Why We Call Our Partners ‘baby’ – Free Ebook

One of the most striking features of relationships 
is that, after a while, if things are going well,  

one or both partners will almost naturally 
start to refer to the other as ‘baby’.  

They might, alternatively or in addition, 
stick a diminutive on to the end of their name  

(‘-ie’), buy them a teddy (or 
show them their own from way back)  

and late at night speak to them in an unusually 
high pitched, soothing and sing-songy way.

We all invest a considerable part of our energy 
and our pride in growing up, in ensuring that we  

no longer need help in tying up our shoelaces, 
don’t need to be reminded to wrap up warm on  

cold days and can take care of combing our own 
hair. In short, we try very hard to be adults.

But successful grown up relationships 
demand something rather peculiar of us:  

while we are rewarded for the overall maturity 
of our characters and way of life, we are also  

invited – when striving properly to be close to 
someone – to access the less developed, and more  

puerile sides of us. It belongs to authentic 
adulthood to be able, at points in an intimate  

relationship, to curl up like a small child and 
seek to be ‘babied’ as one might have been many  

decades before, when we wore pyjamas with elephant 
prints on them and had a lisp and a small gap in  

our front teeth. It belongs to health, rather 
than pathology, to realise how much one might  

at difficult moments want to be ‘mummied’ or 
‘daddied’ by a partner and to connect for a time  

with the helpless, frightened, dependent child 
one once was and at some level always remain.

Sadly though, this selective regression is no easy 
or charming journey back for those whose childhood  

involved them in scenes of petrifying suffering 
and humiliation. For them, growing up has  

involved a superhuman effort never again to place 
themselves at the mercy of those who might take  

advantage of their vulnerabilities. Returning into 
imaginative contact with ‘mummies’ and ‘daddies’  

therefore holds no particular charm; their 
teddies will not be having a picnic any time soon.  

These bulletproof characters are likely to walk 
through the world with defiance and strength.  

They will have built a heavy shield 
of irony around their hearts.  

Sarcasm may be their favorite mode of defence 

  • and they will have ensured in a thousand ways  

that no one would ever attempt to 
ask them, even in the briefest,  

most lighthearted and humorous way, 
to ‘come to mummy or daddy’ for a hug.

The defensiveness is hugely understandable, 
but it is not necessarily aligned with the  

real requirements of maturity. True health would 
mean recovering an easy and informal contact  

with one’s less robust dimensions; it 
would mean being able to play the child  

because one knew one was resolutely the adult, 
it would mean being able to be ‘baby’ because  

one was in no doubt that one had safely overcome 
the fears and traumas of the defenceless past.

The more difficult the early years have been, the 
more of our undeveloped self must be disavowed,  

the more we must appear grandiose, 
impregnable and daunting. Nevertheless,  

we will know we have acceded to genuine adulthood 
when we can hold out a protective hand to our  

frail younger self – and reassure them that we 
will from now on be their reliable guardians and  

protectors and allow them to visit us for 
a cuddle and a play whenever they need to.

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