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Should We Say This Term Of Endearment To Friends?

Saying this will certainly not diminish a friendship.

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It happened without warning.

A friend and I were nearing the one-hour mark on a meandering phone call, the kind of catch-up we depend on now that we don’t live in the same city, but I had to get back to work.

“Listen, sweetheart,” I said, “I have to go.”

“Okay,” she replied. “Love you.”

Sweetheart? Love you? Not our usual style, but I liked it, and the happy feeling lingered, so I decided to let myself go, in a good way, with other close friends. It was easy to drop terms of endearment into a conversation, and better still, everyone responded in kind. Suddenly, we were calling each other honey, my dear, dear heart. Sometimes we signed off with “I love you,” but it wasn’t one of those glib luv-ya farewells. It carried weight.

We had broken the language barrier — or rather, we had reclaimed deep feelings for ourselves in a new and positive way.

For a long time, women were considered the emotional gender, which was not meant as a compliment. You remember how it used to be: The assumption was that men coped, and women fell apart.

So, we over-corrected when we became adults and too often stifled ourselves in the name of equality. If you’re in your 60s or 70s, you remember the dress-for-success trend — the tailored suit, the power pumps (and running shoes, so we didn’t cripple ourselves on the way to the office), and that most valuable accessory, the stiff upper lip. Random emotion simply confirmed men’s suspicions that we were not to be trusted should go back home, so we zipped it. Women who worked as full-time homemakers — we no longer pretend that isn’t work — reined themselves in, as well, because that seemed to be what the new modern woman was supposed to do.

It was a pendulum swing because it took that much momentum to escape the past. Men my dad’s age referred to their wives as “the little woman,” and my mom and her friends followed their diminutive lead. My mom went out to lunch with “the girls” or got together with “the gals,” so my friends and I looked for more dignified alternatives. We referred to our women friends; if someone mentioned the girls, I assumed they meant my daughter’s crowd.

All that restraint feels as constricting as shapewear in a world where we’re supposed to get in touch with our feelings, live in the moment and practice mindful everything. We don’t want to overdo it and tack on an endearment to every sentence because that dilutes the power of the feeling. But there is a middle ground, where a loving label counts — a new, hybrid us, wearing our hearts on our sleeves, whether the sleeve belongs to an executive blazer or a coastal grandma cardigan. It feels, finally, like a good place to settle in.

We are protecting a valuable resource, after all, as much as we would rather not think about the statistics we hear so often. We are likely to outlive our male contemporaries, and we’re not great at maintaining the heterosexual romances we do have. The Census Bureau says that baby boomers suffer from “marital instability” compared to other demographic groups. One way or another, guys will not necessarily be there for us in the long haul.

And young people can’t be our emotional emergency contact numbers. They have their own lives to live, and it’s just not the same as having an old friend who loved Joni Mitchell the first time around.

Besides, too many young people start to ignore us as the birthdays pile up. My daughter and her friends have a remarkable ability to regard aging as a destination rather than an exile, but that’s not the norm. You can’t go a day, it seems, without hearing a woman celebrity complain about being invisible — and if famous people have gripes, we mere mortals are in real jeopardy.

But I bet you have a girlfriend from grade school or college, someone you’ve always relied on; I’m a late bloomer, attachment-wise, having made my closest friends as an adult, but my circle of pals has outlasted my marriage. They’re my non-biological family. I should let them know how much I care.

My mother, the product of the Depression, World War II, and a set of taciturn parents, was wary of expressed emotion. “Of course I love you,” was the way she put it. “Why do I need to say so?”

Because you can. Because we all can. It doesn’t diminish me to call a friend "sweetheart" or to tell a friend I love her. I’d say it makes me — makes all of us — bigger.

Do you tell YOUR girlfriends that you love them? Let us know in the comments below. 

Follow Article Topics: Relationships