There comes a point in every relationship when two people become so cozy together that they start to create their own private, little world. One person’s neck becomes a perfume shop, a place where you could bury your nose for hours. The other’s chest becomes a bedroom piece as essential to sleeping as the bed itself. This list could go on; this list could get dirty. But perhaps what’s most notable about the birth of your tiny couple nation is the genesis of your own tonally driven dialect of sweet, soothing sayings, otherwise known as baby talk.
Of course, baby talk should never be used within earshot of anyone other than your partner. (If you do happen to employ baby talk outside of state lines, you should be immediately deported.) When used in the confines of your relationship, though, it can be a really positive thing—until you overdo it, and the sweetness turns sour.My ex-boyfriend and I were the high priest and priestess of baby-ville. During the last year of our relationship, nearly every conversation was spoken an octave higher than two non-toddlers should attempt, and everything was peppered with the saccharine nicknames we’d come up with for each other. It felt like we were constantly cooing, which was comforting—until I came to realize that we spoke like kids even when addressing serious topics. It had become so second nature that we didn’t realize we were doing it.
I decided to bring it up one day (in a grown-up voice, of course), but even when discussing the danger of too much baby talk, my ex—yes—kind of talked in a baby voice. “This is weird,” I said flat-out. From then on, our interactions wavered between baby talking and shouting. An innocuous request like “Can you pick up the laundry on your way home?” became “Heeey, baaaby, would you mind picking up the laaaundry?” The tone had turned from heartfelt to annoyingly synthetic, as if we were varnishing a rotting tree. When we couldn’t hold it in anymore, we’d yell. Trapped in a sort of infantile time capsule, we simply could not grow up and problem solve.
Looking back, it’s clear that our love for each other was fading, and we were trying to hide it. Baby talk didn’t cause our break up, but it was emblematic of our inability to be mature and work anything out. It’s sad, actually—we dated for over three years, and I barely remember what his real voice sounds like.
Fast forward to the present day, where I’m approaching the one-year mark with a man I started dating a year after my ex and I split. We’re in love and cozying up with each other. We bury our faces in each others’ necks, say things like “baby” and “sweetheart” a lot (as you can see on my Twitter feed dedicated to his language choices) and talk in a soothing, childishly loving voice when the room is dark or our spirits are down. But we can also discuss serious matters.
You know what one of my favorite sounds is? The sound of a man I love saying my name—but not in the Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” sense of the phrase. In general, I don’t think people use real names enough: nicknames are commonplace, and now with texting, we’ve all but lost the formality of calling someone and saying “Hello, so-and-so, this is so-and-so.” In fact, outside of a professional environment, it’s almost alarming to hear your name roll off the tongue of a family member, friend or lover. It makes my heart skip a beat when my boyfriend says, “Laura, can we sit down and talk about this?” Or, “Laura, would you prefer drinks on the Lower East Side or in Soho tonight?” When a decision big or small needs to be made, he addresses me like an equal. It’s nice. It feels like we’re two adults figuring things out together—which seems like it should be a basic, simple thing, but it’s not.
The thing about baby talk is that it’s for babies. Even at 28, I want to be held like a baby or comforted like a child from time to time. Sometimes you have to pop into your child’s pose for minute to rest and prepare yourself for the harder stuff. It’s inevitable, though, that as you continue to date someone, acts like going out to dinner or on trips won’t feel new forever. When that newness wears off, what you have left are two people, sitting and sharing ideas together. And I don’t know about you, but talking to a baby is boring.