Let’s get this out of the way. I hate pet names. I feel like they’re antifeminist, mostly because the traditional ones for women are usually derivatives of “baby,” which I find diminutive and unsavory. If I’m dating you, and I’m certainly not your baby. Then there are the variations on the “sweet” theme: sugar, sweetness, cookie. Sure, they’re supposed to connote that your beloved is a sweet person, a good egg. I find them sickening, like eating too much cotton candy and getting queasy.
But some studies find that the amount of closeness and intimacy in a relationship is directly proportional to the use of pet names. Apparently being cutesy does more than annoy your friends; it also makes you a happier couple.
I recently started dating someone new, and suggested that we find pet names for each other. (I know when I’ve been beaten by science), and the pet names for men are equally horrific. I’m not going to call anyone “big daddy” or “loverman,” as have been suggested by various online lists. If women’s pet names are infantile, then men’s monikers all deal with sexual prowess, which is fine in the bedroom, but calling your partner “hot lips” in public will give your friends too much insight into your relationship. Unbidden, I might add. Then there are pet names of the “teddy bear” variety, which are meant to imply cuteness. As a middle-aged person, I’m not comfortable calling my boyfriend “ducky” or “schmoopie.”
So, if you want to keep the flame alive with your flame and get into the pet name game, here are some ideas that won’t make you want to lose your lunch.
- Liebchen — In German, it means dearest. This is what I call my guy, because it’s endearing without being sickeningly sweet, and isn’t something a 12-year-old would use. I think the foreign language makes it sound more mature, more worldly, and since my boyfriend is in his 50s, more age appropriate. Feel free to bust it out during Oktoberfest.
- Cariño — In Spanish, this loosely translates as “beloved,” which is a lovely and sober sentiment appropriate for grown-ass people with car notes and crow’s feet. You still get the maturity of a foreign language without the awkwardness of speaking German, the father tongue. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, cariño sounds like caring, and that’s really what you want to say to your significant other: I care, but I don’t want to sound silly.
- Dude — Hear me out. Dude is one of those words that can mean a million things, from “I’m upset” to “hello friend.” Unless you’re using it to refer to an actual male human, dude is really gender-neutral. Both members of a couple can call each other “dude,” and they can even say it in public or in front of nosy parents. Think of it like a private joke between you and your significant other, a pet name that sounds kind of neutral but belies your hot, animal magnetism.
- Honey — It’s generic, but honey is still sweet, and pet names are supposed to be at least a little saccharine. It can be shortened to “hon” if you’re in a hurry, or added to another nickname, like “honey bear” or “honey bunny” if you’re in the mood for that. It’s non-offensive, and also pretty genderless. It won’t make your dinner companions cringe, and it doesn’t sound like baby talk. I know I was against sugar and the like, but honey is more complex and more interesting and, therefore, a good generic moniker.
- Darling — I love this word, and not just because it’s what my partner calls me. It sounds sophisticated and adult. Darling makes me think of a time when people went out for dinner and dancing in smart, elegant attire. It’s also musical and pleasant to the ear, and the Gabor sisters made careers out of saying “daaahling,” which you could emulate to feel even classier.
- Dumpling — Everyone loves dumplings, so who wouldn’t want to be called “dumpling?” It connotes hotness without being overtly sexual, cuteness without being cloying, and you don’t have to use baby talk to say it. Remember that Pixar movie Bao? Completely adorable and universally appealing.
- Mon petit chou — Everything sounds better in French, including this nickname meaning “my little cabbage.” French is the language of love, and we kiss in French, so adding mon petit chou to your nickname repertoire will bring that level of romance into your daily life. It doesn’t matter that you’re talking about cabbage, probably the gassiest vegetable on the planet. Nobody will think of flatulence when you’re Frenching at them.
- ___ eyes — Brown eyes. Blue eyes. Angel eyes. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and you likely spend a long time looking into your paramour’s eyes. It might seem pedestrian to call someone by a facial feature. But unlike with “big nose,” mentioning someone’s eyes has an air of romance. It’s also less crude than “sugar lips.”
- Bug — Ever since I heard Mandy Moore call her TV daughter “bug” on This Is Us, I’ve loved it as a term of endearment. It sounds short and to the point, and brings to mind an adorable insect like a lady bug rather than something leggy and scary, like a wasp. It’s also non-sexual and gender-neutral, so no embarrassment using it in public or in front of your kids.
- Handsome — It’s generic and universal, and that’s why it works. What man doesn’t want to be called handsome? It’s female counterpart, beautiful, is equally effective at reinforcing your partner’s pulchritude. Try it some time. Walk into the TV room and say, “Hey handsome” to your mate. Sign off on a phone call with, “goodbye beautiful.” I almost guarantee smiling and blushing, and overall pleasure. Often, the simple things are really the best.