One of the biggest signs that you’ve moved from “dating” to “in a relationship” is when pet names start popping up; when you go from saying, “hey, First Name” to “hey, babycakes.”
English has a wide variety of pet names, like dear, honey, darling, sweetheart, baby, babycakes, sweetcheeks, love, muffin, babycheeks, honeybaby, and sweet-dear-cheeksbaby-muffin.
Most couples will use most of these, at different times. You see, without even realizing it, most of us have made pet names situational. They’re not interchangeable. Honey is standard, sweetheart is really sweet, and darling has a romantic elegance to it. Nobody calls their partner “darling” while sorting the garbage. You save that for candlelit dinners and drinks at the Violet Hour.
Similarly, the word “dear” is usually followed by a request, order, or veiled threat. Like your middle name, it’s innocuous on paper, but sends shivers down the spine when spoken allowed by a loved one. The famous line near the end of Gone With the Wind isn’t cutting because Rhett Butler tells Scarlett he doesn’t give a damn, but because he calls her “my dear.” Ouch.
I’m always curious to know what pet names get used in other cultures. In Japan, even today, women will sometimes call their husbands anata, which is a formal way of saying “you.” This seems weird to me, like the wife forgot her husband’s name years ago but is too embarrassed to admit it, thus making every encounter awkward: “I love you so much, you.”
Like a lot of couples, Ayako and I have developed our own nicknames for each other. But because I am a crazy person, they are not normal. I don’t call Ayako honey, or baby, or darling.
No, through a series of circumstances so drawn out and byzantine that even I don’t know understand how we got there, I have come to call my girlfriend by the pet name “Captain Jebediah Monkeyface.” And around our apartment, I am known as “Commander Wellington Sheeppants.”
It’s not “honey” or “sweetheart,” but when I hear them, they’re the sweetest words I know.