic.

"As an alternative, unmarried couples might also use labels like 'other half' or 'significant other' to imply the relationship is serious. Or they’ll use quaint expressions like 'sweetheart' or 'beau' to add a bit of fun."

Are actions more important than words for mature couples?

Seniors preparing decoration
Showing your love can be more valuable than defining it for some. (Getty Images)

"In many ways, yes – actions are more important. Older daters value effort and consistency, so they’ll appreciate someone acting in ways that demonstrate their boyfriend or girlfriend qualities more than just using the term," Taylor explains.

"But everyone likes to know where they stand, so labels are still a useful shorthand. They also represent your expectations within a relationship. For example, if someone calls you their 'date' rather than their 'girlfriend', you’ll understand that the relationship is not yet exclusive or serious and you can act accordingly.

"Labels also help people outside the relationship to understand how serious it is. You’ll treat your best friend’s 'partner' differently to their 'date'."

Navigating 'what are we?'

A man listens to his partner speak as they sit together face to face on their couch at home.
Experts advise waiting three months before deciding on a label. (Getty Images)

If you're in a more mature couple or seeing someone, you may already have adult children from previous marriages, and be at a very different stage in life to those dating when younger. But as Taylor mentions, everyone likes to know where they stand – whether you want something serious where you'd like to live together, or just someone to have fun with, perhaps going on trips and spending weekends together.

"The trick is to wait until you’ve really got to know each other – so around the three-month mark," the dating expert advises.

"Before then, the other person might feel you’re labelling them before you properly know them, like you’re buying a house before discovering the loft or exploring the slightly damp basement. They might worry you’ll change your mind or are only interested in them because you don’t really know them yet.

"Premature labelling also feels like you’re trying to force a person into a role, and because of the expectations carried by labels, the other person might feel they need to jump up a level in commitment or effort. If they only see you once a week because you’re 'dating', will they be expected to see you every night when they’re your 'girlfriend'? Will they have to cook? Will they be expected to join you on your annual fishing trips?

"The best thing to do is wait a few months then bring the topic up without too much pressure. Then explore your expectations of that term so you know you’re on the same page."

What if you're not sure what to call your partner?

Active seniors on country walk. Senior man and women walking together through forest trail on a cold winter day.
The way you introduce someone to friends can help signal what you are to each other. (Getty Images)

Taylor advises looking at their actions – which again, hold a lot of value.

"Are they acting like your partner – staying in touch, arranging regular dates, trying to meet your friends and family, generally showing up for you? Are you exclusive? Do you have shared plans? If so, I’d start calling them my preferred label (boyfriend or girlfriend) and see how they react.

"But if they’re still acting like a non-committal date, I’d call them a date until shown otherwise."

The effect of dating apps

woman holding phone
How has online dating affected older generations? (Getty Images)

"Online dating has given everyone the chance to greatly expand their social network. It has also helped single parent daters, ageing parents, or busy singles meet people around their responsibilities," says Taylor.

"Online dating has also identified many different stages of the dating process, and is doing so, has changed the language of dating. From flirting over messages on apps, such as Ourtime, to meeting for a date, or meeting for regular dates and becoming exclusive, online dating has created new scenarios that need to be categorised.

"This is probably why young daters who grew up with online dating have so many more terms for dating than older daters do."

Do labels matter after a certain age?

"Labels present a level of commitment, both publicly and privately, and allows individuals in a relationship to know where they stand with each other and helps set expectations and boundaries. Ultimately, labels can help push couples to reach their next relationship stage, ensuring both people are on the same page and get to enjoy the best of dating."