It's National Lovers Day: Why does the word 'Lover' feel so wrong?

SNL's Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch as Lov-ahs. (SNL/NBC)Today is for lovers. Every year on April 23, Spain celebrates Lovers Day. It’s a lot like Valentine’s Day: roses are handed out, marriage proposals spike, and a national awareness of sexy time is promoted courtesy of a 15th Century Saint (in this case St. George) This year, some folks (slash publicists) are trying to import the holiday to the States, proclaiming today National Lovers Day right here in the U.S.

One problem: People really, really hate the word ‘lover’. To quote the late Liz Lemon, "that word bums me out unless it's between the words meat and pizza."

It's difficult to pinpoint what makes it sound so perverted-nails-on-a-chalkboard, but I’ll give it a try. First of all, it's a little too specific. If you’re referring to a lover in conversation, you’re daring the person you’re to talking to not to picture you having sex in a champagne glass-shaped bubble bath in the Poconos. There are other words to describe the person you've chosen to bed, so the decision to use feels a bit in-your-face. It also makes you sound like you're John Malkovich in “Dangerous Liaisons,” lounging on a
fainting couch, tickling a woman's petticoat with a feather, and smiling like the Cheshire cat. And lets be honest, your relationship—however unique—is not that.

It's true that there's no perfect word for adult relationships outside of the realm of marriage—from which many of us are exempt. ‘Partner’ feels too corporate. ‘Boyfriend; and ‘girlfriend’: too juvenile. ‘Significant other’: too serious. ‘Sexual partner’: too polyamory seminar.

But lover is no solution. It has too much history. At one point in history, it referenced a secret affair, something covert. In the ‘80s, particularly during the AIDS crisis, it was used as a homophobic description of same-sex partnerships, unfairly attributing scandal and covert affairs to homosexual relationships. So already, the term comes with baggage.

Then came the ‘90s, when the term was co-opted by heterosexual middle-aged married couples who wanted to share too much about their sex life.  The term was no longer cover, but rather, too-much information. Lovers—also known as ‘Lov-ahs’ in SNL’s parody about married swinging professors—were inescapable. There was HBO's “Real Sex” a doc series where extended orgasms were achieved in a group setting by somebody's parents you really hoped you didn't recognize. And even if you didn’t get cable, you were bound to get stuck in a late-night TV hole watching commercials for Time Life's "Music for Lovers" compilations featuring songs like “Secret Lovers” and “How Can We Be Lovers,” alongside a bear-skinned rug that knew too much.

The word was like a public proclamation that, “Yes, your father and I have a healthy sex life.”

So did Barbra Streisand and James Brolin. "He's my lover and my romantic other self," said Babs in 1997. "But he also fills a need. I now know what it is to have a father."

Yeesh. The word ‘Lover’ is complicated, in that regression therapy way.  

But it's not just about an aversion to parental truths or new age epiphanies. Nobody can say the word without upsetting the order of things.

When Angelina Jolie announced she had "taken a lover" back in 2004, she set off many a gag reflex. You almost didn’t want to hear the details when she put it that way. In her defense, around the turn of the century, the word was co-opted as a kind of feminist assertion of power. ‘Taking a lover’ was an early slut-shaming protest, a phrase that told the world you had sex for the sole purpose of pleasure, just like guys. 

But it was also a little melodramatic. Angie was having, what some might call, an Anne Hathaway moment. She seemed a little too swept up in her own narrative. It was like she was goading some reporter to ask for more details, and just because of that we didn't want to know. 

And for this reason, friends, Lovers Day probably won't take off in America. It's a great idea, but the word—as we've come to know it—really kills the mood.