Don't Call Me Baby
January 2, 2021 5:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a friend (no romantic interest in either direction as we are both hetero cis women) who calls me "baby" by written message on a regular basis. It makes my skin crawl. This is not an inside joke between us and is a forced intimacy, as we are no longer close. At the same time because we are not close I feel like saying voicing an objection would damage the existing relationship.

What I'd really like to say is "can you not call me baby?"

What I'd really really like to say is "can you not call me baby? I find it really gross"

Has this happened to you? What's the end result of saying vs not saying anything?
posted by jello to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That depends entirely on the person you are dealing with and whether or not they are willing to take no for an answer. And how much you want to escalate your request if/when they ignore you the first, second, third, etc. times.

What happens to me if I say no? It depends entirely on who I am dealing with. Some people might actually listen. Other people, well, I have to scream my head off and frequently I still get nowhere with them.

You'd need to tell us more about this person before I could give you a better guess as to their behavior, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:36 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

People occasionally try to call me by a diminutive I don't like. Depending on the relationship, unless they get to be among the rare few, I tend to nip it in the bud more or less immediately by saying something like, "Hey, not [diminutive], okay?"

In the case where someone has been calling you a term of endearment you don't like for some time and you haven't said anything about it yet, it can get a bit awkward as the other person may feel a big chagrined about having called you something they now know you don't like. I'd probably say something like, " I should have said something about this a while ago, but I kind of have issues with people calling me 'baby' and I wish you wouldn't do it. Nothing personal with you -- we're cool -- it's just a thing for me."

What you absolutely shouldn't do is rebuke her or come across aggressively or call her usage "gross." Just go in with good faith and speak to her the way you'd like someone to address you in a situation in which you meant no harm but had been calling someone "Suzi" who only wants to be called "Susan."
posted by slkinsey at 5:45 PM on January 2, 2021 [42 favorites]

Ahh I was in this exact situation with someone who only texted me every few months. (Merry Christmas, baby!) Two hetero women as well, I like your calling it ‘forced intimacy.’ We had grown apart, and it felt like she was pretending we were as close as we used to be. Then she started ‘liking’ my texts (iPhone?) instead of responding, so now we don’t talk at all. In your case, I think saying ‘Could you not call me baby?’ is good.
posted by dianeF at 5:52 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you ask, you are inviting an answer other than "yes."

Just tell her you'd rather not be called "baby." You can say "please" if you want to soften it.
posted by NotLost at 6:17 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

because we are not close I feel like saying voicing an objection would damage the existing relationship

What, exactly, are you trying to protect in this relationship by not voicing your disgust at her diminutive? Is it worth protecting? Will you lose it by expressing a very normal, natural and healthy boundary? Maybe delve into that...

If keeping the relationship is most important to you, reply with 'old lady' every time she called you 'baby'. She'll either get the hint, or you will turn both diminutives into an inside joke.
posted by Thella at 6:23 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

“Baby” is a common diminutive that a lot of people have a strongly negative reaction to, myself included. I bet this person has had other people object to it too. Just say “hey, please don’t call me baby, it really skeeves me out. It’s one of those words, you know? Like moist.” Chances are they’ll get it and maybe apologize, maybe just move on. If they double down on you then you know the relationship wasn’t worth much to them in the first place and you can proceed with this knowledge informing future interactions. I call people honey all the time and have gotten the occasional pushback and cut it out immediately.
posted by Mizu at 6:36 PM on January 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

I have done this, and I padded the hell out of it: "Hey, I need to ask you a huge favor?? I have a really strong negative reaction to being called 'baby', I know you mean well but it's really jarring for me. I hate how much I dread knowing it's coming."

And if she still does it, in the face of that, you can just cut her off.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2021 [15 favorites]

I don't know if it helps to keep in mind you're probably not the only person she does this to. Everyone I've known that's casually called me weird names does it to pretty much everyone they talk to. And those are people I have not kept in touch with in general.

That said, it's perfectly fine to ask her not to call you baby, if this is a relationship you would like to continue. Just tell her you actually hate being called baby, and then have a new subject ready to go when things inevitably get awkward.
posted by wondermouse at 7:16 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Pull a Janet? “Not a baby.”

I don’t know if this would work on your friend, but it’s the first thing I’d try, and escalate if necessary.
posted by sageleaf at 7:23 PM on January 2, 2021 [10 favorites]

Do you know if she does this with others? Or if it’s just fit you? In any case, if you’re this bothered by it, try saying or texting (might be easier), “Hey friend, I’m never quite sure how to say this, and I know you mean this with affection, but it would be great if you didn’t call me Baby under more. Thanks for understanding.”
posted by bluedaisy at 7:47 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

It makes my skin crawl.
I feel like saying voicing an objection would damage the existing relationship.

A relationship that regularly causes your skin to crawl on a regular basis has already been damaged.

Perhaps the damage isn't visible, and making that damage visible will ultimately end it, but many times damage cannot be repaired until it is seen by all parties.

That of course doesn't mean it's easy. But there's no need for you to feel this way on a regular basis.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:32 PM on January 2, 2021 [7 favorites]

trying to imagine how I'd feel, if I'd been calling a friend "baby."

I guess I'd feel like it was a term of affection meant to indicate that I really liked them, despite not being in touch often. I think the gentlest way to be asked to stop would be something like "ya know, I've never liked being called "baby", just doesn't work for me somehow."
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:04 PM on January 2, 2021 [9 favorites]

Best answer: The politest way to deal with this is to act like you just started getting bothered by it. That lets the other person save face as they have inadvertently been doing something that you find horrible, which most people would find super embarrassing.

"Hey, I think I am starting to have an issue with being called "baby" -- not sure why..."

That's a face-saving hint for her to cut it out. If she persists, you should just ignore every message with the offending word in it.

This is the most conflict averse way to deal with something like this.

The more direct way is just "Hey, no more 'baby' if you don't mind -- think I've kind of grown out of it." Then when she does it more be like "hey I told you, not into 'baby' these days."

If you give a long explanation with a lot of apologies or a lot of softening words, it'll feel patronizing and/or awkward, so less is more. You have nothing to apologize about.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:07 PM on January 2, 2021 [9 favorites]

This reminds me of when my grandson was about 4 years old and we went for ice cream. When the vendor handed him his ice cream, he said, "Here you go, little boy." When we left the shop, my grandson asked me, "Why did he call me a little boy? I'm a big boy." Anyway, maybe it would help if you could train her to call you "kiddo", instead. It is lighthearted and more respectful (since you are a friend and not a lover or a baby) and has a whole different meaning in our society than calling someone "baby". I think I would say to her, "Hey, I'm not a baby anymore ... haha ... could you start calling me 'kiddo', instead? "
posted by SageTrail at 9:11 PM on January 2, 2021

You’re assuming she’s trying to coerce you in some way. Without knowing any outside context I can’t know if that’s the case, but not everyone has the same feelings toward casually affectionate language that you do, so it’s quite possible she’s not fixing to influence you as much as you think. If you have history with her that makes you disagree, that’s fair.

I think the kind thing to do is take responsibility for your boundary and say, “hey, I apologize for not mentioning this earlier since I don’t want to cause you any embarrassment, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t call me ‘baby,’ I don’t feel right about that.”

You can certainly not say that if you don’t mean it, but if this is a person you can’t mean that toward I question why you stay in touch.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:01 PM on January 2, 2021

"Baby's not working for me these days. Please call me , or if you like, but not baby"

If she does it again, I would consider a stronger statement: "I'm your friend, not your baby". She says "I didn't mean it that way" You can say, "Great! Now that you know I don't like it, I'm sure you won't do it any more" (don't argue about how she means it, just reinforce expectation that she won't do it)

posted by metahawk at 10:23 PM on January 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Metafilter didn't like my brackets. I meant to say
"Baby's not working for me these days. Please call me jello , or if you like jelly, but not baby" substituting in the names you prefer.
posted by metahawk at 10:36 PM on January 2, 2021

Is this a regional/age thing?

In A Confederacy of Dunces, which was set in New Orleans in the middle of the last century, middle aged women friends called each other 'baby' routinely. In that case, I'd let it slide.
posted by jamjam at 10:38 PM on January 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: SageTrail's comment reminded me I call people buddy or kiddo or dude, and one person did tell me they didn't like it (so I stopped). And I'm not in touch with that person anymore!

I'm going to (try to) relax and (try to) stop fixating on this because the "baby " is probably just a habit of hers, it's meant with affection, the friendship is fading so it's not worth hurting her feelings, and it's infrequent.
posted by jello at 11:32 PM on January 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

"Call me baby one more time and I'll vomit a little milk onto your shoulder".
posted by rongorongo at 12:43 AM on January 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

'Hey Julie! I hope your big meeting went super well!

I had a birthday recently, so I'm graduating myself from 'baby'. From now on, I'm asking everyone to call me by my big-girl name :) Seriously, I can't say why exactly, but I'd feel our relationship is evolving to a point where it would feel better if you just called me "Sarah". I know 'baby' is meant endearingly, but, well, usually I just want to be called "Sarah". Thank you!

Also - congrats on the new doggo! Please send the cutest picture of him!'

With a message like this, you've sandwiched the request between social (but not too intimate) comments, given her an easy way to follow up without having to address the 'baby' issue [in this example, by asking for a dog photo - again, not too intimate], and made a little, positive, joke-like but direct request.
posted by amtho at 3:36 AM on January 3, 2021

Blah blah blah normal text response and then "BTW, I don't like being called 'baby.' Thanks!"
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:52 PM on January 5, 2021

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