Part of the fun of starting a relationship is the shared discovery of the things that make you tick as a unit. Establishing a Sunday routine, dedicating a night to each other to stay in and watch shitty movies on Netflix — this is what keeps the engine of your coupledom running smoothly. The more comfortable you get, the more likely you are to fall into established, cozy patterns. Take the pet name, one of the more revealing aspects of your life together. What you decide to call your person in public or in private speaks volumes about your relationship, but there are so many to choose from, it’s hard to say what works and what doesn’t. I used to call my ex-boyfriend “boo,” and was fine with it until one Christmas at his parents house, when I discovered that that was what his mother called him — suddenly, “boo” was weirdly inappropriate. You want to choose the right pet name, one that’s appropriate for the place your relationship is at. I’m here to help. Read on for a field guide to relationship pet names.
Babe: The most common of all nicknames, babe is the great chameleon of the nickname world. It’s alluring in its simplicity, with a timeless quality that makes it the best entree into pet names, if you’re shy of them. Its simplicity is also its downfall. While babe may be what you use in moments of frustration or tenderness with your partner, it is also in the purview of the teetering whoo-girl at the club, wobbling across the dance floor in a short skirt and unfortunate wedges, bellowing, “Baaaaaaaabe, can you get me another vodka sodaaaaaa?” I find that babe is best used sparingly.The best rule of thumb when deploying this one is to think of how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. Are you sitting on the couch and your dude just got up to go to the kitchen? A simple “Babe, could you get me a glass of water?” is fine. What if you’re sitting on the couch, watching reruns of “Bob’s Burgers,” and you’re hit with a craving for tikka masala from that pickup-only Indian restaurant that’s 10 blocks away? That’s an entirely different story.
Baby: More intimate than babe, but less irritating than other options, “baby” is the kind of pet name that works best in the bedroom. There’s something about the second syllable that makes this pet name not suitable for mixed company. “Baby, can you pass me the mashed potatoes?” is a phrase that no one wants to hear at a family dinner. It’s too intimate and not nearly as utilitatarian as a good pet name should be. A pet name should roll off the tongue, second nature, no looking back. Calling someone that you’re sleeping with “baby” in mixed company just doesn’t work. For starters, it’s too intimate, too grossly redolent of the sex you might have had before having the conversation, or the sex you’re about to have after your houseguests leave. Baby should be cooed into an ear or giggled Spare your friends and family the secondhand embarrassment of imagining what your pillow talk sounds like and save this pet name for texts, sexts, Snapchats and knockin’ boots.
Boo: For me, this is a happy medium between cloying sentimentality and let’s-do-it-in-the-kitchen ardor. Boo is cute, it’s nice, it’s simple, it’s almost second nature. The best part about boo is that it feels a lot less serious. Your boo can be your boyfriend, but calling someone your boo takes some of the air out of the seriousness of the situation. The level of commitment is still the same, but if you’re the kind of person who balks at traditional labels, or is just uncomfortable with the icky conversation and the heavy mantle of The Talk to establish someone as your boyfriend, calling them your boo is just right. This is my preferred pet name, the one that I use the most, and in my opinion, the best.
Shmoopie/Sugar Lips/Honeybunch/Snookums/any variation on these: I would like to think that most adult humans who are grown enough to find themselves in committed or semi-committed relationships have enough respect for themselves to not refer to anyone they care about as their shmoopie. Infantilizing your beloved is cool if that’s what gets you going, but if you’re going to do it, for the love of god, do not do it in public If you thought asking your “baby” to pick up toothpaste and cat litter on the way home from work was bad, imagine asking shmoopie to do the same. If you’re not shuddering right now, then I’m not sure there’s hope.
Darlin’: Like all other words, context is everything, but darlin’ is nothing but charm. I can go two ways. If you’re a tall drink of water with a sweet drawl and a lazy half-smile, sure, call me darlin’ all you want. If you’re my grandpa, and this is an affectation you’ve happened upon in your dotage, call me darlin’ too, because hey, we might not have that much time left. The thing that works so well about darlin’ is that it has a hint of sleaze, just enough to make it feel a little wrong. Darlin’ is best served with a bourbon on the rocks, in the corner of a dark bar, on a sultry summer night.
Girl: Best served with a wink, a smile, a promise of things to come, the rare dude who can pull this off without sounding like he’s in a shitty R&B video is someone you want to keep around. Same goes for girl’s contemporary, “bae,” which I think is best left to written communication only.
Lover: The only people that employ this phrase with regularity are hot tub enthusiasts and nudists. See below.