Why We Should Be “Babyish” In Love

We call them, for good reason, ‘adult’ relationships — that is, relationships entered into when we are grown up, and committed to the principles and virtues of a mature existence.

What can be paradoxical therefore is the extent to which — in the finest couples — the atmosphere owes a debt to certain of the moods and interests of early childhood. For a start, we might want to call the partner ‘baby’, and they might call us ‘poppet.’ We might speak in slightly younger voices and in a higher register. We might buy them a furry giraffe and they might buy us an equally adorable soft toy version of a golden retriever. The two animals might even play games with one another and give each other cuddles when they are sad.

It can all look — in the bright light of day — highly unfortunate and regressive. But this would be to overlook how much adult love necessarily sits on a base created in childhood and therefore should, when it is going well, share certain characteristics with the better moments of our pasts. It is no sign of folly when we use diminutives with our loved ones, it is evidence that we have found our way back to the vulnerability, defenselessness and need that we once knew how to express and entertain with refreshing guilelessness — and that we must reconnect with in order to have a chance to love even if we are, in the rest of our lives, mature defense attorneys, senior cardiac nurses or lauded venture capitalists.

We might — in turn — wonder at those who appear too keen to dismiss sentimental child-based play as ‘baby-ish.’ We might ask what happened to the infantile part of them and why it had to be disowned so forcefully. We might explore how hard it is for them to be witnessed as fragile — and therefore, perhaps, to be gentle around the fragility of others. True maturity doesn’t — ultimately — mean quashing all evidence of weakness or immaturity. It means according the younger part of us its due within the totality of our capacities. It calls for an ability to mother or father the younger self of the partner — and to allow them to do likewise to us.

We may have to wait until we are real adults before we can re-learn how to play — and love — with some of the authenticity and uncensored frankness of our three year old selves.

If you enjoyed this article, many of its ideas are explored further in The School of Life: Relationships, a book to inspire closeness and connection, helping people not only to find love but to make it last.

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Founded by the philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life is a global organization helping people to find perspective and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. We share ideas through a range of channels, including books, eBooks, films, virtual classes and tools for emotional well-being.

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