Affair (unmarried people)

emanko

Senior Member
Arabic- Egyptian
Hello

What qualifies as a "love affair"?
Is it the secrecy or the fact that one party is married?

1- Can the word "affair" - in the context of love and romance - be used to refer to a sexual relationship in general, even if both parties are unmarried to other people?

2- Also , does it always have to be secret to qualify as an "affair"?

3- What if it's not secret? Do we just say that X and Y are in a relationship or are seeing each other?

How would you use "affair"?

Thank you
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    In modern British English (I think it applies in modern AmE as well, but it does not necessarily apply in English written fifty or more years ago), an "affair" is a romantic relationship between two people who aren't married to each other, but at least one of whom is married to someone else (or is in a permanent relationship with someone else; they need to be a couple at any rate, not separated or divorced). Although it is usually kept secret from the wife or husband, it can still be called an affair even if the wife or husband knows about it, and an affair might be widely known by other people. Affairs involving celebrities are regularly written about in English newspapers.

    In the past, and occasionally in the present, it might be used where neither of the people involved in the affair are in a relationship with anyone else, but this would be an unusual usage these days.
     

    emanko

    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    In modern British English (I think it applies in modern AmE as well, but it does not necessarily apply in English written fifty or more years ago), an "affair" is a romantic relationship between two people who aren't married to each other, but at least one of whom is married to someone else (or is in a permanent relationship with someone else; they need to be a couple at any rate, not separated or divorced). Although it is usually kept secret from the wife or husband, it can still be called an affair even if the wife or husband knows about it, and an affair might be widely known by other people. Affairs involving celebrities are regularly written about in English newspapers.

    In the past, and occasionally in the present, it might be used where neither of the people involved in the affair are in a relationship with anyone else, but this would be an unusual usage these days.
    Thanks, Uncle Jack.
    When it's used in the second sense (neither are married), is it a neutral synonym for "relationship"? Or does it carry disapproving connotations?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I agree with Uncle Jack, especially when the term used is simply "an affair". An affair is something where at least one person would (usually) feel betrayed, although in some cases the "betrayed" person is past the point of caring too much.

    But "love affair" has wider usage. It can be entirely positive.

    "My grandparents had a fifty year love affair."

    They were strongly and obviously in love for fifty years.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I disagree that 'affair' necessarily implies that one of the partners is married, but I don't know if my understanding is outdated. To me, it means a serious relationship involving the highest personal regard, 'romance', and, almost certainly, sex. 'An affair' is certainly intense, but it can be short-lived.
    Secrecy is not a necessary part of the definition.
    I'd define an 'affair' generically as an intense personal relationship.( Not always with another human!)
     

    emanko

    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    I agree with Uncle Jack, especially when the term used is simply "an affair". An affair is something where at least one person would (usually) feel betrayed, although in some cases the "betrayed" person is past the point of caring too much.

    But "love affair" has wider usage. It can be entirely positive.

    "My grandparents had a fifty year love affair."

    They were strongly and obviously in love for fifty years.
    That is very interesting.
    So "love affair" can be positive? I would appreciate to hear more opinions about this point.

    Thank you
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It can also be used without people.

    It's often said that Americans "have a love affair with the automobile".
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    The first definition of "affair" in the WR dictionary is "anything requiring action or effort; business". That is the most common meaning, and a very old meaning (1300 A.D.). So it is not about romance or sex. For example this phrase is common and old:

    The lawyer settled John's affairs. (the lawyer settled all John's financial arrangements)

    The phrase "love affair" started as the French "affair of the heart", and was first used in English in the 1800s. When "affair" means a sexual relationship, it is an abbreviation of "love affair", in my opinion. At least that is how the term started. Words and phrases change over time.

    In my AE experience, "an affair" (meaning a sexual relationship) always means that one or both people are married to someone else, but "a love affair" can be any romance, with or without sex.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The word is basically neutral.
    OED:
    Affair (n.)
    3. a. A romantic or sexual relationship, often of short duration, between two people who are not married to each other;
    specially
    (a) one that is carried on illicitly, one or both partners being involved in a relationship with another person;
    (b) an intense sexual relationship. Also: a sexual encounter of any of these types.


    2005 Z. Smith On Beauty 139 What kind of a sophisticated guy in his fifties doesn't have an affair? It's basically mandatory.
     

    AnythingGoes

    Senior Member
    English - USA (Midwest/Appalachia)
    Do you mean that
    1- you would use "affair" if one party is cheating on their partner(whether spouse or girl/boyfriend)?
    Or
    2- Do you mean that "affair" can describe a relationship between two single people?
    "Affair" by itself strongly suggests to me that one party is cheating.

    "Love affair" is usually positive and carries no implication of cheating.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Do you mean that "affair" can describe a relationship between two single people?
    Absolutely! These days it would almost certainly involve sex. It implies a serious committed relationship, not a one nighter or a short lived 'fling'. Not necessarily between a man and a woman either.
    Just to add that I think the word 'love' might not enter into it. ("Whatever love means" to quote Prince Charles.)
     

    emanko

    Senior Member
    Arabic- Egyptian
    Absolutely! These days it would almost certainly involve sex. It implies a serious committed relationship, not a one nighter or a short lived 'fling'. Not necessarily between a man and a woman either.
    Just to add that I think the word 'love' might not enter into it. ("Whatever love means" to quote Prince Charles.)
    Thank you.
    If they're both single, how is "have an affair" different from "be in a relationship"?
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    It might not be. By 'single' do you mean unmarried? "In a relationship" is a modern term conceived I suspect by FaceBook. I take it to mean a committed serious 'affair' with a sexual dimension, except that the relationship might be very long term, the same as being married. Living together and having children without being married is fairly common here.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think people who talk about "an affair" are being judgemental, for one reason or another.

    My sister (whom I love) is in a stable relationship.
    My colleague from work (whom I can't stand) is having an affair with the boss.

    I see women confessing to having "an affair with a married man".
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In my experience, “love affair” is always perceived positively while “affair” is usually perceived negatively (for the obvious reason that it tends to involve someone getting hurt). Basically, I’m agreeing with kentix’s post #4.

    I would never refer to a short-lived relationship between two otherwise unattached people as an affair (maybe a fling, though). The word affair definitely has an extra-marital connotation.
     

    bennymix

    Senior Member
    :thumbsup: I would also use the word if one of the partners is in a de facto relationship.
    There is an hint of illicit or un-sanctioned. E.g. secretary has an affair with her boss. Not absolutely required that he be married.

    As for both unmarried, yes, but often something unusual, e.g. she was in Belgium at a university and met a visit professor from Moscow. She was a tourist in the Bahamas, and he was a beach boy.

    This relates to secrecy. The second-example woman won't tell her friends about bedding the beach boy. The professor, in the first example, may not wish colleagues to know.

    AE impressions (and Can E).
     
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    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    If two people (gay or straight) shack up together and then one of them has sex with someone else, most people would call that “an affair” in Australia, no matter how short a time they’d been living together.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Spooning I agree is totally outdated.

    But just as a matter of interest I looked up shack up in three different dictionaries of slang, and it looks like there is/was the usual transatlantic difference in usage. They suggest that in the US shack on its own is used in a similar context, and that shack-up is used as a noun, neither of which applies in BE as far as I know.
     

    You little ripper!

    Senior Member
    Australian English
    Both of these dictionaries are American, as far as I understand:

    shack up

    2. To be in a sexual relationship with someone; to live or reside with someone in a sexualrelationship. A: "I haven't seen Beth in a while." B: "She's been shacking up with some hotshotlawyer she started dating a few weeks ago." My parents still disapprove of us shacking uptogether before we're married. They're a little old-fashioned that way.

    the definition of shack up

    shack up, Slang .
    1. to live together as spouses without being legally married.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    They suggest that in the US shack on its own is used in a similar context, and that shack-up is used as a noun, neither of which applies in BE as far as I know.
    I've never heard either one used like that.

    Which, of course, doesn't mean those usages don't exist anywhere. But I would bet money they are far from commonly used.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, they’re no doubt dated uses. The weirdest example of all was:

    shack up verb
    2 to provide living quarters for a lover US, 1960
    • However, he might also shack her up or simply shack her — American Speech, p. 120, May 1960: “Korean bamboo English”
     
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