Reviewing Flirting, Pet Names as Society Reopens after COVID-19 Shutdowns

focusing on the other person while flirting sparks connections

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A new book says singles are too self-centered when flirting. Instead, when trying to make a connection with someone, it’s better to make the conversation more about them. “Love language” sets an intimate tone in conversation.

Woman and man conversing on park benches
Nonverbal body language during flirting provides information about how the conversation is going, cues like leaning in and giving direct eye contact. Photo By bokan / Shutterstock

A new book called Flirtology: Stop Swiping, Start Talking, and Find Love may upend how people strive to make romantic connections in a post-COVID-19 world. The author, Jean Smith, said that due to a fear of rejection, people often approach flirting wondering if they’re good enough for the other person and how they can avoid losing that person’s interest. Instead, if we stop thinking about what we want from a flirty conversation and focus on just having fun and making the other person do the same, things may have a far sunnier outlook.

Another common factor of flirting—though it often comes at a later stage in the relationship—is how we address those we love. Why do we call people “honey” and “dear”? In her video series The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins, Dr. Anne Curzan, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English at the University of Michigan, said personal history and location often come into play.

My Little Slice of Pumpkin Pie

Pet names are how we address those we love without using their actual name.

“This is the language of intimacy, and we can be intimate through terms of endearment and nicknames,” Dr. Curzan said. “There are some common and pretty generic terms of endearment, like ‘love’ or ‘my love,’ ‘honey,’ ‘dear,’ ‘sweetheart,’ and ‘sweetie.’ We see some crossover here between terms used for children and terms used for lovers, especially one might say for women.

“I’ve heard children referred to as ‘munchkin’ and women referred to as ‘munchkin;’ same with ‘pumpkin.'”

Additionally, some romantic nicknames are tied very closely to a couple’s specific history with each other. According to Dr. Curzan, her father called her mother “Roo” after the character from Winnie the Pooh. Dr. Curzan said that her parents used to read the book to each other when they were first married after her father had confessed to never reading it as a child.

“There’s some regional variation in how intimate some of these terms can seem,” Dr. Curzan said. “If we can think of some of the generics like ‘honey’: If you’re in the South, this may be used in much less intimate settings. In the South, many people can be called ‘honey;’ it doesn’t necessarily suggest a quite close relationship.”

However, there are also boundaries to informal names that we should recognize and prevent ourselves from crossing, lest we insult someone. Dr. Curzan said that if a man in a professional setting called her “honey,” it can assume an intimacy that’s probably inappropriate.

Likewise, a woman being called “honey” in a professional setting may see it as demeaning or even infantilizing, as though they’re a subordinate or someone not worth treating with the same respect or professionalism as another peer. Even making a nickname of one’s first name—in Dr. Curzan’s example, addressing her as “Annie” instead of “Anne”—implies an informality of which the speaker should be aware.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily