I’ve always been anti-pet-name. My ex-husband and I started calling each other “poophead” and “poopy” as a joke, after discussing how lame it is when couples call each other “muffin” or whatever. But something changed after I became a mom. Now I call my kid “sweetie” or “kiddo.” It just comes out involuntarily.
And I also feel like I need to take a moment to apologize to all of the internet, because my boyfriend and I are those annoying people who call each other “babe,” like we’re old dirty hippies. One of these days I’m going to start referring to him as my “old man” because that is so gross and awesome.
One thing I just cannot get over, however, is being called “honey” by a casual acquaintance or total stranger. Unless you are a sassy diner waitress named Flo and you also tell me to kiss your grits as you refill my coffee, you do not call me sweetheart, honey, or sugar. Ever.
You see, most of the time, I’m pretty mild-mannered. You could probably say I’m a nice person and you would not be totally wrong. I come from a family of polite Midwesterners who keep their bad thoughts private, and would never say anything rude to a stranger.
I try to keep with this policy, but if you are a stranger to me and you call me any variation of “sweetheart,” I will crush you. Maybe I will not crush you physically, because I’m a pacifist and I also lack the appropriate arm strength to do so, but I will definitely be really, really angry and will find a way to let you know.
And I can’t really explain it, what makes me feel so violent-on-the-inside about a simple “sugar” from the checkout girl at Target. Maybe it’s because I perceive terms of endearment from strangers and casual acquaintances as a form of condescension.
Whatever it is, think of me, at these moments, as a cross between Madeline Kahn in “Clue” (“flames, on the side of my face...”) and The Bride in “Kill Bill” during those interludes set to Quincy Jones’s “Ironside” where you know she is going to kick someone’s ass. That is what happens to my insides. So just don’t do it, world. Don’t call me “sweetie.”
The first time I remember it happening was when I quit my restaurant hostessing job in high school; my manager called me “sweetheart” and I quit on the spot. As the words came out of his mouth (“listen, sweetheart”), I could feel the heat rising up into my face, and all at once something in me snapped. I wrote my resignation letter on a bar napkin and walked out on my shift.
Of course, a casual “sweetheart” could be tossed out there as a way for a man to assert dominance over a woman -- though this has not been my personal experience, with the exception of the above example. Most of the “sugars” and “sweeties” I’ve met with have come from other women, strangers who have no right to use a pet name with me.
When I worked in retail, I once had a customer (she had to be about the same age as me) say, “thanks, sweetie!” after I rang her up. Again, there was that heat in my face, and before I knew what happened, I shouted in the snarkiest tone I could muster, “no problem, honey!” and she looked very, very confused. I couldn’t help it; it just came out. You mess with the Scorpio, you get the stinger, my friends.
But I’m working on it. I’m becoming more tolerant in situations where close friends use pet names with me. And I’m totally on board with grown women calling each other “dude” -- but then again I live in California.
I’m also thinking of incorporating into my pet-name repertoire two of my seven-year-old’s made-up names (they’re really supposed to be insults, I think, but I like them as terms of endearment): 1. Footface and 2. Snarples.
And if I were a gum-chewing diner waitress of a certain age, I would, in fact, address each of my customers with a charmingly disgruntled, “what can I get you, doll?”
Tell me, where do you land on the pet-name issue? Have you ever been on the receiving end of a "honey" from an employer? Do you dislike the "sweethearts" and "darlings" as much as I do? Or are you the one using those terms of endearment with your friends, family and total strangers?