Picture this: after months of flirting, you finally built up the courage to ask out your crush, and they say yes. You go on a few amazing dates, and now you two are hanging out regularly— things are going really, really well and you're super pumped about it. Then, one day, seemingly out of nowhere, they say, "Babe, can you pass the salt?"
The question stuns you for a second. They called you "babe" for the first time — what's the meaning behind that? Are significant others the only ones allowed to call each other babe, or is it okay when you're just casually dating? Does the nickname mean that you're dating now? Should you start calling them babe back?!
The word babe (or baby) is a simple one, but it can hold a lot of meaning depending on who says the word, how they say it, and the context that it is used in. Dating expert and Vice President of Dating.com Maria Sullivan weighs in with answers about the term — and what it means when your boo drops the "B" word.
Why do we call people babe, or baby?
So, why do people use them term babe or baby in regard to those they care about? Everyone uses it for different reasons, and in various contexts. In most cases it's used to express love, but it can be hard to decipher if someone means it platonically, exclusively, or just in a casual, flirty way. A close friend commenting, "BABE you look HOT!" on your Instagram photo means something different than the person you've been dating for a while saying, "hey babe, pick you up at 7?"
"The word babe has highly adaptive qualities," Sullivan says. "It can be used by any gender, among S.O.’s, even often among friends. We use the term when calling a partner by name isn’t strong enough to express all of your feelings. Whether or not there is romantic meaning behind its use is determined by its context."
Usually, if your S.O. is calling you babe, it's probably because they care about you or are speaking flirtatiously with you, and, as Sullivan said, calling you by your name might not get that across at the moment. That being said, if your S.O. expresses a dislike of being called babe or baby, you should refrain from calling them that and choose another form of nickname.
Is there a difference between calling someone babe and baby?
"Babe is typically used casually and in front of others," Sullivan says. "This is the term most couples feel comfortable throwing around in front of friends and at family gatherings."
On the other hand, "baby" might seem a little more intimate and intentional, so, as Sullivan explains, "Some couples hold off on calling each other baby until in a more private setting." Of course, ultimately it's up to you and your partner to determine what makes both of you the most comfortable. Maybe that means you prefer to keep your lovey-dovey pet names on the DL, or maybe you don't mind showing the world (and your parents, and their parents) how much you like each other.
If you two aren't dating, it might be less intimidating to dip your toe in the water and test calling to them as "babe" or "baby" over text first — although they won't be able to read your facial expressions or body language, so the phrase might be harder to interpret via text.
What does it mean when you call your S.O. babe?
To put it simply, when you call someone babe, it probably means that you have feelings for them. "Its use in any form means that you are attracted and proud to be with your partner," Sullivan says. Though, again, it could mean different things to everyone, depending on the context and who is saying it. If you want your S.O. to know that you're calling them babe because you like them, love them, or are comfortable around them, consider verbalizing those feelings in a more direct way, too.
What if you choose not to call your S.O. babe? What does that mean?
If you prefer to call your S.O. by their name, or your own personal term of endearment, that's totally fine! There's no rule saying you have to call your S.O. babe, you should do whatever makes sense for your relationship.
"Babe or baby are not the only words that can be used as terms of endearment," Sullivan says. "It can be even more fulfilling to call your partner by a name that is backed by something more personal, like a nickname or inside joke."
Can you call someone babe if you're not dating them?
There are definitely people who refer to everyone as "babe" just like you might say "dude" or "sis." Sullivan urges you to be careful if you call people babe, though, because it could make some people uncomfortable.
"If using the term intentionally in a friendly way, make sure that the receiver understands your intentions," she said, warning that you may be suggesting that you like the person, without even realizing you're doing it. That being said, calling someone who you're not dating babe could be a good way to hint that you're interested in them. "The subtle mention of the word will get your crush thinking," Sullivan says.
So, if you're feeling brave, maybe try it out next time you're chatting with your crush. You never know if it'll become your newest go-to flirting move.
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