What are your thoughts on the use of terms of endearment?

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What are your thoughts on the use of terms of endearment?

Dec 27, 2010 |Candice Watters
Question

I have been talking to a guy for four months now. I "met" him online through a mutual friend, but he lives in a different time zone, and we have not seen each other yet; that should happen in a few weeks.

My concern is that I think I am involved in a pseudo-romantic relationship. We have started to talk on the phone on an almost daily basis, and he has started to use terms of endearment with me, such as "baby" and "princess." These sound sweet, but I keep thinking that it is also inappropriate and premature since we haven't even met in person yet. I played a part too by calling him sunshine one day. I meant it jokingly, but he took it a different way, and I didn't bother to correct him. I told him the terms were premature, and he agreed. He stopped for a while, but then he started again with increased intensity, using them in email, text and on the phone.

We're both marriage-minded adults, beyond our 20s and Christians who serve in our respective churches and are praying for God's will in our relationship — whether friendship or romance. Due to the nature of the long-distance relationship, compounded by the fact that this guy is new to this country (less than one year) and would not necessarily be able to stay unless he married a citizen (I don't suspect him to have such a motive, especially since he has a great job that allowed him to come here in the first place), I know I need to be very careful and take things slow.

What are your thoughts on the use of terms of endearment?

Answer

Thank you for writing and for raising this issue of familiarity in the early stages of dating. Your situation is more pronounced because of the way you met online, but given how many of today's relationships are lived out over technology, the issue is not limited to that.

Lately I've been thinking how helpful it would be to follow some of the conventions from Jane Austen's books and the era her stories portrayed. Instead of leaping ahead to an intimacy that isn't warranted or wise — with nicknames once reserved for the most private conversations among spouses — we'd all call each other Mr., Mrs. or Miss, followed by last names, until invited to do otherwise. Instead of wondering if it were OK to call a close male friend (say Thomas Hall) Thomas, Tommy, Tom, honey, babe or whatever, we'd default to “Mr. Hall.”

Obviously I'm exaggerating — but only a little. Names are of utmost importance. They say much about who we are, and when spoken, convey meaning about the nature of the relationship between the speaker and the listener. As you're discovering, it's not uncommon for new acquaintances to jump to terms of endearment before it's time. You're right to feel uncomfortable when your new friend addresses you so intimately.

As with many of the signs of intimacy, special names are most welcome (and appropriate) when there is a commitment. The man in your life, however, hasn't earned that level of intimacy. His commitment doesn't match his actions. Rather than endear you to him, the liberties he's taking are (or should be) pushing you away. At a minimum, you should be wary. Had you known this man a long time, with much of that time being in person, I'd feel differently. As it is, he is a very new acquaintance, one you've not even met. However much you feel you know about him, until you spend time together in person, it's illusive and merely potential knowledge. It takes careful observation and a lot of time to get to know someone well.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

Few things are as esteeming as being called by name by someone with your best interests at heart. That's what's at stake here. It's not ultimately about what this man calls you but about what his intentions are. Not only is he calling you pet names prematurely, he's doing so after you've asked him not to. This makes me wonder about his character and trustworthiness.

You're right about this being pseudo-romantic. And you're also right to wonder how meeting men long distance changes the nature of the relationship. It does. Certainly you're not alone in your experience: Nearly 1 in 4 couples meet online these days. But the mere fact that it's common doesn't erase the need for caution. And in your case, given this man's citizenship status and desires, as well as his seeming indifference to your requests to take things appropriately slowly, I'd say heightened caution. I don't agree that his good job is reason enough to dismiss outright any notion that he may be after an American wife, at least in part, for the residency benefits it would confer.

I'm not saying there's no hope for a future with this man. I am saying you need to do due diligence to confirm what he's been telling you about himself. The best way to do that is with the protection community can provide. Are your parents involved in your life to the point that they could meet him first? If not your parents, how about your pastor or mentor? I realize, given the distance, this may not be possible to do in person. But might they have a Skype meeting with him? You really should not be navigating this relationship alone. I'd say the same thing to a woman meeting up with a man she'd met at work, or church or anywhere.

This is a good time to heed the advice of Solomon,

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).

As one of those advisers, I would recommend that you again tell him directly that you're uncomfortable with the pet names and ask him to stop. Let him know you're sorry for doing it yourself and that you're committed to acting toward one another in a way that's consistent with where you are in the relationship (see boundless.org/dtr for details). If he honors your request, at that point, I'd recommend bringing wise counsel into the mix. That means asking your dad, pastor or mentor's husband to start talking with him about his intentions toward you. If this man is intent on pursuing you romantically, he should do so with oversight. This doesn't only apply to relationships begun online and covering great distances. We all need the benefit of wise counsel and accountability when attempting to form new families!

If he doesn't do what you ask and persists in calling you these names, you should end the friendship. A man who is unwilling to defer to you in such a matter of decorum is acting dishonorably and is not worthy of your romantic affections. This may seem harsh or abrupt, but a red flag at this stage is sure to be followed by others. It's the reverse of the faithful in little principle. (Luke 16:10) If he's unfaithful in little, he's likely to be so with greater access to you.

As always, I hope you'll let me know how things go.

Blessings,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2010 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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