Terms of Endearment – do you or don’t you?

I was speaking with my friend, Maggie, the other day and somehow we segued to family customs when it comes to giving hugs or using terms of endearment, such as “hon,” “dear,” “love bug,” “honey bunny,” soft, squishy words that can sound sweet to ears or cheaply said, sarcastic and patronizing to others.

Mags comes from a family of three boys and one girl, a father who is intensely logical and rational and a mother who appears to maintain her balance around all of ’em. Mags said that one day, her eldest brother just told everyone that from now on, they would hug upon meeting, they would tell one another “I love you.” and some other fine points of protocol. Interestingly, the kids, who were adults, all agreed and proceeded to implement it. She laughed when thinking of her Dad’s reaction to the “I love you” during a phone call. A sort of quiet sputtering and then, “You, too.” It is not that any of them lacked in loving emotions, it was expressing them where the challenge came in.

When I was growing up, especially around 12-15, it was nearly impossible for me to say, “I love you.” It was sacrosanct to me and I had observed that others just said it without any true meaning or intention behind the words.

I clearly remember one day when my Aunt Betty was visiting. As she was leaving, we were to either hug and/or yell out “I love you, too.” in response to her’s. There was a horrible long pause as I choked on it. I wasn’t sure I really loved her enough to stake my life on it. That’s how important I placed those words, “I love you.” In my head, saying those three little words had a huge commitment and force to them belied by the times I lived in. Amazingly, my Aunt Betty seemed to understand and said something to the effect, “I understand, Hunt. You aren’t ready for that yet. It’s okay. I’ll say it. “I love you, Huntie.” And, she smiled and walked out to her car. The load that came off my shoulders at her words still lingers today in my memory.

I’ve mentioned before that it was customary for my family to meet in restaurants as neutral territory. This made sure no one had home team advantage and also that no one would throw a scene. You never, ever throw a scene in public. Family law in the HuntMode clan. Holds true today, though scenes are few and far apart now that we’re older and save our energy and passion for when the battle truly counts.

It took my sister-in-law, Mary, to pry open the clan’s defense perimeter. She was tall, elegant, soft spoken and sprinkled the conversation with “Hi Hon.” or “I understand, Hon.” This is pretty mild stuff in the vocabulary of terms of endearment, but it reverberated throughout the clan in earthquakian ways. My brother picked it up and began using it, plus, “Hey, love you.” I think I practiced it for awhile, saying it out loud when I was alone, just to get my tongue accustomed to voicing it. Truly, it was like a foreign language.

Nowadays, I am fluent in the terms of endearment language, helped greatly by having been married to a very affectionate man who was vocal in his love of me and by having dogs and cats who need to hear that language. I find I have better days when I am able to be open and expressive of the affection I have for my friends, neighbors and readers. What about you?

28 thoughts on “Terms of Endearment – do you or don’t you?

  1. Huntie, dear heart, Hi!!! I was blessed to be born into a family of lovers….we hugged and before leaving to go to the grocery/post office/ school/work….I love you!!! was shouted at the departee or whispered during a hug. In spite of being enfant terrible’, I was Little Love and still am, all these years later. We scrapped, we argued, we hugged, we forgave. But, the ubiquitous Southern “bless your heart” was also part of it. That phrase could be sarcastic, it could mean put on your grown pants and move on, it could be an endearment. It’s something you have to hear and when you hear it, you can tell. Hon, sweetie, baby doll, all of these are bandied about and said by strangers. It doesn’t bother me. If it does, I just bless their hearts. Dear heart is one of those not said lightly. It is a true endearment. We used it frequently as I was growing up. No matter how bad I had been and how stubborn I was feeling, my Papa or my Ninny saying, Kanzen, deart heart….could melt the ice. My Samurai picked it up for me and so frequently he used it, strangers thought it was some kind of strange Japanese name: deelaht. In my memory, it still makes me smile. Now my husband calls me Sweetheart….but they all mean sincere love and respect.

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  2. My family members have always been huggers. ‘I love you’ came out for special situations. I find some people over-use the endearment and it doesn’t carry the weight it once had for me.
    I love when a guy uses terms of endearment especially when he has that soft look in his eyes.

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  3. When my dad picked John and I up from the airport decades ago, John later asked me why my dad and I didn’t hug upon greeting. I simply said; “we don’t do that” – not long after that It stuck me as odd because we talked a lot around the dinner table and were open with each other around all kinds of topics. We huged later in life b/c John rubbed off on me…. Family dynamics… ox

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  4. Hunt, I am and always have been extremely affectionate. I have been touchie feelie, and terms of endearment have always been important. I am a hopeless romantic at heart and these come naturally to me, though I never got a lot from the parents. When I talk to any of my sibling we always in the conversation “I Love You” and it is sincere. It is nice that you managed to get out of your shell, and express your kindies. Take care, Bill

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  5. In my family, no affection was shown. My parents didn’t hug or kiss in front of us. When I was a young adult, I asked my mother why I had no memories of being hugged or being told “I love you.” My mother said when I was 2 I pushed my parents away & would not allow them to hug me anymore. When I thought about I understood, why would I want people who hit me to hug me? I also thought to myself – no matter what my daughter did or said I would never stop letting her know how much I loved her.
    I call my daughter “Sweetie,” I call my hubby “Honey.” I tell all my children I love them every time I talk to them or email them (even the ones who have no familial ties to me at all).

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