Terms of endearment

I always wanted to be one of those people who lets “Sweetie,” and “Darling,” spring unaided from her lips at everyone, like Lillian of The Archers or my husband’s Aunty Mavis: people who exude the warmth of summer sunshine and a certain mischief, and spread it wherever they travel just because they freely use these words of warm honey. I always wanted to be able to say “I love you,” whenever I meant it; or give someone a quick hug or kiss without agonising about their or my misinterpretation of physical intimacy.

I’ve never been able to do this. I was brought up in a non-emotional way by parents replicating what they had learned from their own in buttoned up India, where public displays of affection and physical contact are still disapproved of. I wasn’t hugged or told I was loved, or called “Darling,” but I didn’t miss it because it was just not an issue. Although scantily-clad dancing Item girls and emotional running around trees are a standard feature of Bollywood, the smallest Hollywood celluloid kiss is still censored and censured. The phrase “love-marriage,” as opposed to arranged marriage was, still is, most shocking to my mother and still slightly naughty in Indian society. My cousin’s daughter was married on Saturday in a “love-cum-arranged marriage.” That’s OK then.

Growing up, whenever someone kissed on the television my mother would leap to my protection, fingers outstretched, to block the screen from my vulnerable eyes and squawk “Break!” I remember Singing Together lessons at primary school and flushing with embarrassment at every mention of the word “love.” I just couldn’t sing it, let alone say it. I have spent much of my adult life in similar embarrassment at public intimacy and private agony. Think and say with a sad twist: I thought it but just couldn’t say it. It’s not just an Indian thing: I know plenty of people in my daily life who just can’t seem to find the wherewithal to express their affection or, indeed, any emotion at all. It’s not so difficult for people in films, is it?

I was so determined that my children would not be similarly inhibited and that meant getting over myself and my own fear of intimacy. Hugs and kisses are there, but it’s still so hard to say the words. I am pleased, though, that my children can say they love me and even my 15 year old über-cool son seems to excel in emotional literacy and has been known to give me an occasional unprompted hug. I’m getting better, though, partly because I have a lovely dog who thrives on my every touch of his silky ears, partly thanks to Twitter, where so much in my timeline is Sweetie-Darling. And now, to my astonishment, that fluttery-handed Twitter persona of mine now seems to have come over into real life. I find myself calling people “Darling,” and “Sweetie.” Real people, not just the dog! We never stop growing, it seems, and social media can be a means of finding ourselves and letting us express things that sound silly in real life. Hooray to that. It really isn’t too late.

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