Paging Dr. Freud! Why did this happen?
March 11, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Paging Dr. Freud! Why did this happen? I called out my father's name instead of my husband's in bed.

This is quite embarrassing, but every now and then my husband and I remember it and laugh about it. A couple of years after we were married, we were getting it on in bed and in the throes of ectasy, I called out my father's name instead of my husband's. As you can imagine, it was a seriously WTF moment that killed any further throes of ectasy.

After he recalled it last night, I said "I should ask the smart people on MetaFilter why I did that." Googling for something similar did not turn up answers (I don't think the TV Tropes result counts). If it was an old boyfriend, that would be easier to explain. Here are some details:

1) I am a woman
2) I love my father, but I'm not attracted to him in any way other than a father and a daughter normally would be
3) I have never been not sexually abused or molested
4) I love my husband and we have been married almost 12 years
5) I sure as heck wasn't thinking about my father at the time it happened

Am I channeling my mother or what? It only ever happened the one time. To his credit, my husband has never called me by his mother's name. I know this sounds like a strange question, but we are quite sincere in our curiosity about it. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Sometimes when you're not totally focused you can call someone a name that isn't theirs. It's usually a name that you're used to. I doubt it's any more complicated than that.

Your brain just picked a really awkward name for that particular situation.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:35 PM on March 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Do you have any associations with that name besides the fact that it's your father's? I mean, you don't call your father by his first name, right? You call him "Dad" or "Pa" or whatever. It makes me think that you called out the name of a coworker or a friend or a TV character on your mind... but after saying it, you just thought "Holy shit that's my DAD's name".
posted by telegraph at 12:37 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Freud would claim that it represents a conscious manifestation of latent desire for your father from childhood.
posted by dfriedman at 12:38 PM on March 11, 2012

If it was just that one time, I'd say it was simply a quirk of your wonderfully, mysteriously complex psyche. Don't feel bad about it and don't dwell on it, unless you feel like it means something important.
posted by clockzero at 12:39 PM on March 11, 2012

This reminds me of dream interpretation... if a good friend of mine comes to me with a dream,- I am AMAZING at interpreting it because I know what's up in their life.... whereas a dream interpretation book is pretty limited.... SO, freud would say you want to bump uglies with your dad- I say........ who knows?

But I have called Mr. Pony by the name of my horrible ex-boyfriend... we were having a great time, who knows why it slipped out? Brains are weird.
posted by misspony at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Despite all the reading I sometimes do about cog sci and whatnot, I still have this image of my brain's operation as a hand grasping about in the dark for various bags. It successfully grabbed the Significant Men in My Life bag (woo!!!) but it fumbled pulling out the Husband name and got the Dad name instead. Oops! You know, like sometimes you say Christmas instead of Halloween. It's not like you don't know the danged difference. I'm sure there's a name for it -- things in the same category interfere with each other easily; it's one reason that language teachers are (counterintuitively) not supposed to teach closely related words like hot/warm/cool/cold/freezing all at the same time. :p Anyway, just my 2 yen. I mean cents.
posted by wintersweet at 12:51 PM on March 11, 2012 [29 favorites]

Yeah, I came in here to say something similar to what wintersweet said. I think the best answer you're going to get is, "brains are weird/lazy sometimes."

I do this all the time - I just did it half an hour ago, actually! I was talking to my mom on the phone, telling her I was driving to a sandwich shop that she and I had been to once before, Jersey Mike's. She responded by saying, "oh, don't you have a Jersey Mike's near you? Wouldn't you go there?" I paused, confused, and said "That's where I'm going....wait, what did I say?" "Jerry's Deli!" I haven't been to a Jerry's Deli in years, and I didn't like it anyway. I laughed and figured my that my brain, in a hurry to get the words out just said "oh shit, what's that sandwich place she's been to once that starts with a J? Jerry's Deli, good enough, to the tongue it goes!"

That does make me wonder....maybe your father's name and your husband's name are similar in some way? Start with the same letter? Have the same number of syllables? Have similar vowel sounds in the same places?

Good to hear you both are able to laugh about it, too. I don't think it's worth much more thought than that!
posted by Squee at 1:13 PM on March 11, 2012

The highfalutin' technical term for this is "associative activation error." From the glossary at Usability First:
associative activation error
an error that occurs when a thought or related idea interferes with the current action when it isn’t appropriate (like a Freudian slip).

(psychology) an error resulting from skilled behavior being performed at a time when it shouldn’t, such as accidentally driving to the office when you intended to drive to the store. Highly-practiced behaviors become automatic and the triggers for these automatic behaviors may cause them to be performed at a time when an alternative is more appropriate.
Frued would have you believe there's a deep-seated subconscious motive behind what happened. It was much more likely a brain fart, like accidentally pouring orange juice on your breakfast cereal.
posted by Devoidoid at 1:18 PM on March 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

wintersweet's comment jives really well with a book I've been reading (Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman) that sums up current knowledge from psychology about how the brain works. There is a fast part of the brain that operates on autopilot, and a slow part that you control with effort. The fast part makes connections and works associatively, so if you think of apples you are also thinking of the colour red, but not blue. You might even notice the idea of red feels pleasing and blue kind of grating after thinking of apples -- this is because the automatic part of the brain likes coherence. The book is full of neat tricks like that.

Anyway I'd be speculating from here, but based on my current understanding from this book it sounds plausible to me that you were somehow 'primed' to think about your father. This could occur even if you weren't actually thinking of your father directly -- like if you talked to your mother recently, and I said 'who's an important man in your life', your father might pop up, because talking to your mother brings all of the mother-associated symbols closer to the surface of your brain which includes your father. If you think about it there are a lot of things that are associated with fathers bubbling around in our brains and a lot of ways to trigger them. Maybe you saw a lot of dads with kids that day; maybe you saw someone playing a sport your dad likes; maybe you heard a song he used to sing around the house, and so on. Maybe it was a perfect storm of small coincidences.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:41 PM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

My mom sometimes just randomly calls out names until she gets to the child she wants. Sometimes there are extra names in there, too, like a childhood friend's. I have a friend whose mother needs to go through all the children and pet names to find hers. My guess is that you have a space in your brain for "names of men important in my life," or some such, and you had an indexing glitch that brought up the wrong name at the wrong time, but I am a librarian, not a neuroscientist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

The thing is, even a "Freudian" slip can happen for a lot of reasons - as Freud would have said. There's a lot of reductionist Freudianism out there by people who have read little or no Freud.

The unconscious is weird and subtle. If we were going to go all unconsciousy about this, we could say that you were having grown-up sex in a married relationship and your brain associates that in some way with paternal authority, or with assuming your mother's role. Or that you unconsciously felt some anxiety related to what you learned in childhood about sex and adulthood.

It is frustrating to me that a complex (and yes, problematic) writer and thinker like Freud gets reduced to "if you accept the idea of the unconscious it means you unconsciously want to have sex with your dad, gross, so it must all be nasty lies!"

The basic "Freudian" idea here is that sexuality is shaped by early life experiences (seems reasonable, right? Many of us have hazy early childhood sexual memories that have nothing to do with abuse or even with actual other people!) And then, your parents are large and important figures when you're little, so of course you're going to absorb all kinds of norms and ideas (many wrong/confused/weird) from when you're really little. And then there's the unconscious, storing up all kinds of weird stuff and pushing it to the surface in weird forms.

Lots of people - including Freud, IME - write about this as if it's shameful, and so people naturally think it must be just a bunch of perverse lies or misinterpretations. But it's just the way people are. Our ideas about sex have to come from somewhere, and it would be sort of weird if the early childhood stuff didn't relate to the family in some way, because where else would it come from?

Freud is a pretty complicated writer. There's no real canonical Freud, IME, because he changed his ideas over his lifetime and presented them in different ways at different times. Some psychoanalysts and creepy sexist assholes have done their level best to exploit Freud's weaknesses and to turn what he wrote into an ironclad system to use in oppressing and shaming others. This is not inherent in the text.

I'd personally go with a "on some unconscious level, you had a trivial anxiety about family/dad and sexuality, which was expressed and processed, yay team!" Pretty much the mental equivalent of momentary indigestion, nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing to worry about. Obviously, if you always called out your dad's name, or if you had some ongoing trouble that seemed to be related to your relations with your father that would be different.
posted by Frowner at 1:56 PM on March 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Aphasia is the name given when someones brain does this a lot. You just happened to do it once, in an incredibly awkward time. I would describe it by saying that your brain when looking for a name of a prominent male figure in your life, but was slightly preoccupied at the time and came up with the wrong name.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 2:19 PM on March 11, 2012

I mix up my daughter's name and my cat's name and my dog's name quite frequently. I think it's a kind of muscle memory. I can tell my daughter from our dog, and our dog from our cat, and our cat from either. My father used to call me by my mother's name on occasion. We are a fuzzy headed tribe, apparently. But I wouldn't assume it meant anything other than that your language center wasn't functioning properly at the time.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:25 PM on March 11, 2012

Well, if we want to be strictly Freudian. Down to the letters of his writings. The real significance of a slip is not the slip in and of itself, but the significance attributed to the slip. This is much the same as with dream text where the interpretation relies entirely on the text's relation to its telling (and its relation to every re-telling). That is, what matters in a dream is not just the dream. And, what matters in a slip is not just the slip. After all, we make slips all the time, we cut ourselves off mid-sentence, add strange words, switch pronouns. While these are all interesting events, they alone are unimportant. Such errors betray something which we would rather not, they ultimately do not constitute much in the singular. But, then, when is such chance ever singular? In this particular case, your slip is paired with an important clue. You found it significant. The question is not why did you make the slip, but why is it significant?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:37 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Meh, that just sounds like one of those things that happens sometimes when you're talking while not paying attention. My dad has called my brother by my name before when he's been distracted by watching golf on TV. My brother is a guy, I am a girl and my brother is about 75 lbs heavier than me and a foot taller, with a totally different personality, there is no mixing us up really. It's just distraction methinks.
posted by cairdeas at 3:58 PM on March 11, 2012

3) I have never been not sexually abused or molested

Another slip!?

Meh that just looks like a typo to me where she originally wrote "I have not" and wanted to change it to "I have never." I make those kinds of errors all the time when I'm quickly changing text I've written.

To me if this is "another" anything it seems like another example of being distracted while speaking or writing.
posted by cairdeas at 4:02 PM on March 11, 2012

Did you marry a guy just like the guy who married dear old mom? Or do they have at least a thing or two in common (personality trait, mannerism, etc.)? I've occasionally called someone in my life by the name of a person who previously filled a similar role (e.g. current girlfriend -> ex-wife), but never in the throes of ecstasy, but the problem may be simply that you were distracted more than something burbling up from your subconscious mind.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:54 AM on March 14, 2012

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