“I just hate it when people call me pet names!” my 15-year-old tells me at dinner. I cringe immediately because I call her “love” all the time. “I like it when you call me those names, mom, but not when strangers do it.” Of course, I tell her she can tell people how to address her. But inside I know I’m a hypocrite.
She says it’s hard to speak up and I forbid myself from glossing over the difficulty by giving her a trite peptalk about how she should do it anyway. I’ve been working with a client for over a month now, who keeps calling me by various pet names, Dear, for example.
My grandmom calls me “Deary” and I love it as much as my daughter loves it when I call her “Love”. It makes me think of my grandmom taking me to see the “The Princess Diaries” and laughing hysterically when Mia falls off her chair, making me BLT sandwiches (hold the L and T but add extra B, because she is the BEST, okay?), getting me a lawyer after my divorce even though she was definitely positively absolutely against divorce, and sending me jelly beans for Easter well into my thirties. My client calling me “Dear” and my grandmom calling me “Deary” both make me feel small — one in a bad way, and one in a good way.
When this older, male client calls me “Dear” it creates and artificial closeness that feels condescending and unprofessional.
Pet names can create artificial closeness
I have specific names for many of my best friends throughout the years. One of them I call Leelu because she was madly in love with Bruce Willis and Leelu was the female character in his movie the Fifth Element. My sister and I call each other versions of our names that are reserved only for our relationship. My mother had several pet names for me based on my name, which came passed down from her own favorite grandmom.
Once I start changing your name or calling you something cutesy or unique, it means I consider us next level close. If you don’t reciprocate, I understand that maybe you don’t feel that same level of closeness yet and I’ll pull back.
In any case, if we call each other anything besides our actual names, I have a close relationship with you. But if you’re a stranger, calling me a pet name is creating artificial closeness and trust that…