Dear Style & Substance:
I was recently called “sweetheart” by a male acquaintance on the street in front of my office and was somehow thrilled by it. Other times when someone calls me “hon,” I am appalled! What is your take on using these terms with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances?
Terms of endearment….are they real, personal or habit? The thrill or discomfort you feel in these situations has either the effect of: he really is fond of me or strong ties to a past negative memory. There was a time when women were routinely called “hon”, “sweetheart”, and “doll” as throw away terms possibly to demean, or because the contributions of women were not valued either in the community, workplace, or home.
The intention of the speaker makes all the difference in the reaction. Somehow if the term is used solely with you, it has a more powerful impact!
The question then becomes, how do we respond when called sweetheart or honey in an oh-so flattering or not so flattering way? style & substance can surely save the day and solve the problem! Your response should be impactful and a bit jaunty. Be confident, look the speaker straight in the eye, and offer a brief yet witty comeback. For example, “Bob, you look cute as a button today.” Or you can try something a bit more direct, “Hello, I’m Sally (or Michele!), you must have me confused with your other friend, Honey.” Receiving it with a smile and saying, “that really made my day” can also be a gracious response.
On the street is a much different situation than in the office; in which case the most important points – responding with style and not anger, being confident and purposeful, and holding yourself with poise. A look can say it all; showing surprise and a “clearly you didn’t mean to say that” look in the office is a good way to start. You will need to be more direct should it continue. It is tricky, as you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable by letting too much emotion hang out. It can be as simple as saying, “I feel disrespected by you when you call me that, and surely you didn’t mean to have that effect.”