Four innocuous letters can carry so much weight. I have mixed feelings about the pet name, “babe” or “baby”. As much as I want to I can’t stop recycling it in my vocabulary. It means nothing and everything at once. It comforts me and it spites me. The more I say and hear it, the less meaning it holds. It slips out during sex. It finds the front of my mouth when the new girl at work accidentally bumps into me. When I’m expressing a quick ‘thank you’ to an internet stranger who left a sweet comment under one of my posts.
By definition the word ‘baby’ means ‘an extremely young child,’ yet we use it to address our adult lovers in our adult relationships. Why does it feel intimate when our significant others call us this? After all it’s not unique to us in any way. People used baby outside its formal definition since before we were born, since before our parents were born. Our partners called their previous partners babe and baby, and they’ll surely call their future beaus by the same name. It’s curious that we can get so personally attached to a word that’s not actually personal at all. When I took a poll seventy percent of people said they don’t like their significant other calling others ‘babe’.
I guess there’s still some charm in it, the way there may still be some charm in the titles husband and wife. It lies in the fact that these words that date back centuries in linguistic history were meant to represent something exclusive between two people. It makes a relationship distinctive. If my man is calling other women the same nickname he calls me, what distinguishes our relationship from theirs?
The last guy I dated, who I met online, called me babe before we even met in person. We were talking about his home country through text. “Israel is dope, babe.” There it was—the four-letter word that has the ability to make an exchange of words seem deeper than they actually are. It made me wonder who else he was calling babe before he even knew her last name. It reminded me not to attach myself to the term. The next babe was around the corner, or closer—just a swipe away.
I’m much more appreciative when a guy I’m involved with calls me by my name. It may seem insignificant but it’s different when he says it because it’s personalized with his voice—his texture, his tone, his inflection, his intention. So while it may be the monicker that everyone calls me, it always sounds special when it comes from his mouth. Most men I get involved with don’t think to use my name that often. The overused terms of endearment seem to flow from their mouths more easily, and while that can be nice to hear, there’s a tiny corner in my mind that scoffs at the thought of them having called other women the same name time and time again.
To encourage a shift I sometimes lead by example by using other names like ‘sweetie’, or ‘boo’, or ‘papa’. Oh, and of course there was the rise of ‘bae’ a few years ago. Still, nothing hits quite like babe. It’s not going anywhere any time soon.