11/25/2014 01:52 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Boy Friend (New)

R recently acquired a new boyfriend. For more than the couple of decades that I've known him, no boyfriend appeared on the radar. Hardly had I heard of an interest in one. R has taken a turn in the road.

I pieced together the story: after several weeks of the two of them meeting, JJ, the new acquaintance, became a boyfriend. "I'm not free," R declared, when uninformed I inquired about his success in seeking romantic company on an overseas trip. "Not free?" No. Further information followed: "JJ and I have agreed that we won't date any other person." Before long, JJ rose to category of boyfriend.

"Boyfriend" is a sweet-sounding nomination brought forth in my experience from way in the past, usually applied to someone of a young generation. While not ascending to "partner," common expression, or "fiance," which one does hear nowadays, "boyfriend" is I trust not named without due thought. What's behind this? At an unspecified moment when dinner is over and a genie falls from the sky and says, "You are now boyfriends"? And two people nod in agreement.

My friend has not requested a lock on the information, so I've mentioned to two or three others that R has a new boyfriend. (I could have left out the "new.") That bulletin is greeted with no small surprise (for reasons stated above): "No kidding," "Wow," "You don't say," in merry tones, and a clinger, "That's wonderful!" There hasn't been news of a boyfriend shower, please bring a small gift, but maybe one is in the planning.

Were I to announce that S has not gotten a new boyfriend, does not have a partner or is not engaged to a fiance, and fails to spot any of those on his radar, you can bet that the response would be different. "Oh, no kidding," you'd hear in a minor key. "Is it gonna rain tomorrow?"

And no need to shop for a small gift because no one would be planning a shower for the fellow who hasn't acquired a boyfriend.

One kind of news chimes at the top of the food chain and the other, if not assigned leftovers, is traditionally ranked several notches down.

Fortunately, this interpretation is going through reexamination. A few years ago I wrote a book about a dozen men and women living productive, creative lives single--that is, without husband, wife, partner, without boyfriend! The book grew out of the statistical fact that living alone has grown in very significant numbers in this country and continues to grow today. An unaccompanied male, or female, can go out to dinner or travel or buy a house alone. The single person lifestyle has been accorded an acceptability that for many years it lacked.

How does this happen? Was there a genie who swept down and said, "You'll do OK without a boyfriend?" And the person nodded and said, "Right."

Some of the people portrayed in that book had always lived single lives. Not all, however. A few had been married or had lovers, some had children. Those were the people who changed the forks in their roads. They must have spotted a genie who said, "You're not meant to be with X. You're meant to live a good life alone." And the person breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Right."

No doubt the opposite has happened, too. A person used to living alone saw the genie who said that the man (or woman) might be happier if partnered. And he or she said, "Right."

Of course it's wonderful, as he is thoroughly deserving, that my friend has a boyfriend. Before releasing into the air a flock of balloons, however, let's take a look at the lifestyle of he or she who doesn't have a boyfriend and grant that someone hearing that news might also state, "That is wonderful!"

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Stanley Ely writes about a single lifestyle in his new memoir, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.